1 February 2019

Sudan: Too Little, Too Late

Slowly the government started to adopt a softening position on the demonstrations that have been rocking the country for more than seven weeks. From the president down to senior officials like the prime minister to minister of defence the official line now is that the youth have a genuine cause that needs to be heard and their concerns addressed.

One of the concrete measure the regime offered to take is to review the controversial and much debated the Public Order Law, whose application, is "one of the causes of injustice among young people in the country," President Omar Al-Bashir told group of journalists and columnists last week.

He added that he will call the judicial and police authorities to discuss with them this repressive order before adding that "its application is opposite by 180 degrees to the Islamic law".

This has been interpreted as a concession that have boosted opposition morale reflected in last Thursday marches seen attracting more participants.

The game between the government and its opponents seems to be taking a new turn in what looks like an ongoing marathon.

These latest developments reflects on ground what has been theocratized before by one of the current uprising leading figures. Back in August, just four months before the outbreak of the demonstration Mohamed Nagi Alassam, a 28 years old who appeared briefly as spokesperson for the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) before being detained, published two articles on the dynamics of change. He pointed out to three main stages for change: from indifference to rejection and from negative rejection to positive one and building trust.

He pointed out that any plan for change should start with a serious effort to create a general state of rejection among people. And such general rejection should appeal to as many segments of the society as possible. From those affected by war, to those failing to find job to those suffering from high cost of living and so on.

This stage paves the way to the following one that develops such negative rejection into a positive stage so as to start the journey for change when rejection is expressed into practical steps, expand the circle of those rejecting adding more and more participants through daily operation aiming for change. And the most important factor in this stage is to build trust that is able to unify all opposition forces to work towards change.

Clearly the ongoing anti-government that has been raging more or less all over the country for almost two months had succeeded in forcing the government to admit that there is genuine problem that has to be addressed instead of the initial denial and accusation of saboteurs and spoilers.

More important is the official recognition that teacher Ahmed Al-Kheir has died out of torture, not as initially explained that the cause of death is food poisoning.

The most important factor on what is going on is this developing trust between the people. Despite the secrecy surrounding SPA, yet its weekly announcements receive highly positive responsive despite repression. The timing and venues for demonstrations and sit-ins are followed to the letter with enough flexibility for those on ground to perform their activity the way they like. And this adds to the strength of this movement.

However, the official offers to review the Public Order Law or relax the social discipline could best be seen as offering too little, too late. More serious is clear inability of the government to handle the chronic economic crisis. There is an 800 tons daily of fuel deficit that have to be covered and the situation may worsen next month with the start of the annual Khartoum refinery maintenance. That refinery usually covers at least 50 percent the country's consumption. There is also the unbearable flour subsidy, whose partial lifting triggered this uprising. Moreover, out of 93 tons of gold produced last year, only 22 went through the official channels, which shows how corruption, wrong policies, inefficiency and centers of power have contributed to what the country is suffering now.

With no substantial foreign aid in the offing, inability to commit a suicidal measure of lifting subsidies on fuel and flour the only practical option left is to push for a genuine and radical political and economic reform and the question is whether the regime will be its target or take a rational stand and be part of it.

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