Democracy activists are calling it a harbinger of another Egypt-style revolution – but the reality is much more complicated.
Sudanese protests began in January 2011 as part of the Arab Spring regional protest movement. Unlike other Arab countries, popular uprisings in Sudan succeeded in toppling the government prior to the Arab Spring, in both 1964 and 1985. Anti-government demonstrations were less common throughout the summer of 2011, during which South Sudan seceded from Sudan, but resumed in force late in the year, and in June 2012 shortly after the government passes its austerity plan.
Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan gained independence on July 2011, taking with it about 75 per cent of the Sudanese crude production. The north has been left struggling for revenue, plagued by inflation, and with a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports. The landlocked South depended on the north’s pipeline and port to export its crude, but Khartoum and Juba could not agree on how much South Sudan should pay to use the infrastructure. Sudan’s already depleted oil revenues shrank by a further 20 per cent after its main Heglig oil field was damaged and shut down in fighting with invading South Sudanese troops in April 2012.
In an attempt to address the economic meltdown, the Sudanese government has announced a new austerity plan on 18 June 2012, which includes raising taxes on consumer goods, cutting the number of civil servants on its payroll, raising the price of a gallon of petrol by 5 Sudanese pounds, pushing it up to 13.5 pounds from 8.5 pounds, and lifted the fuel subsidies. The austerity plan has becoming unpopular among the Sudanese as they believe it will affect the price of nearly everything in the economy, from transport to domestically produced food and other goods.
On January 30, 2011, protests took place in Khartoum and Al-Ubayyid. In Khartoum, police clashed with demonstrators in the town centre and at least two universities. Demonstrators had organized on online social networking sites since the Tunisian protests the month before. Hussein Khogali, editor in chief of the Al-Watan newspaper stated that his daughter had been arrested for organizing the protest via Facebook and opposition leader Mubarak al-Fadil‘s two sons were arrested while on their way to the main protest. Pro-government newspapers had warned that protests would cause chaos. Some protesters called for President Omar al-Bashir to step down. Activists said that dozens of people had been arrested. The protests came on the same day the preliminary results for the referendum indicated some 99% of South Sudanese voted to secede. One student died in hospital the same night from injuries received in the clashes. Students threw rocks at police officers while chanting “No to high prices, no to corruption” and “Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan together as one.” Police officers arrested five and put down the protest.
On 1 February 2011, about 200 students demonstrated in front of Al-Neelain University in Khartoum. Police stopped the demonstration.
Further protests, scheduled for March 21 were violently suppressed as they were beginning.
Student protests in December 2011
Students protested at the Red Sea University in Port Sudan after the arrest of several Darfuri student leaders on the night of 21 December, with many Darfuri student activists calling for a revolution and declaring their open support for the Sudan Revolutionary Front fighting the government in the south
On 26 December, 42 Darfuri students left the Red Sea University in protest over their treatment, Radio Dabanga reported.
Students also clashed with riot police wielding batons after security forces stormed the University of Khartoum on 22 December to break up a rally by about 700 student demonstrators protesting the displacement of the Manasir community caused by the construction of the Merowe Dam. Twenty were injured and at least four were arrested, activists told media. On 24 December, approximately 16,000 students attempted to launch a sit-in at the university to protest the police, the university administration, and the federal government, but they were dispersed by riot police who deployed tear gas, dealt out beatings, and arrested at least 73. Leaders of the student movement warned that they would continue to organize and demand the overthrow of the government despite security officers’ violent tactics.
On 30 December, thousands of students successfully launched a sit-in protest, the Associated Press reported.
At Sudan University of Science and Technology in Khartoum, fighting between student supporters of Khalil Ibrahim and the ruling National Congress Party broke out on 28 December, days after the Sudanese government announced Ibrahim’s death in a battle between his Darfuri rebel group JEM and the Sudan People’s Armed Forces. Twelve were injured in the brawl, which police used tear gas to disperse.
The student protests, in particular those at the University of Khartoum, have been blamed by police on the influence of unnamed Sudanese opposition parties.
Anti-austerity and other protests, 2012
17 June: Protests erupted in Khartoum, whereby students from the Khartoum University took to the streets, denouncing the austerity measures one day ahead of plans announced by the Sudanese government.
18 June: As the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has formally announced a series of deep budget cuts while addressing the National Assembly in Khartoum on Monday, about 250 students held anti-austerity protest in the Khartoum University. Riot police used tear gas and batons against the protesters who in turn threw stones at police. The clashes took place in front of the main campus of the University of Khartoum and in the suburb Omdurman against more than 300 student protesters.
19 June: Around 200 students staged a protest at noon outside the main university campus in the centre of the capital, shouting slogans against high prices and the government. Riot police reportedly fired tear gas and used batons when the crowd tried to spread out on the main street outside the campus. Some students threw stones at the police.
20 June: Hundreds of students held anti-austerity protest for another day. The protesters escalated their demands and started to chant slogans like “No, no to high prices” and “The people want to overthrow the regime“. Clashes continued between the police armed with batons and tear gas and the protesters.
21 June: Students and protesters continued their anti-government protest in the capital on Thursday. Women and girls blocked traffic in the northern suburb of Bahri. Clashes took place between the police and protesters in different areas of the country. Sudan’s police spokesman Al-Ser Ahmed denied the use of excessive force by the police.] He added “You cannot describe what happened as a protest”.
22 June – Sandstorm Friday: Shortly after the Friday prayers, hundreds of Sudanese assembled to protest. Unlike the previous protest held during the past few days, this protest was not mainly a student led one due to the protest spreading into many neighborhoods that had been quiet. Protests took place in Omdurman, Khartoum, Burri, Al-Daim, El Obeid, Sennar, and Bahri saw demonstrations after noon prayers. The police escalated the use of force during their clashes with the protesters and the smell of tear gas and broken rocks covered streets. Men in civilian clothes also attacked the demonstrators.
23 June: The state media has reportedly says that the Sudan’s police forces has ordered its officers to put an end to the demonstrations “immediately”, shortly after the protests spread throughout the capital a day earlier expanding beyond the core of student activists initially involved. Protests followed the same pattern in the Sajjana neighborhood, where clusters of demonstrators moved through side streets, blocked roads, burned tires and chanted “Freedom! Freedom”, and “The people want to overthrow the regime”. Opposition leaders and youth activists have called for more demonstrations to press for greater democracy and measures to control price rises.
24 June: Hundreds of protesting students faced police armed with tear gas grenades as they called for the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir. Several injuries and arrests were reported to have occurred in Khartoum, as protests were reported in other cities and towns of the country.
29 June – Licking Your Elbow: In reference to the metaphor for the impossible protests were organised along with calls for a general strike the next day, in commemoration of the day al-Bashir came to power. Around 2,000 protesters gathered in the captial and chanted “the people want the regime to fall”. Hundreds of police and security forces attacked the demonstration with tear gas. Other protests in the area of north Kordofan were reported. Activists said that a man named Amir Bayoumi, from Omdurman, has reportedly died from the effects of inhaling tear gas.
June 30, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Police authorities in Sudan sought on Saturday to play down their response to the anti-regime protests of yesterday, saying they used minimum force to confront “small groups of rioters”, while opposition groups spoke of torture and abduction of protesters.
On 17 January 2011, security forces in Sudan arrested the head of the Popular Congress Party, Hassan al-Turabi, as well as five other members of the party, after he called for a similar protest to oust the ruling government over electoral fraud, stoking inflation and abrogating civil liberties at a time when Sudan was facing a secessionist referendum.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said journalists are facing increasing harassment. On 30 January 2011, journalists were beaten by security forces and at least eight were detained. The following day, the distribution of several opposition newspapers was blocked by authorities.
During the anti-austerity protests in mid-June 2012, the Egyptian journalist Salma El-wardany was detained on 21 June 2012 and later released after five hours in detention. A Sudanese citizen journalist Usamah Mohamad was reportedly arrested on the next day. An AFP reporter was also detained
but each protest, even now, has seldom numbered more than 100 or 200 people, and they have lacked the unity and sheer size of the Egypt and Tunisia protests that toppled their regimes last year. It’s still very unclear whether the current protests can gain enough strength to challenge the battle-hardened government.