Sudan Is Getting Into State of Political Attrition

Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir
2 January 2019

One month after anti-government demonstrations erupted in Sudan it looks the country is getting into a state of political attrition, where the government is unwilling or incapable of forging ahead with a political proposals to break the current impasse and the opposition hardly making any impact on the regime's hardline approach.

The two mottos raised by the two opposing parties summarized the deadlock: Simply Fall and Simply Stay on.

This situation of attrition became clear when compared to the two popular uprisings before in 1964 and 1985. The first lasted for only one week following the death of the university student then Ahmed Al-Gorashi Taha by a police bullet on October 21, an incident that led to demonstrations, which eventually developed into a call on the first military rule to step down. On October 26 the junta headed the call and stepped down when the head of the state then General Ibrahim Abboud announced dissolving the government and the supreme military council.

Two decades later and out of sheer economic difficulties President J'afar Nimeiry decided to lift subsidies, a move that led to spontaneous demonstrations on March 26, 1985 following a provocative speech by Nimeiry before he left to Washington in his final trip as president. Eight days of continuous anti-government demonstrations pushed the political arm of the government, the Sudanese Socialist Union to organize a supportive rally, but it turned out to be thinly populated and that was quickly interpreted as a sign of an isolated regime. By then those opposing the regime were emboldened enough to patch an alliance of trade unions and political parties that called for the regime to step down. And that stand was strong enough to push the army to decide to topple the Nimeiry regime on April 6, after eleven days of incessant anti-demonstrations.

Unlike the previous two popular revolts the current one is different in terms of the composition of the opposing forces and the regime it is facing. While the two ousted regimes in 1964 and 1985 were purely military, the current one is a product of an Islamist party, the National Islamic Front, which used to have the third bloc during the parliamentary system.

The Islamists well aware of how previous regimes were toppled, decided early on to stifle the factors that will eventually cause a threat, namely the army and trade unions. And for that it diluted trade unions as well as creating paramilitary groups to ensure its grip on these two important areas.

However, in a classic case of thesis and anti-thesis the main feature of the current demonstrations is that it is being waged by the product of the Ingaz regime, those in their 20s and 30s, who find that they are living a doomed life with hardly any window of opportunity for a reasonable future.

With the ongoing economic crisis and the heavy handed approach to quell the demonstrations will keep fueling the unrest and at the same time the government keeps itself blocked behind a hardline position that people have to wait till forthcoming election next year to challenge the regime. Both positions indicate that the state of current political attrition is here to stay for the time being. And that political impasse will continue to impact the inability to make a change in the deteriorating economic situation, which triggered this uprising and push it to the political arena.

It was interesting to note that in its last meeting the leading body of the ruling party the National Congress has recommended initiating a dialogue with the youth. Though it was a vague call not accompanied by any specific measures, it can easily be attached to the hint of handing power to the military; and all grouped among some scenarios that are being considered, but it remains to be seen how serious such proposals are.

The continuation of this impasse has started to show its other face, that is attracting world attention. In addition to the regular reporting by human right organizations and the typical news coverage, the issue on going uprising started to creep into opinion pages of some leading western newspapers like the New York Times, Foreign Policy and the Guardian. More seriously it was debated informally in the UNSC, a development that may indicate that such impasse will not be tolerated by the world. And the question then will be whether it will intervene to break such an impasse and at what cost.

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