The protest wave sweeping across Sudan was never about bread; it is a nation fed up with a decades-old military dictatorship, say human rights activists and experts.
People took to the streets in the town of Atbara in the northeast on December 19 to voice their grievances, spawning similar protests in the streets of other towns and the capital, Khartoum.
The protesters are calling for freedom, peace, justice and a change in leadership in the northeast African country. The government of President Omar Al Bashir is responding with live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades. Protesters who survive the deadly clashes regroup and return to the streets.
“In most of Sudan’s almost 170 cities and big towns, someone has been shot. In some of them, more than 15 people have been shot. The shooting is happening through unofficial types of militia that the regime is using,” says Khansaa Al Kaarib, a Sudanese human rights lawyer and activist.
“For 30 years, this is what the Sudanese people have been getting from Bashir: killing, killing, killing and more killing. People are simply fed up with this and they want to change this regime. They want to get out of the perception of a people lying under an ICC-wanted criminal, as soon as possible.”
President targets ‘infiltrators’
Al Bashir has vowed to crush the “bread protests” he insists are being orchestrated by opposition “infiltrators,” some of whom are supposedly backed by Israel and all of whom are intent on sabotaging his regime.
Sudanese opposition leaders are among those who have been arrested for the protests. A group of Darfuri university students “confessed” on national television to being a “sabotage cell.” They are accused of an arson attack on the offices of Al Bashir’s ruling National Congress in Atbara.
“There is no one to blame. The whole of the country is out on the streets. Bashir has nothing else to say,” says Al Kaarib.
Sudanese activists and international human rights groups dispute the official death toll of 19 provided by Khartoum since the start of the protests, saying it is much higher.
‘Nobody is talking about bread’
Sudan expert Magdi El Gizouli agrees that the government’s claim of infiltrators is “complete, absolute nonsense.” The protesters are young men and women who have been pulled into the political sphere over the failures of government policy, he notes.
“The wave of protests has nothing to do with the formal opposition. What the government cannot deal with is that these [are] individuals, people, students who don’t really have this political record that they’re looking for in an opposition activist,” says El Gizouli, a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute in Germany.
“There’s been a lot of talk in the media to say that these protests have been triggered by fuel prices and economic problems. The protesters have been repeating a call for freedom, peace and justice – and for the regime to go. Nobody was talking about bread since day one,” says Al Kaarib. — Deutsche Welle