By Haytham Karar
Friday 8 February 2019
The ongoing uprising in Sudan has yet to topple the government. However, it undoubtedly has deconstructed the regime’s political framework that exploited religious, ethnic, and gender differences to divide and repress the Sudanese people since its onset in 1989.
Despite the fact that more than 51 people had been killed by security forces, among them, a school teacher pronounced dead while in custody; more than 816 arbitrarily detained; as well as throttling the internet, thousands of people across Sudan swarmed the streets in peaceful demonstrations calling for president al-Bashir’s ouster.
Unlike the previous resolutions in 1964 and 1985, the current wave of demonstrations sparked in the peripheries and swiftly snowballed to cover more than 14 major cities across Sudan, including regions that are considered household of the regime. The protests sparked on Dec 13th in Al-Damazin, the capital city of Blue Nile state, about 330 miles from Khartoum, in a spontaneous reaction to the rising costs of bread and fuel.
Following the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government adopted austerity measures that resulted in cutting fuel and bread subsidies. However, the adjustment plan has immensely hit the extremely poor, estimated to be around 36.1 per cent of the population. In December 2018, the inflation rate has risen to 72.94 per cent, the second worst rate worldwide after Venezuela. Furthermore, Sudan has the 8th worst corruption score according to Transparency International. In fact, there is a massive cloud of corruption and money laundering surrounding the inner circle of al-Bashir and his high government officials. A class of kleptocracy combined with massive clientelistic networks within the Islamic Movement are widely believed to have embezzled up to the U.S. $9 billion from oil revenues between 2000 and 2011.
The regime exploited religious diversity and used it as a divisive framework to maintain power. In fact, religion has become the winning card in politics since the Islamic Movement seized power through a coup d’état in 1989. Henceforth, the state fueled the civil war with Islamic rhetoric declaring its counter-insurgency and widespread violence against non-Muslims in conflict zones as jihad.
The current uprising proved that Bashir’s Islamist base is wearing thin. A number of Imams overtly excoriated the government’s use of excessive force. Also, protesters hold religious leaders accountable for being silent regarding the atrocities of the security forces. On December 28th, Al-Bashir himself whisked away while protesters began chanting slogans inside a mosque in Khartoum demanding him to step down. Simultaneously, a prominent religious figure who’s a member of Sudan’s Scholars Association, a body of state-sponsored clerics, was confronted by worshippers at his pulpit for being complicit with the regime brutality. The religious establishment that once looked invincible has shown itself to be anything but. People reckoned the lesson that religion has excessively been misused by the regime to accumulate power more than to preserve morality.
Al-Bashir also exploited Sudan’s ethnic diversity. As pointed out in Sudan’s Small Arms Survey, the state is increasingly relying on militias that are traditionally clan-aligned, particularly from the Arab tribes, to fight their non-Arab Sudanese fellows in some peripheries. In recent events, the government decided to use the ethnic card by blaming violence on students from Darfur. Salah Gosh, the head of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), referred to the students as elements of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLA), an army group primarily active in Darfur region.
This time, the once effective strategy seemed to have lost its teeth. The millennia, who are the driving force of the current uprising, have given a shot in the arm to the non-violence movement by calling for ethnic solidarity to countervail the long-standing government strategy. They crafted a slogan, “We are all Darfur,” sending a strong anti-racism message to the regime signalling that ethnic division is no longer a winning card. The Sudanese emerging leaders seem determined to transcend all divisive rhetoric in the political spectrum that brought about nothing but despair and anguish.
The massive presence of women on the frontline of demonstrations is another evidence that the regime’s framework is shocked to the core. Sudanese women have been disenfranchised insofar as they have become a hallmark of the discriminatory nature of the legal system. The government exploited the introduction of Sharia laws in 1983 to enforce strict moral codes which primarily designed to suppress women.
The ongoing protests have unfolded the revival of the strong role of women in Sudan’s history. Despite being threatened, harassed, and arbitrarily detained, they were at the frontlines of protests. The regime’s social engineering program created a hostile environment for women, obsessively controlled their appearance in public and private space, and suppressed their voice. However, the protests have given them a voice to call upon their basic rights and demand the end of systematic discrimination.
So far, the president seems to be planning to ride the storm by suppressing dissent while buying extra time to secure financial support from regional allies. However, the diverse makeup of demonstrations combined with the severity of the economic collapse suggests that al-Bashir has less room to manoeuvre. The people of Sudan are eager for change, more than any time before while dismantling the modus operandi of their desperate and ruthless oppressor.
*Haytham Karar is a Sudanese activist and MA candidate at the School of International Service (SIS), American University.