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Sudan: Breaking the infernal cycle

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Mohammad Fadhel Al Obaidly

Advisor, Public Opinion Research Center

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Demonstrations in Sudan have been continuing since 23rd September and nothing suggests that they will stop. But the vital question is: who is going to be the mastermind behind the efforts to topple the regime? Who is going to lead the struggle to achieve this goal?

Its not the first uprising in the modern history of Sudan, but this is not the 1960s nor the 1980s and instead of strong parties and unions who took the initiative in 1964 and again in 1985 to lead the Sudanese in the struggle to topple two military dictatorships, nowadays the young Sudanese are marching in the streets away from political parties. The protests look more like the Syrian model of uprising in the early stages before it was militarized. Its the local committees in neighborhoods not partisan or trade union bodies, who are coordinating and leading the protests in Sudan.

For those who have fair knowledge of Sudan, this is the first sign which suggests that toppling the regime might lead to breaking the cycle that has influenced the modern history of the country for the past 57 years. A cycle of short advancement eras under civilian democratic rule never exceeded five years, followed by long recidivism eras under military dictatorships.

Demographic statistics might offer an explanation for this. Statistics shows that out of 34 million people of Sudan, those who are under 54 years of age are around 51.4 per cent. If half of these witnessed the 1985 uprising as children, the other half were surely born after that. Along with 14.4 per cent of the population under the age of 15, there is no doubt that the Sudanese community is a young one.

The living figures considered as opposition leaders are among the 3.3 per cent of Sudanese above the age of 65 years. Alsadiq Al-Mahdi leader of the Umma Party, Hassan Al-Turabi leader of the Popular Congress party and Mohammad Othman Al-Merghani leader of one wing of Al-Itihadi party are all above 75 years of age.

But its not demography only which explain why the recent protests in Sudan will break that infernal cycle, but rather history. These three leaders are key players in that cycle which drained Sudan for 57 years. But if Al-Mahdi and Al-Merghani are burdened with the responsibility of wasting historical opportunities to build real functional and modern democratic state in Sudan over the past decades, Al-Turabi played the most dangerous role  in impeding the progress towards that kind of state all his life. When Nimairis regime was toppled in 1985, Al-Turabi had been an assistant for the dictator for two years. But after four years he boosted his role by becoming the godfather and the mastermind behind the military coup of Omar Al-Bashir on 30 June 1989 -- the coup which made him the most powerful man of Sudan for 10 years before his protge turned against him.

While many describe these three men now as opposition leaders, this is far from true. Both wings of Al-Itihadi party are participating in the government of Al-Bashir, and Al-Mahdi faces the fact that his son Abdul Rahman is an assistant of president Omar Al-Bashir's and his daughter is the leader of Al Umma party. Hassan Al-Turabi is just seeking revenge from Al-Bashir. Since the protests broke out, none of them gave any sign or statement to withdraw from the government. While Al-Mirghani has remained silent until now, the eloquence of Al Sadiq al-Mahdi didnt stop young party members from interrupting his speech a week ago in a rally at his party headquarter by chanting, People demand toppling of the regime, We want a clear stand from you. Al-Mahdi in that rally was calling for a political settlement with the ruling party to dismantle the regime and for establishing a democratic one. As for Al-Turabi -- although he warned of civil war if Al Bashir didnt relinquish power peacefully in a statement on Sky News. He had also announced in a mosque in Khartoum a few days ago that he will not call upon anybody to march in the streets.

The rest of parties issued statements praising the protests. Among them are the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) and the alliance called Powers of National consensus headed by the veteran lawyer Farouk Abu Isa who is under house arrest. But monitoring the reaction of average Sudanese towards such statements leads to one conclusion: Sudanese have lost faith in these parties, and in the best case, they ask them to march in the streets alongside with the young demonstrators and be part of the action. Some of them did that, especially the communist party leaders and some figures from Al-Turabis party. But this will not change the new reality in the history of Sudan: its the first time that parties are behind the protests to topple a dictatorship, not leading. A reality, which indicates a new type of movement in Sudan and new awaited results of it. A reality, which indicates a new type of movement in Sudan and new awaited results of it.

That might open the doors to an era of instability in a country drained and weakened by dictatorships and wars alongside weak and reluctant leaders. These leaders, the key players in that infernal cycle will resist any attempt to oust them from the scene. In other words they will continue what they were doing for the past many decades, impeding any real progress towards making Sudan a modern, functioning democratic state, and that is what would turn this movement into a twin revolution.

Originally published in Gulf News October 8, 2013

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