If you live in North America or Europe, government shutdowns, Brexit, trade wars, or the crisis in Venezuela dominate the current news cycle. Most big powers are taking sides in Venezuela because they have vested interests in the country. Meanwhile in Sudan, civilians are taking to the streets against President Omar Al Bashir’s dictatorial regime, and it is drawing little international attention. Since mid-December, what started with anger over rising fuel and bread prices has now evolved into demands for President Al Bashir’s removal. The grievances are deep. Furthermore, while historically demonstrations in Sudan usually take place in Khartoum, this time they started in the periphery and spread like wildfire. Is Sudan experiencing a revolution? This is certainly what protesters are saying. After decades of dictatorship and two uprisings, the people want to see the regime fall.
Being a protester under this Sudanese dictatorship is extremely dangerous – but that is how angry the population is. The riot police are cracking down on civilians who are calling for freedom and justice. Thirty-seven protesters have been killed, and the police have arrested at least 300 people, particularly targeting doctors, journalists and academics. Speaking out is dangerous and our interviewee, who we will refer to as Mohamed Kamal, understandably wants to remain discreet for his safety. We will only say that he is entrepreneur and activist working with local community organizations. We have decided to give him a voice because we cannot be there ourselves. Additionally, we felt giving a voice to citizens seemed appropriate. The situation in Sudan cannot be ignored. We must listen to what the Sudanese want instead of turning a blind eye to the current uprisings.
What follows is our conversation with Mohamed Kamal. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Marie Lamensch: There have been previous protests in Sudan, such as the #Sudan_Revolts protests a few years back. How is this time different?
Mohamed Kamal: In September 2013, there was the #Sudan_Revolts movement as a reaction to the increase in the fuel price. This increase happened when the Arab Spring was still fresh, and the Sudanese people thought they have the spark and they can replicate the revolution that took place in other countries in the region. The movement was immature and spontaneous; the government was also panicking due to the circumstances in the region. Consequently, the government reaction was very radical and as a result, 122 citizens were killed by government forces in two to three days. In the following years, the government used the failure of the Arab revolutions as a scarecrow to their people. The situation—especially in Libya, Syria, and Yemen—has been catastrophic and disappointing.
Throughout the past year, the economic situation in Sudan has been going into a steep down slope. The inflation rate has reached 73 percent, and the currency has devaluated. This along with a liquidity crisis, and a fuel and bread crisis, has put Sudan in a situation similar to Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Therefore, there is nothing to lose. This is the first factor, the spark is the economic factor.
In 2013, as I said, the movement was quite spontaneous, lacking leadership, a compass, and arrangement. On the other hand, the movement now in the street has agreed on a common leadership: the mysterious Sudanese Association of Professionals.
The third factor is the new generation, age 20-35, which the fundamentalist totalitarian Islamic government hasn’t counted on. For several years, the party has succeeded in shaping the collective mind of numerous groups of the Sudanese population, and alienating the majority from the political scene using traditional means like media and journalism and the radicalization of the opposition opinion. However, it has become hard if not impossible in the era of social networks to apply the same measures. Technology has created a parallel virtual environment where the tools of the party have become obsolete.
ML: Is this only about Bashir, or do you want the whole regime to change and a new generation to take over? Bashir is not going to step down quietly, considering the I.C.C. wants him.
MK: It is the whole regime we want to be gone, radical change. We are aware that it is hard to dissolve such a totalitarian regime; it will be like chasing cancer cells. However, the people are willing to go through this.
Yes, [Bashir] will not go quietly, but he doesn’t have plenty of options. His trump was racism, protecting himself by the people of the north and center, threatening them that other ethnicities from the west—especially the rebels—are going to commit genocide against them. The classic move of any dictator, to create a common enemy. However, he failed; all people of Sudan have united against him.
Although the scarecrow the regime uses is still a worry, it is fading. The context in Sudan is different than Syria or Yemen. Syria has a strategic value to Russia, bordering Iraq, has Sunni-Shia strife, holds economic value to Qatar, neighbor of Israel and Saudi Arabia wants to eliminate the Iranian influence on Syria. The Yemeni crisis also stems from the Saudi Iranian tussle. Libya has oil. These factors are absent in the Sudanese context, so I don’t think he can turn Sudan to a war zone similar to the failing Arab Spring states.
The main menace to the people of Sudan is the silence of the world’s major powers on what is going on: the assassinations of peaceful protestors. The demonstrations, although happening in all of Sudan, are shyly mentioned in the major media outlets. Al-Bashir is friends with all the major players in the region, he sends his troops to fight beside the Saudis in Yemen, he is also supported by the Muslim brotherhood regime in Qatar, volunteering intelligence to the U.S., and serving as a mercenary to the E.U. in closing the migration routes and arresting and kidnapping illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. Hence the silence.
ML: What do people think about the genocide that occurred in Darfur?
MK: In a few words, the people now are seeing before their eyes what this regime is capable of doing without remorse. The armed dispute areas have always been remote and the regime has always been able to fake the reality to the average person in central Sudan. Now, the average person in central Sudan is witnessing the crimes of Al Bashir.
ML: Do you think the regime is panicking?
MK: The regime is panicking, especially because it does not have anything to offer. They failed in all aspects, and they are sure they have lost the trust of all Sudanese people including their followers. This economic crisis is not escapable without external help, which will not happen if this regime is still in power. In addition, unlike any other riling, this time it is happening from all sectors of the Sudanese people.
ML: What kind of people are taking part in the demonstrations? Students? Workers? Women?
ML: We have seen videos of women leading chants in these marches. How have you seen the role of women in this movement? Are they taking on a larger role than before?
MK: Women have been suffering more than males during this regime’s rule. Their freedom has ceased. They were oppressed and the worst thing is that it has become a cultural distortion. Even after this regime goes, the women’s movement will go an extra mile to heal from what this regime has caused.
ML: Do protesters have a common goal? If so, what is it?
MK: Yes, they want a transitional government—judges, technocrats, and social leaders—to first radicalize the corruption, holding trials, make social changes, and create a climate of liberty and democracy before running elections.
ML: What do you think is needed for this protest movement to succeed?
MK: International support.
ML: What do you want people to understand about the crisis in Sudan? This is more than about rising prices, right?
MK: It is more than about the rising prices. It is about all the bitterness this regime has caused since 1989, i.e racism, changing the Sudanese culture to a fundamentalist culture, distorting the Sudanese identity, corruption, etc.
If you liked this article, please consider becoming a Patron and contributing to the work we do here at The Mantle.