Opposition hopes soar over Sudan protests

Opponents of President Bashir say rare unrest over austerity measures is beginning of an uprising in African nation.

Khartoum, Sudan
: He came to power in a military coup more than two decades ago. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has always had opponents. But as his rule enters its 24th year, Bashir is facing what some describe as unprecedented popular dissent.

Mainstream opposition parties are now trying to build on that. Long divided, the opposition factions are working on a document that would administer the country in a post-Bashir Sudan. “We need to prevent chaos and a power vacuum once the regime falls, so that is why we are working on agreeing on a transitional phase,” Bashir Adam Rahma, the foreign relations secretary of the opposition Popular Congress, told Al Jazeera.

The party is part of the coalition of opposition parties, the National Forces Alliance. The Alliance says it plans to throw its full weight behind the protest movement once it puts the final touches on the transitional phase document.

 Sudan anti-government protests intensifies

“There is now a series of protests because of the failures of this regime to realise people’s aspirations for democracy. The protest movement will come to culmination when we decide on an alternative,” Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, leader of the Umma Party, said. “We need to agree with other opposition parties on the text of Democratic Alternative and Constitutional Declaration.”

The Umma Party, however, has already flexed its muscle. It called on its supporters to protest after mid-day prayers last Friday. A few hundred people gathered outside the Ansar mosque in Omdurman and chanted slogans calling for the downfall of the regime. But as they attempted to take to the streets, police fired tear gas and the crowd dispersed.

There was defiance even though many protesters were choking after inhaling the tear gas. They took to nearby streets and blocked the road with burning tyres. “For us there is no turning back. We entered the phase of a revolution… We need to plan for the upcoming phase and we are preparing ourselves for any scenario like Libya, Egypt or Tunisia,” Mohammed Faysal, a protester and Umma Party member, said.

One man carried a banner which read: “Khartoum Rise Up”. But apart from a few demonstrations in some neighbourhoods, the Sudanese capital was calm on Friday. It is unclear whether the divided and fractured opposition can close ranks, mobilise large masses and lead a revolution.

Government ‘still strong’

“To be able to have an Arab Spring in Sudan, masses need to take to the streets. Political parties have only a limited role to play. They are weak and they are trying to exploit people’s grievances for political gain,” Othman Mirghani, editor-in-chief of Al-Tayyar newspaper, said. “The government is still strong militarily and politically.”

The government is right to say that the protests are not comparable to the Arab uprisings, but it has slowed the momentum by using force.

The government also has hardcore supporters. For people like Tahany, faith in the ruling party is still strong and unquestionable. “Stop asking questions about the protests and whether we support the government’s actions,” Tahany shouted as some journalists tried talking to people who were shopping at a market in Khartoum.

“You journalists are just trying to stir trouble. Can’t you see the government is trying to help people by selling goods at discounted prices at this market? The traders have been playing with the prices.”

But while the regime still has its backers, voices against it are being heard more often than at any time in the past. The protests could be the beginning of an uprising, the opposition believes. “The Sudanese summer has arrived. The time for change has come,” Mariam Al-Mahdi, a leader in the Umma Party, said.

That may be easier said than done, because the government made clear it will not tolerate protests, which it is blaming on “foreign elements”.

“Zionist institutions inside the United States and elsewhere are exploiting the latest economic decisions to destabilise the security and political situation,” state media quoted presidential assistant Nafi Ali Nafi as saying.

Recent austerity measures that led to a rise in prices sparked the social unrest two weeks ago. Finance Minister Ali Mahmoud said the government had no choice but to cut fuel subsidies and spending to plug a public finance gap. President Bashir defended the new decisions, saying that the secession of South Sudan turned the country from an oil exporter to importer. 

But political parties and activists believe mismanagement, corruption and government policies have been responsible for the economic collapse and are hoping to change the regime using peaceful means. “The only way is through mass demonstrations and civil unrest,” Rahma explained. “We tried dialogue with the regime and that failed. They want to cling to power. They should have agreed to constitutional reforms when we became a new nation following the secession of South Sudan.”

Sudan may still not be witnessing a mass revolt. But in the words of an opposition official, there is no set time and date for a revolution.

Follow Zeina Khodr on Twitter: @ZeinakhodrAljaz

Source: Al Jazeera

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