From an economic perspective, any other government would have taken the decision to abolish subsidy on fuel prices, just like the Sudanese government of President Omar Al Bashirs announced on last week, given the critical state of the countrys economy. But the question is, why did the regime respond in an overtly fierce manner towards the protests, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of people a response that was meant to be decisive and quick.
Most of the victims were shot in the head and chest, suggesting that the regime was prepared for the protests. The course of events shows clearly that the response was proactive, especially when we consider the protesters accusations that violent acts such as the burning of gasoline stations and facilities were done by secret service personnel; some of them were even captured by the protesters.
This could be true in view of the statement made earlier by Vice-President Ali Othman Taha when he said: Our young people will descend on the streets to protect public and private properties from saboteurs, Unfortunately, this was not a prediction of the sabotage, but rather a slip, reflecting prior planning for a particular type of reaction to suppress expected protests. It seems that the plan succeeded as the demonstrations faded away for a few days and reluctant opposition parties were prevented by the regime from taking any coordinated action. Behind this bloody scene, lies a fact sheet that tells a story of failure. With public debt having jumped from 73.1 per cent in 2011 to 109 per cent in 2012, the countrys gross domestic product (GDP) did not exceed $53.267 billion (Dh195.91 billion) in 2010 and is not expected to increase beyond this figure. The figures clearly show that this is a significant result of the loss of oil resources after the secession of the South in July 2011. Furthermore, unemployment was estimated around 10.8 per cent while inflation reached 23.2 per cent in 2012. The public deficit, which was 2.9 per cent in 2011, rose to 3.9 per cent in 2012. While statistics show that the GDP per capita by current prices reached $1.590, this figure becomes meaningless compared to the fact that 40 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. If Sudans leaders are to be held accountable, it will be better to hold them accountable to these figures in a long record of failure, which proved to be the undoing of one of the richest Arab and African countries blessed with natural and human resources.
The secret behind this brutality lies deep in the collective memory of Sudan. Sudanese still remember the overthrow of an elected government and seizure of power by a bunch of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated army officers on June 30, 1989. They remember very well that this coup took place four years after a great uprising brought down Jaafar Nimeiris dictatorship, followed by a short-lived democratic era. That is why the regime is haunted by the legitimacy knot, which makes every move or statement from opponents and almost everything else a challenge to its survival.
Economy and the deterioration of living standards were always behind the uprisings in Sudan since independence in 1956. The exorbitant cost of the escalation of the war in the South, sparked the uprising in 1964 against the regime of General Ebrahim Aboud and again in 1985 against Jaafar Nimeiri, who was in Washington at that time, negotiating with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund over loans and austerity measures, exactly like the ones taken by the Al Bashir regime recently. But similarities between Nimeiris regime and Al Bashirs regime do not end at this point. Both regimes created a class of beneficiaries and brokers feeding off corruption which seemed necessary for both regimes to buy loyalty. It is the same class in both regimes, but with different names. They were members of the ruling party (the Socialist Union) and loyal officers in the Nimeiri-era, who were replaced by members of the Congress party, wealthy businessmen of the Muslim Brotherhood and loyal military and militia leaders.
The fate of the Al Bashir regime is known. It has only one obsession survival. However, the question is who will lead the battle to topple this brutal regime? Who will be the mastermind of an uprising that does not lack circumstances, justification, the spark and victims?
The brutality of the regime will not prevent Sudanese people from launching a new wave of demonstrations. They might seem reluctant and hesitant because they do not trust some of the opposition leaders, especially those who played an obstructive role in the path of democracy throughout the political history of Sudan. If the protests resume, driven by the aim of doing away with the regime, it will mean one thing: Toppling the regime and those who are in opposition now, but also punishing those who shoulder the burden of the responsibility for draining Sudan on its long and tragic path of deterioration since independence.
Originally Published in Gulf News, October 1, 2013