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Will the ‘Elbow Lickers’ bring the Arab Spring to Sudan?

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Twenty three years ago on June 30, President Omar Hassan Bashir took power in Sudan in a coup. This year, the day will mark three weeks of unprecedented demonstrations against his rule.

Street protests have increasingly spread throughout Sudan in the past few days, especially since the government announced it would impose spending cuts to stabilize Sudan’s economy, which has deteriorated since the secession last year of its oil-producing south.

During the first days, the protests were concentrated around Khartoum University but soon, they spread to other campuses in the capital, The Guardian reported.

“Sudan is going down the drain,” one female student was reported by the paper as saying. “Prices keep going up. If we did have a good president, our economy wouldn’t be that bad.”

Activists and students called for mass protests on a day they ironically named “Elbow Licking Friday.”

A Sudanese activist who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, told Al Arabiya that “Friday’s protests were dubbed Elbow Licking Friday based on a quote by President Bashir’s top aide, Nafi Ali Nafi, who in one of his speeches stated that anyone who tries to overthrow the government might as well ‘lick their elbows’ as in, it is impossible.”

The activist added “we are confronting Nafi and the rest of the NCP (the ruling party) using their own terminology, and condescension, against them.”

The activist added that the protests were spurred by students, but today, they can no longer solely talk about a student-led movement. “The general population has joined them in speaking out and taking it to the streets. “

As rumors about the Internet being shut down by the Sudanese authorities spread on Thursday night, the activist told Al Arabiya that “this morning, Internet service seems to have resumed. That being said, there is no assertion whether Sudanese will continue to have access to the Internet today, and many are expecting that the government will cut off Internet service.”

The activist also confirmed that there are many reports of injured protesters, “not just in Khartoum but also in other cities where protests have been taking place.”

She added “these injuries range from effects of teargas, which are reported to be stronger than usual, to injuries resulting from attacks by police and thugs close to the ruling National Congress party, the ‘rabbata’,” as she calls them.

Sudan’s Arab Spring?

While this weekend could indicate whether the revolts would join the wave of the Arab Spring that began in Tunisia last year and spread to Egypt, Libya and Yemen to name a few, one source told AFP that they doubt that Sudan would experience a similar uprising.

“My answer would be: ‘No’,” he said. “It’s not really organized in any fashion.”

So whether the protests gather momentum or die out like previous unrest under Bashir remains to be seen.

“I think the few coming days will show us, will these protests succeed to make some change or not?” an activist, a lawyer who asked not to be named for his own protection told AFP.

But “I don’t think you will face some scenes like in Syria” he said.

In a defiant speech on Sunday, Bashir lashed out at the protesters, dismissing them as a handful of agitators whose aims most Sudanese reject.

“I drove around the capital on Friday in an open car. There was nothing. The people greeted me by crying ‘Allahu akbar’,” Bashir said. Anyone looking for an Arab Spring in Sudan, he added, was going to be disappointed.

Activists who want to end Bashir’s 23-year rule, sensing an opportunity in the economic troubles, have presented a starkly different picture: “There will be no escape from the tidal wave of popular uprising,” read an article posted on the website of one of the main activist groups, Girifna (“We’re Fed Up”).

Elbow-Licking Friday

On Friday, witnesses reported that clashes erupted next to one of the largest mosques in the capital Khartoum.

A witness told Reuters that police had surrounded the Imam Abdul Rahman mosque in the suburb of Omdurman after Friday prayers, and teargased protesters who were hurling stones at the security forces. The witness also reported that several people were arrested.

More than 100 people were also protesting outside a mosque in the northern suburb of Bahri, the witness said.

Protesters had also gathered in the capital’s Hijra Square beside the mosque of the opposition Umma party, AFP reported.

Witnesses said demonstrators carried Sudanese flags and banners reading: “The people want the regime to fall,” a slogan used by protesters during the Arab Spring uprisings against regional strongmen over the past year.

After the tear gas and an unknown number of arrests, demonstrators burned tires and threw stones at police before running for cover, a witness said.

As international reactions began to surge, the United States condemned what it described as Sudan’s “heavy-handed approach” to the demonstrations.

From his side, the U.N. rights chief on Thursday urged the Sudanese government to avoid “heavy-handed suppression.”

“Tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and other heavy-handed suppression will not resolve the frustrations and grievances of the people,” Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.

Human rights groups say scores of people have been arrested since the protests against high food prices began on June 16 at the University of Khartoum.

Demonstrators in groups of 100 or 200 have burned tires, thrown stones and blocked roads in a call for regime change which has almost universally been met by police tear gas.

Activists estimated that at least 10,000 people protested in the Khartoum area during the first 10 days of demonstrations.

Economic agony

Harsh economic realities are believed to have triggered the popular movement.

Inflation rises each month, hitting 30.4% in May, before Finance Minister Ali Mahmoud al-Rasul on June 20 announced the scrapping of fuel subsidies, causing an immediate jump of about 50% in the price of petrol.

Bankrupt Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan gained independence last July leaving the north struggling for revenue, plagued by inflation, and with a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports.

Sudan’s poverty rate is 46.5%, according to the United Nations.

On the social media forum Twitter, the hashtag #SudanRevolts has gained momentum and on Friday, one tweet by a Sudanese activist read: “Let the world know that we are the Elbow Lickers!”