"These protests are unprecedented in terms of their length and sustainability, their geographical spread throughout the entire country, and the remarkable coalition of youth groups, civil society organizations, and opposition political parties that have joined in these protests now still ongoing in their third month." - Khalid Medani
The slogan ´Tasqut Bas´ (Just Fall, That is All) has become one of the signature refrains of demonstrators who have been returning again and again to the streets of Sudan, even after more than 60 killed by security forces, hundreds arrested, and a state of emergency declared in February. While no one can predict when and if long-surviving dictator Omar al-Bashir will follow the demonstrators´ advice, many observers note that the regime is much weaker and the opposition stronger than in earlier similar protests.
Sudan´s precarious economic situation, among the catalysts for the protests, also weakens the regime´s capacity to survive. And international pressure is also increasing, including uncertainty about support from the Gulf states which have in the past bailed out the regime. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar, who have been among the patrons of Khartoum, are hesitant in part because of Sudan´s reluctance to take sides in the bitter dispute of Saudi Arabia and UAE with Qatar. The remarkable persistence and breadth of support for the demonstrations is leading even longtime supporters to question Bashir´s capacity to survive this time.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two articles on the recent protests, one by Khalid Medani providing an overview analysis in historical context, and the other focusing on the prominent role played by Sudanese doctors, by Abdulrazig S. Hummaida and Khalid M. Dousa.
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Sudan, visit http://www.africafocus.org/country/sudan.php
Other recent articles with relevant background information:
"The Historical Precedents of the Current Uprising in Sudan," by Anakwa Dwamena, The New Yorker, Feb 8, 2019 http://tinyurl.com/y4tmlge7
"Sudanese Women at the Heart of the Revolution," by Reem Gaafar and Omnia Shawkat, African Feminism, Feb 12, 2019 http://tinyurl.com/y527xgc7
"Bashir Moves Sudan to Dangerous New Ground," International Crisis Group, Feb. 26, 2019 http://tinyurl.com/y2c8tox6
Reliable Sudanese sources to follow for current updates
The New Mobilization Dynamics of Sudan's Popular Uprising: The Virtue of Learning from the Past
By Khalid M. Medani
Jadaliyya, Feb. 23, 2019
Tasqut Bas (Fall, That is All)
For over two months, wide-scale protests in Sudan have continued unabated calling for President Omar al-Bashir to step down and pave the way for a transition period ushering in multi-party democracy. Not surprisingly, as with similar protests in the past, the Bashir regime has sought a military solution to quell the protests, deploying the police and paramilitary security forces against peaceful protestors in Khartoum and throughout the country. At the time of writing, over sixty people have been killed, many as a result of torture in the government's "ghost houses." More than two thousand anti-government activists are still held in detention despite the regime's repeated insistence that they are intent on releasing political detainees.
The government has frequently pronounced that the protests are relatively small and are having little impact on the regime, or that the demonstrations are essentially sponsored by saboteurs, thugs, or "foreign elements." Despite such claims, the popular intifada has not only produced significant policy changes on the part of the regime, it has clearly undermined the rule of Omar Bashir in ways that have threatened to topple his thirty-year authoritarian rule.
Over the last week, in the wake of continued and sustained demonstrations, strikes, and sit-ins across Sudanese civil society, Bashir has been forced to postpone a constitutional amendment that would have allow him to run for a third term in office. He also declared a state of emergency in Khartoum, disbanding the federal government, and replacing local governors with senior army officers in a desperate attempt to maintain his power. However, these policies of both appeasement and repression appear to have emboldened anti-government protestors further.
The state of emergency is clearly designed to give carte blanche to the security forces to use greater violence against the protestors, to further restrict political and civil liberties, and to crack-down even more on activists and opposition political parties. Immediately following Bashir's announcement of a state of emergency, protestors went back on the streets in over fifty neighborhoods throughout the country, and particularly in Khartoum and Omdurman. They called once again for Bashir's removal. They chanted, among other slogans, one of the most uncompromising and popular refrains of the current uprising: Tasqut Bas (fall, that is all).
The "Periphery" as Catalyst of the Intifada
The recent protests erupted on 19 December 2018 in the workingclass city of Atbara in River Nile state, approximately twohundred miles north of Khartoum. They were sparked by a three-fold increase in the price of bread. They began with protests led by secondary school students. They were very quickly joined by thousands of residents in the city of Atbara.
Within days, antigovernment demonstrations expanded across a wide range of cities and towns throughout the northern region and in the capital city of Khartoum. Chanting slogans such as "the people want the fall of the regime" (inspired by the Arab uprisings of late 2010 and 2011 in Tunisia and Egypt, respectively), the demonstrators quickly expanded their demands in ways that reflect deep-seated and wideranging political as well as economic grievances with the thirtyyear authoritarian rule of Omer al-Bashir and his ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP).
However, despite the fact that political grievances and demands are now at the forefront of the uprising, there is little question that these particularly protests were first sparked by economic grievances that date back to the consequences of the secession of South Sudan in 2011. As is by now widely noted, this led to the loss of seventy-five percent of oil revenue for Khartoum since two-thirds of the oil resources are in the south, and consequently approximately sixty percent of its foreign currency earnings.
As a result, the Bashir regime implemented austerity measures beginning in 2012 which resulted in similar anti-austerity protests at the time, although these were mostly centered in Khartoum and hence more centralized than the current protests. Similarly, one of the main factors for the current demonstrations is the implementation of IMF-backed austerity measures which led to lifting of bread and fuel subsidies and quickly sparked the first of the demonstrations on 19 December 2018.
What is important to emphasize, however, is that these protests are not only rooted in opposition to economic austerity measures. They are crucially a result of a widely understood opposition to decades of rampant corruption, including "privatization" policies that transferred assets and wealth to the regime's supporters, and the theft of gold as well as billions of dollars of profits from the period of the oil boom in the country.
A New Pattern of Mobilization and Protest
Following the lead of cities in the periphery, in Khartoum, the protests also began in opposition to a deep economic crisis associated with the rise in bread fuel prices as well as a severe liquidity crisis. But these demands quickly evolved into calls for the ouster of Bashir from power. Importantly, the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), which has taken the lead in organizing and scheduling the protests, initially marched to the parliament in Khartoum in late December demanding wages increases for public sector workers and the legalization of professional and trade unions. However, after security forces used violence against the peaceful protests, these demands quickly escalated into the call for the removal of the ruling National Congress Party, the structural transformation of governance in Sudan, and a transition to democracy.
These demands are similar to those associated with previous popular protests against the regime, including those of 2011, 2012, and 2013. However, what is most important to note with respect to these protests is that they are unprecedented in terms of their duration and sustainability (now ongoing in their third month), their geographical spread throughout the entire country, and the remarkable coalition of youth groups, civil society organizations, and opposition political parties that have joined.
Equally important, is that the coordination of these demonstrations has followed a remarkably new, innovative, and sustained process. This is important to highlight because it clearly shows that, just as the dictatorial regime of Omer Bashir has prided itself in weakening the opposition in order to prevent any threat to their regime by dismantling labor and trade unions, establishing a wide range of paramilitary militias linked to the state, and putting down armed opposition as well as antigovernment activists in civil society, these demonstrators have also learned from the unsuccessful anti-regime protests of the past. Led by the newly established Sudanese Professional Association, the ongoing demonstrations have been coordinated, scheduled, and strategically designed to emphasize: sustainability over time rather than sheer numbers; spread throughout middle, working class, and poor neighborhoods; and coordination with protestors in regions far afield from Khartoum, including the Eastern State on the Red Sea, and Darfur to the far west of the country.
In addition, the slogans promoted and utilized by the protestors also have been purposefully framed to incorporate the grievances of the wider spectrum of Sudanese and not just those of the middle class and ethnic and political elites centered in Khartoum and the northern regions of the country.
These slogans are essentially framed in ways designed to mobilize support across ethnic and racial categories, emphasizing that the only way forward is to oust Omar Bashir and the ruling regime from power. In doing so, they highlight the endemic and unprecedented level of corruption of the regime and its allies, the decades of human rights violations against civilians in the country by a wide range of security forces, and the brutal wars waged by the regime in Darfur, the Blue Nile state on the border of South Sudan, and the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan.
Anti-regime demonstrators in Omdurman, Sudan, January 2019.
Indeed, perhaps one of the most notable aspect of these protests, which distinguish them greatly from previous uprisings, is not only the sheer regional scale of the demonstrations but the hitherto unprecedented high level of solidarity across class lines in the country. Youth activists and members of the professional associations have not only challenged the political discourse of the state; they have played a significant role in engineering cross-class alliances in the context of these demonstrations. Over the last week strikes, work stoppages, and sit-ins have been held not only on university campuses and secondary schools, but also among private sector and public sector employees and workers. Among the most important examples are the ongoing strikes by workers of Port Sudan on the Red Sea demanding the nullification of the sale of the southern Port to a foreign company, and several work stoppages and protests led by employees of some of the most important telecom providers and other private firms in the country.
Scenarios: The Prospects for a Peaceful Transition to Multi-Party Democracy
Equally important with respect to evaluating the prospects of the uprising leading to a transition to democracy has to do with the evolving and increasingly sophisticated nature of the demands of the demonstrators as the protests have continued unabated. The initial aims of the protestors were to simply oust Omar Bashir and his regime from power.
The level of grievance and anger among the population made this the most important priority at the very beginning of the protest. However, as the coordination of these protests became exceedingly more sophisticated, particular under the leadership of the Sudanese Professional Associations, the objectives of the majority of the protestor is now not only to end Omar Bashir's dictatorial regime, which remains a priority, but to also prepare and pave the way for a transitional period consisting of four years that would usher in a multi-party democracy in the country.
At the moment Sudanese activists, the political party opposition, and a broad swath of civil society organizations are engaged in discussing a variety of possible scenarios including the prospects of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) taking the side of the protests and overseeing democratic transition as in the past, an internal coup within the armed forces that would essentially consolidate authoritarian rule under a new leadership, or the falling apart of the center and state disintegration as in, for example Libya and Somalia.
Ultimately, the outcome of these protests will, not surprisingly, depend on the continued unity and sustainability of the protestors and demonstrators, the power and force of the National Intelligence and Security Services and the para-military militias, and the extent to which external regional powers, especially in the region, support the regime in Khartoum out of fear that their regional interests may be undermined following the removal of Bashir from power.
This balance between domestic anti-government activists and civil society organizations, the state's security apparatus, and external patronage is, of course, critical in devising any scenarios in the future and is well known. What is interesting is the actions of Bashir more recently that have signalled that these demonstrations have altered internal regime dynamics and calculations.
As a result of the rise of protests in the regions, Bashir traveled to regions he never visited before, as a consequence of protests against the continued torture and violence against demonstrators, he has made some tepid overtures such as releasing some political prisoners, and as the demonstrations continue unabated, loyalists within his own parliament have very recently proposed that he formally declare he will not alter the constitution and run for president for a third term. There is little question that this reflects the view of some in his inner circle of devising a way out for Bashir in ways that would quite the protests, work stoppages, labor strikes, and sit-ins that have now transformed the initial protests from so-called "streets protests" to essentially a social movement that has altered Sudan's political and cultural landscape for decades to come.
Central to this shift has been the pointed critique and even abhorrence of the activists to the Islamist project of Bashir's ruling National Congress Party (NCP), and his Islamist supporters that has made the regime of Bashir in the eyes of most Sudanese nothing short of a ruling military junta composed of tujjar al-din (traders of religion). Reportedly, the wide scale opposition to the regime has expanded to such a degree that Bashir's own ministry has acknowledged that the opposition is now in "every home," not to mention in many mosques in Khartoum and throughout the country. At the time of writing, deep divisions appear to be further emerging within the regime itself.
Early on the morning of 22 February, the powerful head of the Sudan National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS), Salah Gosh, announced that Bashir will step down as head of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and that the constitution will not be amended to allow for his 2020 re-election. But in a televized address later the same evening, Bashir contradicted his intelligence chief's statements and affirmed that, while he will postpone the parliamentary vote to amend the constitution, he would remain as head of state and declared a state of emergency for one year.
There is now little question that these demonstrations have already registered remarkable success in ways that few would have predicated before 19 December. Specifically, there is a remarkable reinvigoration of civil society in Sudan despite decades of authoritarian rule and a policy of division across ethnic, racial and class lines. However in this regard, we must be specific.
It is not the emergence of a strong civil society in a vague sense but rather the reinvigoration of independent trade, labor, and professional unions at time when most would have predicted and affirmed their demise. We also see the remarkable empowerment of youth activism and their utilization of social media to assist in the coordination of demonstrations across class, regional and racial lines rather than to simply express a particularly middle class and elite and narrow political sensibility which is a critique that has been leveled at youth activism throughout the region. The bravery and courage of youth activists in Sudan and in the region is of course never in doubt.
What we see in Sudan, however, is that in addition to this display of remarkable courage is the close coordination among activists across middle- and working-class neighborhoods, repeated campaigns to support the reef, or rural areas, and remarkable cooperation across the gender divide which has underpinned the political and cultural shift that these demonstrations have accomplished.
When Bashir, in recognition of the prominent role of women in the demonstrations, recently called for changes in the Public Order Law that has brutalized and demeaned Sudanese women for decades, female activists quickly responded that their struggle is not just about the Public Order Law; it is pointedly centered on the removal of an authoritarian regime and working towards the expansion of political and civil liberties for all Sudanese.
The wide scope and sustainability of Sudan's uprising is unprecedented in the country's history. More specifically, the coordination and linkages between formal professional associations, trade and labor unions, civil society organizations, and youth activists with the popular and working-class segments of the population (who are essentially workers in the informal economy) is one of the most important reasons for the durability of the protests. Ultimately, it is the success in organizing across the formal-informal social spectrum that has sustained the protests.
The idea that professional and trade unions should engage more closely with street activists and workers in the informal economy was not one that had been vigorously envisioned or promoted by many political actors involved in previous popular protests. This development has played a key role in sustaining the protests and in undermining the Bashir regime in ways that could not easily have been predicted when the uprising first erupted in Atbara, the city of al-hadid wa-al-nar (steel and fire) in the River Nile State.
Sudan's doctors treating the political ailments of the nation
Africa is a Country
March 2, 2019
by Abdulrazig S. Hummaida and Khalid M. Dousa
https://africasacountry.com - Direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/y3gx6enj
As Sudanese continue to chant "Just fall, that is all" against the regime, doctors pay a hefty price for standing with them.
Since the December 2018 demonstrations against the 30-year rule of President Omar al Bashir, began, Sudanese doctors have been on the frontlines of the public movement that has shaken the regime. It´s unmistakable to anyone following the demonstrations, which started in Atbara, Central Sudan, on December 19th that this time is different; it is a continuation of an ongoing protest movement fighting for freedom, which has escalated in recent years, most prominently in 2013 when over 200 peaceful protestors were shot down in three days. It has been more than 60 days since the Sudanese people took to the streets and the death toll has exceeded 50 as a result of the government using excessive force and live ammunition at protestors.
Hundreds remain in political detention and dozens are injured and disabled. Professionals have been one of the largest constituencies of this movement as the entity calling and guiding the protests is the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a group reportedly formed after the September 2013 protests, but formally introduced in August 2018 with a goal to campaign for raising the minimum wages.
Doctors who are trying to save lives with the scarce medical supplies they are afforded, continue to be targeted. Dr. Mohamed Al-Asam who is one of two Sudan-based speakers for the SPA was arrested by the security agencies just 24 hours after his first appearance on a live video on SPA's social media accounts on the 2nd of January 2018. The 28-year-old remains detained and his whereabouts are unknown. At least 27 other doctors remain in detention.
On January 15th, 2019, Dr. Babiker Abdelhamid was shot dead by security forces while treating wounded demonstrators in Burri, a neighborhood in Eastern Khartoum.
A number of doctors were also shot or wounded on the job as security agents raided and tear-gassed a number of hospitals in Khartoum and North Kordofan states. On January 9th, security forces stormed into Omdurman Teaching hospital where some injured (and routine patients) were receiving care and fired tear gas canisters and live ammunition rounds.
They then went on to beat and arrest doctors, protesters and their families and bystanders indiscriminately. Commenting on this incident, the World Health Organization stated that they are extremely concerned about attack on a hospital in #Sudan. While patients might be not injured, they are traumatized. This is in direct violation of medical neutrality and human rights principles. Health facilities, staff and patients are #NotATarget.
Other accounts have circulated through social and mainstream media, where doctors in the demonstrations have reported that they feel targeted and were in fear of severe punishment or even execution in detention. Such fears were materialized, since Dr. Alfatih Omer Elsid (Manager of Tuga private hospital) was arrested after his announcement that the hospital will provide free medical care to injured protesters.
Medical students have also been on the receiving end of some of the most vicious government crackdowns on protests. This occurred on several occasions in different university campuses in the capital Khartoum. Among the universities attacked were Sudan International University (SIU) and the University of Medical Sciences and Technology (UMST). Security forces entered the UMST campus on Sunday February 24, fired tear gas into classrooms, beat up the peacefully protesting medical students and arrested dozens of them. This attack came only two days after President Omar al Bashir declared a national state of emergency.
All these intimidating actions by the government led the Sudan Doctors Committee (a parallel popular union to the governmentcontrolled doctor's union) to immediately issue a statement, which stated that if the government does not stop its unlawful and unethical acts and abide to a list of five demands within a 48hour -period, it would announce a nationwide strike from nonemergency cases in all hospitals.
These demands included; the formation of an investigation committee for the abuses; incrementation of the acts carried out by the security forces against doctors and other hospital staff in the line of duty; the immediate release of all detained doctors; that doctors on strike should not negotiate with hospital administration without the presence of head of police or locality; and the protection of hospitals and staff by military police and the armed forces.
This continuous aggression against doctors has not deterred their resolve to stand up for their rights and to support the uprising, while continuing to fulfill their Hippocratic oath and provide medical care. This balance, despite being difficult, has been carefully executed as doctors are still providing emergency care services in government hospitals and private institutions not linked to the regime or financed by its supporters.
They have however taken a specific stance against hospitals running under the leadership and management of the security and defense forces. Since January 18, they called on all the doctors to stop working in these hospitals, and instead volunteer to work in other government and private facilities. Some doctors have since faced countless threats of discontinuation of training and even legal action due to "failure to provide care."
Sudanese doctors in the diaspora have also played a major role in the protests, since the beginning of the uprising, they quickly began (and contributed to) fundraising initiatives through several social platforms including Facebook and PayPal. These initiatives were made possible by the Sudanese American Physicians Association (SAPA) in the US and the Sudan Doctor's Union in the UK and Ireland (SDU-UK&I), amongst other diaspora associations.
These funds have helped in the delivery of care on the ground, where the money was used to finance health care service needs to the injured protesters (and sometimes the immediate families of those who were martyred in the revolution). These included two cases to date, both of which lost one of their eyes due to contact with shrapnel or a tear gas canister. Both were sent abroad for surgery and further rehabilitation. Another initiative was called for by SAPA to fund the payment of salaries for the doctors on strike, since their salaries and benefits had ceased.
One of the pivotal roles the Sudanese Doctor's Central Committee (SDCC) and Sudan Doctor's Syndicate has been playing in this uprising is the documentation of injuries and deaths that occur during the demonstrations. The reports given by the official media outlet, the Sudan News Agency (SUNA) have been misleading and the committee has countered this by providing ground-verified reports. While the last report given by government agencies puts the casualties at 29 deaths, the Sudan Doctors' Syndicate have reported 57 deaths as of February 8th 2019. The SDCC continues to report casualties and fatalities related to the protests regularly on their social media accounts.
The aforementioned patriotic acts of doctors towards the injured in the protests, and their defiance against the government and its atrocious acts have led the demonstrators to refer to them as the "White Army" (in reference to their white coats). To date, the Sudanese Armed Forces have sworn to protect the regime and its leader, something the protesters see as a betrayal to the peaceful demonstrations and rightful call for freedom.
They feel however that the strong role doctors are playing is akin to what a military would do, which is to side with the people against a dictatorship. With the absence of the Sudanese Armed Forces, the poor coverage of the December 2018 uprising by the media, and the weak denouncement of the oppression of the government by world leaders and heads of states, protesters see doctors as their only protectors. Doctors have taken it upon themselves to—both physically and metaphorically—treat the wounds of the nation.
Doctors in Sudan have historically played a significant role in the country's uprisings; in October 1964 and April 1985, they did their part and doing so now, even in the face of bullets, financial hardships and detentions.
As the people continue to chant "Just fall, that is all", doctors continue to pay a hefty price for standing with the people and they need the international community to protect them.
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