|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Issue 215 February 2018
Sudan protests erupt
Protests broke out across Sudan on 8 January, including in the capital Khartoum, the southern cities of Nyala, Geneina and al-Damazin, and in West Darfur. The immediate trigger was the doubling of the price of bread after the government ended subsidies in its 2018 budget. The interior ministry declared that protesters would be dealt with forcefully and a student was killed in the ensuing state repression.
More than 400 activists have been detained, including members of the Sudanese Communist Party, the National Umma Party, leading women’s activist, Ilham Malik Salman Ahmed, and CWI supporter, Mohamed Dialdin Mohamed Satti. Journalists reporting the protests were also detained, and six newspapers critical of the subsidy cuts were banned from sale.
Last October, most US-imposed economic sanctions on Sudan – in place for two decades – were lifted. Despite expectations, the economic situation for the majority of the population worsened. No longer able to hide behind US sanctions, the brutal rule of Omar al-Bashir, and the ruling elite’s plundering of wealth, mass corruption and waste of resources on bloody wars stand exposed for all to see. Anger against the regime is escalating.
The budget followed years of fuel subsidy cuts – sparking mass protests in 2012 and 2013 – defended by the government as a ‘remedy for the deteriorating economy’. Yet the economy has only gotten worse and the deficit in 2017 rose to 28 billion SDG (Sudanese pounds – worth £2.87bn), a dramatic increase from the previous year. Now the IMF is pushing the government to slash energy subsidies even more.
The budget saw security and defence spending rise above 20 billion SDG (£2.05bn), while the total share for education and health is no greater than eight billion. These are sectors in which Sudanese people are particularly suffering, with high illiteracy rates, a health sector extremely degraded, and the prices of medicines at levels ordinary people simply cannot afford. A few days before the budget, the government also devalued the SDG from seven per dollar to 18 – when inflation is already around 25%. This will choke the poor even further as they will no longer be able to afford even their basic needs.
The system harasses and denies freedom to political activists, and attacks the personal rights of people. It extorts money from citizens through the Public Order law. In December, 24 girls were arrested and charged because their dress was considered ‘indecent’. The charges were subsequently dropped after they provoked an international outcry but many cases go unreported by the media. More than 40,000 public order cases are annually recorded in Khartoum state alone.
The Public Order law is loose and its interpretation depends on the arbitrary actions of police officers. Beyond being a tool of submission, especially against women, this law is applied much more towards the end of each year to get as much money in as possible to close the budget.
At the same time as the government announced the budget, it received a visit from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and a number of economic and military agreements were signed. Most notably, a 99-year agreement allowing the Turkish government to manage Suakin, a port city in north eastern Sudan with archaeological monuments from the Ottoman era. Activists protested against this infringement on local people’s land rights. The visit was accompanied by a meeting of Turkish, Sudanese and Qatari military leaders.
These developments illustrate the rapid changes in foreign relations and the balancing act of the Sudanese regime towards the Turkish-Qatari alliance in the region, while relations between Sudan and Saudi Arabia are going through a storm. The Saudi regime’s brutal stance against the Houthis in the war in Yemen has created unease in Khartoum.
Al-Bashir’s visit to Russia and Erdoğan’s to Sudan also heightened the tense political atmosphere between Sudan and the regional pole around Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Egyptian media have strongly criticised this rapprochement. Moreover, Egyptian-Sudanese relations have been strained by the revival of disputes over the territories of Hala’ib and Shalateen, as well as over Sudan’s support of Ethiopia’s construction of a huge hydroelectric dam (the Nahdha ‘Renaissance’ Dam) on the Blue Nile.
This all comes at a time when political parties are preparing for the next general election in April 2020, and as parliament debates whether to allow al-Bashir to run for office for a third time. The last elections in 2015 were boycotted by the major opposition parties. This time, however, some of them are expected to participate as they have since entered the ‘national dialogue’ called by the regime.
This is an attempt to lure the opposition into a deal that preserves the essence of the regime’s pro-capitalist policies. Building an independent struggle of working people and the poor is needed to overthrow al-Bashir’s rotten regime. It needs to be replaced with a government – based on democratically elected representatives from all of Sudan’s different regions and communities – that would initiate a socialist reconstruction of the country, planning wealth and resources in the interests of the entire population.
CWI supporters in Sudan