In recent weeks, an inspiring photograph went viral of a Sudanese woman dressed in white standing atop a car with her hand pointed high, leading protesters in songs of revolt against the regime of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. On Thursday April 11, after more than 30 years in power, Sudanese dictator Bashir was removed from office following a military coup sparked by a growing antagonism amongst the population because of the increase in prices for basic commodities. The protests and military coup reflect a broader pattern of civilian disillusionment with long established government authority throughout the Middle East and Africa. The protests are backlash against the Sudanese government’s imposition of an Islamic identity on an increasingly multicultural, youthful population.
The young woman the photo that symbolizes the protest movement in Sudan has been identified as Alaa Salah, a 22-year-old architecture student in Khartoum. She said, “Our country is above any political parties and any sectarian divisions.” Muntasir el-Tayeb Ibrahim, a professor of genetics at the University of Khartoum noted, “The only time governments have been overthrown in the Sudanese context is not with violent struggles but popular movement. I feel that the things that we did in 1964 is being well taken care of by the youth.” He later said that “the people have decided that the government has to go.” Declan Walsh and Joseph Goldstein from the New York Times described the Sudanese protests as “more like a counterculture summer festival than a revolution.” With music, dance, and poetry as the primary means of activism. Alaa Salah said that, “The bullet doesn’t kill. What kills is the silence of people.” The success of this kind of protest movement demonstrates that violence is not a necessary component of political change.
The current uprisings witnessed across Khartoum must be understood within the political history of the Sudanese nation. Sudan has a long history of peaceful civil disobedience, which successfully brought down military regimes in October 1964 and in April 1985 where the current regime obtained power. In December 2018, the Sudanese parliament supported a constitutional amendment that would extend the term limits of the President, Omar al-Bashir who would have otherwise been required to step down at the beginning of 2019. In the following two weeks, student protests erupted in Atbara after bread prices tripled overnight. Almost half of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the most recent estimates, and inflation is up 30% from last year. The current protest movements first broke out in mid 2018. Led by a newly politicized group, the Sudanese Professionals Association made up of doctors, lawyers, journalists engineers and teachers. The group was born of Sudan’s frustrated middle class that increasingly became the victims of poor economic management. This group ensured the initial protests concerning the rising price of bread was a main political standpoint that challenged the dictatorial power of the Bashir regime and his constitutional rule. This structured political engagement proved unilaterally successful, as after eight weeks of protest, Bashir’s regime fell following a military coup on April 11.
As one of the poorest nations in Africa, what will happen to Sudan is not fully known. The instability of recent weeks made for the removal of the interim leader after only one day in power and has consequently raised questions regarding the fate of Sudan. Many political commentators fear that Sudan may be destined for a path similar to that of Libya, where the ousting of Muammar al-Qaddafi after 40 years of rule plunged the country into a chaotic spiral from which it has yet to recover. Others view a more optimistic parallel drawn between Sudan and South Africa, where the end of apartheid in the 1990s occurred through a peaceful negotiation between a white supremacist regime and the opposition led by Nelson Mandela that sought to tear it down. The future of a stable Sudan depends on the capacity of the Sudanese Professionals Association to deliver a fair, realistic, and robust Constitution that has the capacity to develop the new nation of Sudan. In doing so, Sudan is likely to end up on a path to development, stability, and long term prosperity.
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