We don’t really know what’s going on in Sudan right now. Well, we sort of do, but not really. Our biggest difficulty is getting a sense of perspective as the days pass. Have protests gotten larger? Have they stayed the same? Will they endure?
Abena has a map that compiles reports of where protests are taking place in Khartoum. Sudan Tribune, Radio Dabanga, basically all other news outlets, and reports from friends all agree that demonstrations are indeed still happening and that the response has been brutal. Too many people I’ve talked to seem to know someone who was killed or injured. The Sudanese Doctors Union reports 110 dead bodies in Khartoum hospitals, and that number is likely conservative.
We should be very conscious of how limited a picture we can get from abroad. Sudanese media has been heavily restricted. In addition to the difficulties that Safira mentioned, the Sudanese Journalists Network is organizing a strike to protest government censorship. With over 600 people arrested since Wednesday, there are bound to be journalists in there as well as protesters and activists. Everything is dramatic on twitter, but the medium is limited by who’s active and who they’re targeting. Ultimately, activists are using twitter to organize, and thus, have an incentive to play up the numbers and their level of support. It’s hard, then, to get a sense of whether there’s momentum with these protests and whether they will endure.
Magdi Al Gizouli argues that, taking place primarily in middle to lower class neighborhoods on the edges of Khartoum, these demonstrations represent a revolt from the NCP’s base of support. I’m not entirely convinced. The NCP (and other parties) seem to work via patronage networks, with party membership giving access to jobs, opportunities, and other benefits. By lifting fuel subsidies, it’s clear that they’ve made life much harder for the whole population, but they could theoretically compensate their network in some other way.
The question is whether now, after outright violence against the crowds, this is possible. Yes, the government has begun to offer excuses, but I doubt that anyone takes them seriously. With every death, it becomes more difficult for protesters to back down. It’s clear that for some sections of Sudanese society, these protests are about removing the regime. For others, I wonder whether they are more about pushing the regime to provide economic benefits. It remains to be seen whether the crowds will unite around a single goal, or whether the government will appease some portion of society enough to disable the protests. There’s already some dissent from within the NCP.
If the crowds do unite, what will happen? There has been a little evidence of fractures within the military, but so far, that has been quite limited. Any regime change will require the help of the military, but at the same time, this is not the military of Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood has been active in the military since the 1980s, and the institution is highly sympathetic to the regime in power. It would require a lot for them to remove their support, and it seems unlikely that they would back a leader from a different political persuasion or back free and fair elections. This piece from last year gives a good outline of how Bashir has held power for so long.
None of this will be clear for a while. For now, we do what we’ve done so far: wait and worry for our friends.