Sudan activists are battling to bring in an Arab Spring
Slogans sprayed across walls in a dusty, working-class district of Khartoum are painted over but still convey their message: Sudan’s young opposition activists want to bring in an Arab Spring and end president Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s rule.
The calls for democracy heard across Arab capitals have been late to arrive to Sudan, with demonstrations gathering momentum only since June.
So far, protests have still been small, usually drawing crowds in the hundreds. And even those have petered out in the face of a government response that has included teargas, batons, arrests and – according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – torture.
The government denies using excessive force against protesters or carrying out torture, and dismisses the activists as a handful of agitators with little public support. Mainstream opposition parties say they sympathise with protesters, but have been lukewarm at best in support.
Still, a hard core of anti-Bashir activists are trying to spark a popular revolt to end his 23-year rule, devising tactics as they go to overcome the many obstacles to public dissent in the vast, ethnically-divided country.
“We’re not going to make any compromises,” a 23-year-old female activist who belongs to the Girifna (“We’re Fed Up”) youth group said in an interview via Skype. “They [the ruling party] have mismanaged the country for 23 years”.
A member of Change Now, another of the main activist groups, said they wanted “a regime that guarantees us dignity, freedom, generous living, expression of our different cultures”.
Opposition groups say the triggers that fired Arab Spring uprisings in neighbouring countries are present in Sudan. Many in its young population are jobless and unlikely to find work in a state grappling with the sudden loss of oil revenues after South Sudan seceded a year ago.
Weeks of protests were seen in June after the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) imposed cuts in subsidies for fuel and other tough measures to contain an economic crisis brought on by the secession of the South, which cut off Sudan from three-quarters of its oil output.
The activists say they are in the fight for the long haul, accepting that they will not topple Mr Bashir as quickly as demonstrators brought down Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak last year.
“I really cannot give you a time frame, but I think it’s not going to be quick,” said the Girifna activist.
Since the start of the demonstrations, security forces have arrested up to 2,000 people, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Last week eight people were killed in a protest in the Darfur region against rising prices.
The government is keen to portray the nascent protest movement as out of touch with most Sudanese. Ibrahim Ghandour, a member of the NCP leadership team, said: “Some of them are genuinely protesting over prices. Others are just trying to take advantage of what is expected from opposition parties, to try to turn it into a total uprising against the government. But … that was not successful.”
Diplomats and analysts say the jury is still out on how much momentum the protests can gain, but with more cuts coming there will be more public anger.
One Western diplomat in Khartoum said: “So far they lack critical mass but if the economy worsens, more people could take to the streets.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east