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memri
August 1, 2012 No.
866

Sudan's Arab Spring – The Only Uprising Against An Islamic Dictatorship – Gains Momentum, But Tough Challenges Remain Ahead

 

Introduction

Now entering its sixth consecutive week, Sudan's uprising has gained considerable support; however, bringing the long rule of President 'Omar Al-Bashir to an end will be no easy task. Moreover, unlike in other countries affected by the Arab spring, where long-serving dictators have brutally oppressed the Islamist opposition, in Sudan, it is the Islamists who have been in power since their 1989 military coup, and are now being challenged by a young generation that grew up under their rule. Considering its highly indoctrinated army, which has for decades been engaged in civil wars and is known for its loyalty to the regime, and considering its zealous intelligence apparatus, Sudan is likely to see its uprising turn violent.

Political parties, militant groups, civil society organizations and demographically diverse sectors inside and outside the country have endorsed the uprising and expressed their determination to bring about an end to the era of President Al-Bashir and his ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP).

The following is an overview of the uprising in Sudan so far.

Sudanese Call For End To Al-Bashir Regime, Establishment Of Secular, Democratic State With Equality For All

On July 7, 2012, eight opposition parties signed the "Democratic Alternative Charter," in which they resolved to overthrow the NCP through peaceful protests. According the charter, once the regime is toppled, a ceasefire will be declared on all fronts, a national constitutional conference held, and the country will be prepared for free elections.[1]

On July 10, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (a.k.a. the Kauda Armed Alliance), an alliance consisting of four leading rebel groups in Darfur, South Kurdufan, and Blue Nile regions, praised the ongoing uprising, while warning against a brutal crackdown by the regime. The group called for the release of prisoners and asked the international community to protect the civilians.[2]

On July 16, 2012, the Democratic Lawyers Alliance organized a large protest in Khartoum, following which they sent a memorandum to the president expressing their support for the uprising, condemning the security forces' crackdown on protesters, and demanding the release of all prisoners.[3]

On July 18, 2012, a new coalition called the Civil and Youth Movement Front for Change was born. Its charter, signed so far by 15 civil society organizations and titled "Charter for the Reestablishment of the Sudanese State," calls to remove the current regime by peaceful means, establish a secular democratic state that guarantees equality for all on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and eradicate all forms of discrimination.[4]

University students, most of whom grew up under the Islamists rule, among them many women, are playing a major role in the uprising. They have demonstrated enthusiasm, courage and determination in seeking an end to Al-Bashir's regime. Currently, hundreds of videos can be found on YouTube showing students chanting anti-government slogans while braving teargas and rubber bullets. Though dozens of students, especially female students, and activists have been threatened, arrested and interrogated by the intelligence apparatus, they have remained steadfast and focused. For instance, minutes after her release from detainment on the condition that she stop her online activities, activist Shumous Al-Amin posted the following on her Facebook account: "Here I am, writing again on Facebook, and elsewhere. I will participate in any gathering. I will write. All of us in this country, we will not keep silent over degradation and terrorism [by the regime]..."[5]

Moreover, a recent photo of Widad Darweesh, a member of youth opposition movement Girifna, showed the young activist smiling from behind bars and giving the victory sign, just hours before being tried on terrorism charges, along with others, for taking part in anti-government demonstrations.[6] The protesters acknowledged the significant role of Sudanese women in the uprising by calling Friday, July 13 "Kandaka [Candace] Friday," after a strong Nubian queen known for her bravery and courage.[7]

Sudanese communities in major cities around the globe have organized dozens of large protests expressing their support of the uprising. Protests have taken place in Washington, D.C., London, Ottawa, New York, Kuala Lumpur, Stockholm, Philadelphia, Dallas, Phoenix, Edinburgh, Greensboro, and Brussels, to name a few. [8]

Government Reacts To Uprising By Arresting Protestors, Demonizing Protests

The government reaction to the uprising has so far taken two forms: the large-scale detention of activists and journalists, including foreigners; and a propaganda campaign to demonize the uprising.

In imprisoning influential protest leaders, intellectuals and opposition leaders known for their ability to mobilize and organize large protests, the regime hopes to defuse and gradually end the protests. According to human rights groups, some 2,000 detainees apprehended in recent protests have suffered torture and ill-treatment.[9]

To date, at least two Egyptian journalists have been deported from the country. On June 26, Salma Al-Wardani, of the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm and the Bloomberg news network, was deported after being held in detention for five hours.[10] Shaimaa Adel, of the Egyptian independent daily Al-Watan, was freed on July 16 after spending 14 days in detention.[11]

In order to demonize the protesters, the regime has systematically made misleading, inciting and degrading remarks about them, while also downplaying its scale and importance of the uprising. For instance, President Al-Bashir has insulted protesters on numerous occasions, calling them "thugs" and "bubbles" that would easily burst, and accusing them of being agents of foreign forces wishing to destabilize Sudan. He has also threatened to suppress the protests by sending "real mujahideen" against them.

Al-Bashir's senior advisor, Nafi' 'Ali Nafi', challenged those seeking to topple the regime to lick their elbows first. Appearing on Al-Jazeera's famous show "The Opposite Direction," NCP senior official Rabie Abdelati, rather than responding to points raised by his opponent about the oppressive nature of the regime, spoke at length about his opponent's one-time affiliation with the Republican Brothers,[12] an anti-monarchical Sudanese group that advanced a progressive interpretation of Islam, whose founder, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, was executed in 1985 for apostasy by the Sudanese regime under Ja'far Al-Nimeiri. Abdeati claimed that the Sudanese people completely reject the Republican movement.[13]

The regime has also tried to suppress the uprising by employing thugs, known as rabatta, and government-affiliated students armed with knives, as well as security and intelligence officers who do not hesitate to use tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters. As the uprising intensifies and continues to spread across the country, the government's reaction is expected to become even more brutal, which could potentially transform the so far peaceful protests into an armed struggle.

According to former Sudanese prime minister and Ummah Party head Al-Sadig Al-Mahdi, the Sudanese spring can be expected to follow the Syrian or Libyan examples, rather than the Tunisian or Egyptian ones. "The army and the judicial system are not independent, and can therefore be used against the people," he added in an interview with Reuters on July 11, 2012. Moreover, in a recent radio interview, Minni Arko Minnawi, head of the armed group Sudan Liberation Army, said that the Sudan Revolutionary Front has been closely monitoring the uprising, and that the day will come when it will take action and intervene.[14]

As the only uprising against an Islamist dictatorship where the army, the intelligence agency, and the judicial system are all ideologically loyal to the regime, Sudan's spring is likely to provide insight into the strategies and tactics Islamists are willing to use to delegitimize their opponents, and the extent to which they are determined to resist change.

* Mansour Al-Hadj is director of Reform in the Arab and Muslim World Project at MEMRI.

 

Endnotes:

[1] BBC Arabic (UK), July 4, 2012.

[2] Sudanjem.com, July 12, 2012.

[3] Sudaneseonline.com, July 15, 2012.

[4] Facebook.com, July 18, 2012.

[5] Hurriyatsudan.com, July 21, 2012.

[6] Sudaneseonline.com, July 23, 2012.

[8] Sudaneseonline.com, June 29, 2012.

[9] Human Rights Watch, July 11, 2012.

[10] Al-sharq.com, June 26, 2012.

[11] Egyptindependent.com, July 16, 2012.

[12] Alfikra.org.