One week into massive anti-austerity protests throughout Sudan, things are looking ever less bright for dictator and indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir.
Street demonstrations were initially sparked by a harsh package of tax-hikes, price rises, job cuts and currency devaluation, as al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) desperately tried to avert an economic collapse. Sudan was already feeling the grim affects of the global economic downturn before things were exacerbated by the secession of the oil-rich South just under a year ago. Of course, that did not stop the NCP squandering even more of the state’s finance on attacking civilians and opposition forces in South Kordofan, Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, extending the national deficit further still.
However whilst the student-led protest movement, initially focussed on economic demands, recent days have seen calls for the removal of al-Bashir’s dictatorship and open expressions of intent to overthrow it. The students have also been joined by an increasing number of other citizens and, despite a ruthless show of force by the authorities, their determination to remain on the streets is clear.
The mistreatment of protestors and detention of journalists have been intended to stamp out the protests but may yet produce precisely the opposite result. The 2010/11 revolution in Tunisia and 2007 demonstrations in Burma have previously illustrated how a harsh crackdown on economic protests can quickly trigger a wider political uprising. For some time activists in Sudan have been working to bring the Arab Spring to their towns and cities – there is increasing speculation that their time may finally be arriving.
This is not to say that al-Bashir and his inner-circle are necessarily on the verge of being deposed, or indeed that they are anywhere near that point. Support for the regime remains, especially in more rural areas, and loyalist thugs already appear to have attacked protestors. But the pressure is clear, the people are angry and the longer demonstrations continue, the harder it will be to put the protest-genie back in the bottle.
As always the NCP may look to its erstwhile ally China for external support, and currently is seeking to sure up its relationship with Iran. Yet al-Bashir’s International Criminal Court indictment has left the tyrant desperately short of other friends or supporters, which leaves him even more vulnerable if his henchmen are unable to contain dissent at home. As he approaches the 23rd anniversary of his genocidal presidency, he my be facing the most serious challenge yet.