With the 23rd anniversary of President Omar al-Bashir’s oppressive rule fast approaching, protests have swept through Sudan’s capital and neighboring cities. Yet this series of demonstrations “feels different” than previous anti-regime protests, report activists on the ground. Recent austerity measures and price increases have mobilized hundreds of Sudanese to take to the streets shouting, “The people want to bring down the regime!”—a chant that had resonated throughout the Arab world last spring.
According to news sources, demonstrations began on June 16 when female students at the University of Khartoum gathered to protest against increasing meal and transportation prices. Demonstrations spread throughout the week to other universities, including Al-Ahliya University in Omdurman and Bahri University in Khartoum North.
On June 22, demonstrations extended beyond the core university community when hundreds of Sudanese began protesting after the Friday prayer. The mass protest, called “Sandstorm Friday,” mobilized Sudanese across several states, including Shendi, El Obeid, and Port Sudan. Outside a mosque in Omdurman, protestors asked gathering police forces to join them, chanting, “Oh police, oh police, how much is your salary and how much is a pound of sugar?"
Sudanese police have used tear gas and batons to quell the protests and, in one case, sprayed tear gas into the dorms of female students at the University of Khartoum. Security forces intensified the crackdown on protestors Saturday June 23, following the events of Sandstorm Friday. The agents dispersed protestors with tear gas, detained opposition leaders and surrounded the headquarters of Sudan’s main opposition parties.
Security forces have also cracked down on the media. On June 21, journalist Salma el-Wardany, who was on assignment for the Bloomberg news agency, was arrested while covering the protests outside the University of Khartoum. The National Intelligence and Security Service, or the NISS, detained el-Wardany, along with the blogger Maha el-Senussi, for about five hours.
Despite numerous arrests and police violence, protestors continue to take to the streets in large numbers. The energy of the Arab Spring seems to have taken hold of the Sudanese, who are fed up with the brutality of al-Bashir’s regime and, most recently, his failed economic policies. Since South Sudan’s secession last year, inflation is now over 30 percent and the regime’s proposed austerity measures have only intensified discontent.
The austerity measure program announced on June 18 would remove state subsidies on fuel and sugar and increase taxes on luxury products. According to Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, these economic proposals would be detrimental for Sudanese citizens who rely heavily on fuel and sugar for their livelihoods.
Opposition leaders have also criticized al-Bashir’s economic proposals. According to Radio Dabanga, the leader of the National Umma Party said the austerity measures were, “disastrous and humiliating” for the Sudanese people and urged the Sudanese to demonstrate. The Popular Congress Party also called for demonstrations against the increase in fuel prices.
In a speech on Sunday, President Bashir declared that these protesters are mere “bubbles” who will be “dealt with,” maintaining that the demonstrations are not widespread or significant. However, political commentators and journalists claim that the energy of these protests is unprecedented. Do these protests signal the end of al-Bashir’s 23-year-long regime?
One Sudanese analyst at Enough said it is still too early to tell the impact but that the actions so far are historic.
“The past week is the most challenging for the government during the past 23 years,” the analyst said. “No public protests continued for seven days in a row with this scale in the past. It is not massive, but it is possible that the protests will continue and grow bigger.” The analyst said it is “premature” to say these demonstrations will mark the end of the Sudanese regime but that the next few weeks will determine the outcome.