There are protests happening all over Sudan right now. This is in response to the rise in fuel prices that occurred on Sunday, with the lifting of fuel subsidies. As Magdi Al Gizouli explained quite well in his discussion of the subsidies, the government likely removed them in order to better comply with IMF conditions for seeking debt relief. Such a decision was on some level a gamble—that domestic opposition would be manageable, and that the long term economic benefits for those in power would outweigh the short and medium term pain that all sectors of Sudanese society would feel as a result of such economic policies.
Last year’s “#SudanRevolts,”* began due to fears of fuel subsidies being lifted, so comparing the level of protests then and now seems apt. Last year, the protests initially seemed quite strong, with small protests throughout Khartoum as well as some in Omdurman and Bahri (parts of the Khartoum metropolitan area, separated by the Nile). After several days, however, the number of protests seemed to decrease, even as international media began focusing on them. While there were reports of protests at universities outside of Khartoum, these protests were not particularly significant.
More striking still was the way that the government handled the protests. While they sought to contain them with tear gas and at times were quite violent, the number of those who died was quite small. This was intentional—the regime was quite aware that the death of a student was the cause for the October Revolution in ’64, and that funerals have been a site of mobilization in other countries during the Arab Spring.
I am not currently in Sudan, so I can’t get a sense of the character of these protests. At the same time, they do seem more widespread and popular. Video footage has been making the rounds on facebook in the past day of school girls in Omdurman protesting, and many Sudanese secondary schools have been closed for the upcoming days. The number of neighborhoods where protests are being reported seems wider than last year, and the size of the protests seems larger. There’s an internet campaign called Abena, meaning “we refuse,” but unlike last time, it doesn’t seem to be the internet leading the demonstrators, but rather, following and seeking to reflect the demonstrators.
The protests also seem much stronger outside of Khartoum, in other major cities including Medani, Atbara, Nyala, and Port Sudan. Protests in Medani began early in anticipation of the price rises, and they seem to be the largest, with reports in some articles of tanks being sent to Medani and the roads to there being closed off. For other protests outside of Khartoum, access to journalists is somewhat limited, but there is footage of protests in Atbara floating around on facebook (I haven’t been able to track down all the video links out there, but I’ll try to post some links later if it proves important).
Most frighteningly, the government seems to be responding more violently, with at least 21 deaths so far. It seems clear that at least within the security apparatus, there is no hope that these protests will be avoided or that they will die down on their own—instead, the government seems intent on quashing them unambiguously and brutally.
I’m particularly worried about the fact that the internet was cut off in Sudan today. This was done most likely to curb activists using the internet to organize, but in a country with few international reporters and where all journalists face overwhelming limitations, it also serves to limit outside knowledge of what’s happening there.
The government has bet that it can ride out these protests by responding brutally until they subside. Sudanese society seems to be responding more strongly than last year, but it’s still quite early, so it’s unclear how this will play out.
We’ll just have to wait until Sudan reemerges onto the internet with evidence of what’s happening.