Mass protests in the north African country of Sudan over the price of basic goods have been met by vicious repression. But they have continued and threaten President Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled since a military coup in 1989.
At least 28 people have been killed and 240 injured during demonstrations against the government. Amnesty International says the real death toll is 37.
On Friday, the tenth day of the revolt, police fired tear gas and stun grenades on hundreds of protesters in several cities. These included the capital Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman, Port Sudan, Atbara and Madani.
The protests initially broke out on 19 December as people rallied against the government tripling the price of a loaf of bread from one Sudanese pound to three.
In the city of Atbara, protesters set fire to the ruling National Congress Party’s offices. Atbara was once the centre of the rail network and the home of a militant rail trade union that was broken by military rule in the 1980s.
In a joint statement, several groups involved in the protests said nine opposition leaders had been arrested. The individuals reportedly include Siddiq Youssef, a senior leader of Sudan's Communist Party, and leaders from the pan-Arab Ba'ath and Nasserist parties.
The protests rapidly spread across many of Sudan’s major towns and cities, including areas that are supposedly strongholds of the regime. They slogans generalised from bread prices to opposition to years of economic hardship and the denial of democracy.
Young people are prominent in the protests, with reports that the average age of those involved is 20.
Bashir has claimed foreign powers are behind the protests. He said, “Some mercenaries serving the agendas of our external enemies are exploiting the lack of some commodities to sabotage our country.”
But there are plenty of reasons for Sudan’s 40 million people to revolt. Over the past year, the cost of many goods has more than doubled, while the Sudanese pound has plunged in value.
Bashir has posed as a defender of Islam. But when he went to a marriage ceremony in a mosque in Khartoum he was booed by crowds outside the room chanting, “Leave Bashir” after Friday prayers.
In January 2018 Sudan was shaken by nationwide protests, again triggered by high bread prices. But the present ones look bigger and have been more sustained.
On Thursday of last week the Sudanese Journalists Network announced that its members were starting a three-day strike in solidarity with the protesters and in opposition to the government’s crackdown.
The Association of Sudanese Professionals, which includes doctors, held a successful strike on 25 December. It has called for more protests on 31 December, the eve of the country’s 63rd anniversary of independence.
The US and its allies imposed harsh sanctions on Sudan in the 1990s. In 1998 US President Bill Clinton announced that Sudan was helping terrorists and launched a wave of Cruise missiles, destroying the country’s only pharmaceutical plant.
It produced 50 percent of the country’s medicines and veterinary vaccines. The destruction of the al-Shifa plant condemned many thousands of people to death.
But in 2017 Donald Trump lifted the sanctions, a reward for Sudan’s sending around 1,000 ground troops to fight with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Saudi Arabia also promised cash for Sudan after Bashir broke relations with Iran.
The European Union has also donated millions of euros to the Sudanese government for its help in stopping the flow to Europe of migrants from Sudan and those from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa who come through Sudan.
The region’s dictators, including in Egypt and Qatar, have expressed support for Bashir, fearing the spread of revolt.
It would be a great start to 2019 to see the fall of the Sudanese regime.