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Africa

"The dire economic situation makes it easy to mobilize angry young people"

Protesters on Friday stormed the German embassy in Sudan, setting fire to the building. DW spoke with Florian Dähne in Khartoum, resident representative of Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Sudan.

Sudan's police force used tear gas on Friday in a bid to stop more than 5,000 demonstrators from storming the German and British embassies. Protesters threw stones at the two neighboring embassies in Khartoum before they stormed the main gates of the German embassy. They attacked its facade and tore down the flag, replacing it with a black Islamic one before setting fire to the building. Deutsche Welle spoke with Florian Dähne in Khartoum, resident representative of Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Sudan.

DW: What is the situation like in Khartoum now? Do you see or hear anything of the protests?

Florian Dähne: We're not seeing and hearing that much around the city because - due to the tense security situation - we stay in our house which is at the edge of the city. And of course, don't go to the area where the German embassy is located.

Sudanese demonstrators at the German embassy. (Picture: ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/GettyImages)

The protesters first stormed the embassy and later set it on fire

How does the German community deal with the situation? Are people considering leaving the country?

That's a question that's coming up. The German embassy keeps close contact with all of us and they inform us about the security situation as does the UN presence here. We all try to be calm at the moment, keep a low profile and not expose ourselves to any unnecessary risks. Of course, we don't know what the near future might bring and whether there will be further escalations. But at the moment I don't think that at our private houses we are in immediate danger.

Were you surprised about this protest and the escalation?

The protest had been announced and it was also known that there would be a demonstration in front of the German embassy. So it was to be expected that there would be at least some verbal escalation. That it would come as far as it eventually went was not to be expected but certainly people knew that it might happen.

Can you tell us anything as to why people decided to attack the German embassy?

It was about one week ago at Friday prayers that, for the first time, some Imams called for the end of cooperation with German institutions and for a end to cooperation with the German embassy in Sudan because they felt that Germany, like other European and Western powers, like that controversial film which was made in the United States.

The film is seen here as very, very rude against Muslim feelings. As are, for example movements in Germany that provoke Islam with demonstrations in front of mosques showing those well known caricatures of Mohammed. And some see this as being in line with a general dishonoring of Muslim feelings in Western countries.

A Sudanese demonstrator burns a German flag. (Picture: ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/GettyImages)

Dähne says much of the anger is directed against the West in general

But as far as I can tell, this feeling against Germany is not representative. The views on the US for instance – which was also the target of protests this Friday – are much more critical than I perceive it against Germany.

Yesterday, the official cleric authority in Sudan condemned the film and said that it coincided with the reposting of those offensive cartoons on the walls of a mosque in Berlin. Could this be enough reason for people to attack the German embassy?

Of course I would not think that anything that happened would justify what took place at the German embassy. On the other hand, for radical Imams, this is exactly the stuff they need to mobilize angry young people, who because of the very difficult economic and social situation in Sudan, feel they have no real perspective. And of course it is easy to channel their frustration against an outside power. In the present case it is the German embassy – it can just as well be the American or the British one.

It is something that obviously has to do with a lot of frustration with a lack of perspectives for many people here which makes it easy to mobilize them for escalations like this. I think the majority who took part in this violent escalation are frustrated people who live in very dire social economic situation. And they feel they somehow need to channel their frustration.

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