Under worsening economic conditions, more Sudanese are joining protests against President Omar al Bashir, whose inadequate response to the growing crisis is making the political situation more untenable.
Sudanese unrest fueled by growing economic hardships has further expanded across the country as protesters hardened their stance against the rule of Omar al Bashir, calling for the ouster of his government.
Under growing domestic pressure, Bashir, a former colonel, who took control of the country through a bloodless military coup in 1989 and has led the country since, promised economic reforms without specifying their nature and extent.
According to Amnesty International, the police have killed at least 37 protesters across the country during violent protests, which led torching the headquarters of the ruling National Congress Party in Atbara, a long rebellious city and the hotbed of the unrest, on December 20.
As the 2020 presidential elections approach, Sudan’s aging president will once again run for the presidency. He has been facing different challenges ranging from the rising price of bread and fuel to its participation in the Saudi-led Yemen war. Khartoum has lost hundreds of its soldiers in Yemen.
Despite Washington lifting two decades-long sanctions against the country in 2017, economic conditions have worsened for many ordinary Sudanese.
Without bread and fuel
One of the main triggers of the current protests is the rising price of bread in a country, which has the potential to be the breadbasket of the Arab world according to many experts. The price increased from one pound to three.
Sudan is covered with fertile lands from its southern territories to its central east, having the potential to be a major agricultural exporter if it secures the right investments. But rather than being a major hub for agriculture, Sudanese themselves suffer high bread prices.
Not only bread prices but also other commodity prices are skyrocketing in the country where the central bank has recently devalued the pound, making inflation reach %70.
In addition to inflation, Sudan has had a worsening cash crisis, a bad omen for the country as its ATMs can only afford to provide people about 500 SDG ($10.50) per day, which is barely enough for people to meet their daily needs.
Since 2011, when Bashir agreed to the secession of South Sudan from Khartoum under international pressure following a long civil war, Sudanese have also suffered from increasing fuel prices. Sudan lost most of its oil fields to the newly independent South Sudan, which has gained the status of having Africa’s third-largest oil reserves after its secession.
Rising fuel prices has been a simmering issue in Sudan, which had been oil-rich until recently. Five years ago, there were also violent protests against rising oil and gas prices and more than 200 protesters were killed at the time by Sudanese security forces.
In April, even some top officials indicated that the country is on the brink of bankruptcy.
Domestic and international factoring
Despite occasional protests since 2011, Bashir was still able to enforce his version of the rule of law across the country, benefiting from a weak and disjointed opposition. He reshuffled his cabinet to prevent any internal opposition.
This time, though, the opposition appears to be more organised than ever under a joint platform facilitated by independent professional unions and two main opposition parties, the National Umma Party and Democratic Unionists.
"[Protesters] seemed to agree they want to see change and the police had to use tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the crowd," according to Al Jazeera's reporter.
But for Bashir, all the protesters are just “traitors and foreign agents” trying to foment more divisions in the Red Sea state.
Bashir, who has ruled for 29 years, has previously sensed the economic and political unease in the country, making tours to numerous foreign capitals from Moscow to Damascus to find new allies and funds for his political survival.
But experts think that Bashir is playing a dangerous game by seeking different allies from opposing sides. The Sudanese leader has been allied with Gulf countries, backing the Yemen war, but wanted to stay neutral during the Qatar crisis. He has also recently met with Bashar al Assad, who has few friends left in the region.
Despite the US and the EU rapprochement toward Khartoum, Bashir has suspicions about Washington’s ultimate intentions. According to experts he believes there is an internal pro-American Sudanese “clique” which wants to seize the right opportunity to overthrow him.
When the former US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan visited Khartoum in mid-November 2017, he did not see a need to meet with the country’s president, whose suspicions only grew after the visit, experts think.
Following the recent protests, he warned the nation about “rumour mongers.”
The Sudanese army, which has occasionally overthrown different governments since the country’s independence from Egypt in 1956, has voiced its support for Bashir in the face of protests.
“The armed forces assert that it stands behind its leadership and its keen interest in safeguarding the people’s achievements and the nation’s security, safety along with its blood, honour and assets,” a recent military statement said.