Editorial, The Guardian
Many of the Sudanese protesters demanding an end to Omar al-Bashir’s regime have known no other rule. They were not yet born when he seized power in a coup three decades ago – their country’s median age is just below 20. But they are certain they want something better.
The ruthless Sudanese president is now facing a sustained and unprecedented challenge. The killings of more than 50 peaceful protesters, the beating and arrests of hundreds more and the declaration of a state of emergency last month have, if anything, spurred on demonstrators. The protests were triggered in December by a subsidy cut which sent bread prices soaring, but fuelled by anger going far beyond the country’s dire economic straits to corruption, government sclerosis and brutality.
They are more geographically widespread than previous protests against him; they are also younger, more female, and more socially and politically diverse. The outlawed Sudanese Professionals Association has played a leading role, with opposition parties playing catch-up. Disparate groups are finding – for the moment at least – unexpected common ground, with demonstrators from his strongholds participating alongside rebel groups; when Mr Bashir blamed Darfuris for destabilising the country, others marched chanting: “We are all Darfur.” Social media has played a key role, despite government censorship.
Successful revolts unseated authoritarian regimes in 1964 and 1985. But those succeeded after a few days, and Mr Bashir has created a strengthened National Intelligence Security Service, broader security apparatus and militias. Few in his position choose to give up. The outstanding international criminal court warrants on charges of genocide and war crimes over the conflict in Darfur give him even more reason to hold tight – though he transferred the party leadership, to a man facing similar charges. Increasing and frequently violent repression has been served with meagre carrots: promises to end subsidy cuts and postpone constitutional changes allowing him to run again in 2020 (he won two previous, dubious elections). There are signs of growing internal divisions over how to tackle the protests.
Mr Bashir has made himself useful to others. Sudan’s support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen reportedly brought it $2.2bn in much-needed investment. The US wants counter-terrorism cooperation; the EU’s priority is controlling migration. Normalisation processes have bolstered him. Those doing business with him must make it clear that they cannot continue under these circumstances, and urge him towards a peaceful transition. Many fear he will instead turn to greater violence to suppress the protests; or that, if he is forced out, the military and Islamist factions on which he has relied could literally battle it out for power. Either is a dismal prospect. The protesters do not want a different version of this regime, or more conflict. They demand and deserve a better Sudan.