Arab Spring to Sudan?
Liv Tønnessen, Khartoum
"The regime has lost its validity and has become a corpse awaiting burial. We will bring it down (...)". With these words the the Sudanese opposition coalition inaugurated its campaign early this month to overthrow the Sudanese regime of President Omar al-Bashir in 100 days.
Bashir took power in 1989 through military coup d'etat that overthrew a democratically elected government. After over two decades in power, the Islamist regime is now stumbling. Last summer, scattered anti-regime protests sparked by inflation and economic crisis spread throughout Sudan. On June 30th, to commemorate the day Bashir came to power 23 years ago, around 2000 protesters gathered in the capital and shouted "the people want to overthrow the regime." The security fiercly clamped down on the demonstators and Bashir threatened them by saying "those who expect an Arab Spring will not see it because Sudan has a hot summer that will burn its enemies and grill them."
Over the past year, the opposition alliance has pledged to mobilize its members for peaceful protests to topple the government. But there has been no mass response to its appeals. The opposition is fractionalized and weak and they do not have the popular support needed to carry out their 100 day campaign. Not only are they quaralling in the media outlets, but some of the leaders of the main political parties in opposition are not even on speaking terms. There is also a growing concern that Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of what is believed to be the biggest opposition party (Umma), is playing a two faced game; His son recently accepted a post as the advisor to the president his father has sworn to overthrow.
But discontent against Bashir is widespread. According to an activist "Bashir is a dictator. The worst kind". And although the political parties in opposition are paralyzed, the landscape of youth movements and civil society organizations is vibrant. Among them, there is potentially enough popular anger to lead to the overthrow of the regime. Among them is a group called Girifna which translates into "we are fed up". According to their website Girifna is a non-violent grassroot movement which believes that " (...)positive change can only be achieved if Sudanese join together to fight for civil rights, women’s rights, freedom of the press, and religious freedom. In fighting for these rights, a strong grassroot civil society can be formed, and safeguard these new freedoms and a democratic Sudan. (...)" Despite being under strict surveillance by the security, they refuse to be silenced.
Signs of weakness
This year marks the 10 year anniversary of the Darfur conflict and the situation is worse than ever before with no peace in sight. According to a Darfurian activist: "There is chaos. Violence is an everyday event. There is no rule of law. The people is suffering". While Bashir has an arrest order hanging over his head from the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, there is renewed war at the border with South Sudan which separated after a popular referendum in July 2011. It has so far been a nasty divorce which also has badly hit the Sudanese economy with spiralling cost of food and other basic items.
At the same time Islamists inside the regime are openly criticizing the president.
According someone within Bashir's own ranks, the president is "a drowning person clinging to a straw”. Last year, former intelligence chief Salah Gosh and top army officers were arrested after an attempted palace coup. It is common knowledge that the first Vice President Ali Osman Taha and the president's advisor and former Chief of the National Intelligence and Security are openly competing for power, each representing a fraction. If Bashir decides to keep his word and not run for re-election in 2015, these two fractions represent different visions for Sudan's future. Meanwhile, reformists headed by Ghazi Salah al-Din al-Atabani is screaming for democratic reform with support from the younger generation within the Islamist movement. So far Bashir has successfully sidelined these voices within the government, but they are spilling out into the public debate and gaining popular support.
Appetite for change
There is an appetite for change, but few believe in the old political parties and the 100 day campaign. According to an activist, "I do not believe in the 100 day campaign. The only ones who can overthrow this regime is the Sudanese people. It is only by an uprising by ordinary Sudanese that it can be done". In the hearts and minds of the Sudanese people, they remember vividly and proudly how they successfully overthrew two military regimes within two decades in 1964 and in 1985. They can do it again.
The popular sentiment rumbling in Khartoum is that Bashir will fall sooner or later. The question is whether it will happen through a popular uprising of the kind that rocked Egypt and Tunisia or through a palace coup where the president's own allies turn against him. In the meantime, the political parties are too busy disagreeing with each other.