Khartoum – Sudan’s ongoing protests have not only grown but are spreading despite a brutal crackdown by the security forces which has seen dozens killed, about 1,000 arrested – including political activists, journalists and other professionals - as well as censoring of the internet and social media.
The protests, which started off over the rising prices of basic commodities such as bread, have now morphed into a general demand for political change and a new government. Indeed one of the major demands of the protesters has been for President Omar Al Bashir and his government to step down – something he has repeatedly sworn he will not do.
But the big question is whether these mass protests will be able to unseat his government, something previous protests over the years have been unable to do.
Andrews Atta-Asamoah, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa said there appear to be differences characterising the ongoing protests from previous ones.
“The protests have spread into Bashir’s strongholds and have become a major problem for the country’s leadership. Many thought his regime would not resort to brutality in order to protect the warming relations with the United States and the European Union,” Atta-Asamoah wrote in a recent ISS article.
However, the improved international relations have not had an effect of curtailing the brutality of the security forces in trying to put down the uprising.
The ISS article suggested for any protest to bring about change in Sudan, it would have to dislodge the government’s power base in the army and security apparatus, as well as the ruling coalition and the Islamic movement.
As former vice president Ali Osman Taha has said, “the authorities have full shadow battalions ready to sacrifice their lives to defend the regime”.
Nevertheless the protests are impacting Bashir’s power by spreading through areas that were traditionally thought to be his strongholds, including starting in his own backyard, and the December 20 arson attack on the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) headquarters in Atbara.
Another factor counting against Bashir’s regime is that it appears this time he can’t depend on a weakened and divided opposition being unable to challenge him.
The rank and file of the protesters are coming from a wide spectrum of Sudanese society, including youth groups, professional associations, doctors associations and university lecturers, among others, making it difficult for the government to clamp down this time around, Atta-Asmoah explained.
“The exit of Sudan Reform Now and the Umma Party from the ruling coalition to align with the demands of the protesters is also a sign of Bashir’s weakening political base. Even some in the president’s own party see him as a liability,” said the ISS researcher.
Bashir’s Islamist base is wearing thin with some religious speakers speaking out against the excesses of the security forces.
Simultaneously, citizens are holding imams responsible for either supporting the government or remaining silent in regard to the plight of the protesters.
However, Atta-Asmoah points out that for a significant outcome to be made the support of the army is a prerequisite.
“It is also unclear how long protesters will continue to pour out onto the streets if the security forces persist in their brutality against them,” the analyst added.
But should the attitude of the army, the National Intelligence and Security Service, and other security apparatus start changing, Bashir’s days will be numbered.
Also to be factored in is what action the president will take in the wake of the uprising. Will he embark on economic reforms because emergency policies alone will not do the job.
And even if he carries out economic reform, extensive political reform will also be essential.