Since mid-June there have been regular protests against the autocratic regime of President Omar al-Bashir. He has dismissed calls for an Arab Spring-style uprising.
They are the same chants that were heard last year in Egypt and Tunisia. "The people demand the downfall of the regime" cried a group of young students in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. Those protestors can be seen in one of the numerous Internet videos that have come out of Sudan recently. In mid-June, the government approved extensive austerity measures, including the abolition of subsidies for fuel and sugar. Prices skyrocketed, driving the students out on the streets, where they were manhandled by police armed with batons and tear gas. Zahra Haydar is a 40 year old political activist in Khartoum. She told DW this was the "most brutal response by the authorities since Bashir seized power in 1989."
Haydar herself took part in two demonstrations and suspects that the deteriorating economic situation in the country will prompt more people to join the protests.
Support for Bashir ebbing away
Most observers believe that social and economic grievances are the cause of the protests, which have now spread to other parts of the country. The absence of personal liberty under Bashir's autocratic regime would appear to be a minor consideration. Bashir is on the wanted list of the International Criminal Court in connection with war crimes in Darfur. Yet he is now not only under pressure abroad, but at home as well according to Peter Schumann, former director of the UN mission in Sudan. "I believe Bashir is losing power and support within the population, because he is caught up in a situation from which there can be no escape," he says.
State coffers depleted since South Sudan gained independence
Schumann was referring to Sudan's financial woes to which no end is in sight. South Sudan is refusing to dispatch its crude oil through Sudan's pipelines, because the transit fees charged by Khartoum are too high. If the revenues do not start flowing again, then it is possible that Bashir will be unable to fund his bloated armed forces. Nonetheless there is no immediate danger of a coup, according to Florian Daehne from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German think tank in Khartoum.
He believes the demonstrators are unlikely to achieve very much, because protests by several hundred people hardly make up a mass movement. "With brutal efficiency, the security forces seem to be able to keep the potential for the mobilization and coordination of protests as limited as possible," he says. Daehne adds that large numbers of activists and opposition supporters have been arrested. "Therefore I do not expect that we will witness in the immediate future scenes in Khartoum similar to those seen on Tahrir Square," he concludes.
But the demonstrators do not intend to give up, drawing encouragement from the lessons of history. In 1964 and in 1985, protests that started in the University of Khartoum ended in the ousting of a military government.
Author: Adrian Kriesch / mc
Editor: Asumpta Lattus