What began early this week in Sudan as a protest against the removal of fuel subsidies has developed into a full-blown uprising that is threatening President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s 24-year rule.
Fuel prices, which President Bashir said they reached “a level that is dangerous for the economy,” soared on Monday after a decision to scrap subsidies went into force.
The first protests were staged Monday in Gezira state south of Khartoum. Following the first death, unrest spread to Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state.
On Wednesday protests reached the capital Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman, with angry protesters attacking petrol stations and clashing with security forces. The building of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party was set on fire.
The government responded with a heavy hand, deploying thousands of security forces to suppress protests, shutting down the Internet and media outlets and closing schools.
Human rights activists said security forces have shot dead at least 50 people since Monday, while police and medical source reported that only 29 have died.
The violent crackdown prompted even bigger rallies on Friday throughout the country, with protesters openly demanding the overthrow of President Bashir’s regime.
Mariam Sadiq, a senior member of the opposition Umma Party, told Al Arabiya that what is happening in Sudan is a “popular revolution that will only become bigger,” accusing “militias of the ruling party” of deliberately opening fire at protesters.
Makki al-Maghribi, a political analyst based in Khartoum, however, said the protests are unlikely to evolve into a serious revolution that can overthrow Bashir's regime, citing opposition political parties’ engagement in dialogue with Bashir’s ruling party.
“The path followed by Sudan now is not the path of a revolution, it is a path of dialogue between the government and the opposition,” he told Al Arabiya.
Other political observers, however, downplay the political parties’ influence on the young people movements, which they say are driven by similar ideals of youth movements in Tunisia, Egyptian and Yemen.
In Sudan more than 50 percent of the population is younger than 15 years of age and the official unemployment rate is about 20 percent. Economic hardships facing a predominantly younger population, coupled with restricted political participation, provide enough reason for the youth to continue demonstrating, according to experts.
“Even if the crackdown succeeds to quell protests now, they will appear again soon in the future because the underlying problems of corruption and injustice are likely to continue amid the regime’s inability to reform itself,” Sudanese writer and political al-Hajj Warraq said.
Public dissatisfaction with the government has been brewing for years due to political conditions, he said. “The issue is not economic; it is primarily political and the poor management of the state. People know that the corruption is big and the available money does not go to social services like healthcare and education.”
Warraq said the young people leading protests operate outside the orbit of the traditional opposition political parties.
In the same vein, Sudanese economist and politician Mubarak al-Fadel al-Mahdi said the majority of the youth are “taking a revolutionary course to face the situation, which is not just related to the removal of subsidies.”
“The country was in “a political and economic congestion; the explosion has been long overdue. What is happening now is bigger than any opposition political party,” he said.
The military coup that brought Bashir into power in 1989 led to “wrong political and economic practices in which $80 billion of funds were squandered,” al-Mahdi who occupied several ministerial positions before Bashir took power in 1989 reported.
Sudan’s external debt was estimated at $41 billion in 2012, growing by 27 percent in four years due to the drop in revenues needed to service it. State revenues in 2012 were estimated at less than $4 billion, while expenditures were valued at more than $7 billion.
About 46 percent of the 34 million in population is under poverty line, according to U.N. estimates.
Sudan’s ability to continue subsidizing fuel and basic commodities was hard-hit when South Sudan seceded in 2011 taking away more than 70 percent of oil revenues needed for food imports, driving the inflation rate up to an estimated 40 percent.
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