On January 30, 2011, a protest took place in Sudan’s capital Khartoum. Inspired by uprisings in other parts of the Arabic-speaking world, such as Tunisia and Egypt, activists announced and promoted the planned demonstration using social media platforms. The protesters demanded significant change: They called for the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir, an end to corruption and high prices for basic goods and they chanted against “the government of hunger.” Their grievances resembled those that ignited the large-scale uprisings of the Arab Spring, but the number of protesters did not exceed 500, not in this protest nor in the few that followed until the end of March. No one factor—the nature of the active political base, the level of oppression or economic realities—can on its own explain why the protest wave that spring did not gain momentum in Sudan.
Fatima Babiker Mahmoud, a prominent intellectual and a lecturer in political economy at the University of Khartoum, presents here much new material for a cogent analysis of the political and economic role of the bourgeoisie in Sudan’s development from 1898 to the present. In her view, the origins, affiliations and strategies of the highest echelons of the Sudanese capitalist class show its clear links to British colonial capital and continued ties with international capital. As a result, Sudan’s bourgeoisie, a dependent and “comprador” class, has failed to contribute to the country’s development, and even has acted as an obstacle to it.
I arrived in Khartoum on April 15, nine days after the coup, as soon as the borders opened. In Cairo, I had watched film clips of the noisy, jubilant crowds that had brought down Numairi, but Khartoum was eerily silent now. The high of the revolution” had given way to the sense of crisis that once again grips this country. While political skirmishes went on concerning who would be in the civilian cabinet, the abiding, bedrock realities that pervaded the country were the civil war in the south and the drought and famine in the west and northeast.
Khartoum. The hand-painted sign on Nile Avenue here best captured the attitude of urban Sudanese toward the visit of Vice President George Bush to their country in early March, just four weeks before the popular overthrow of President Ja‘far Numairi. “Vice-President and Mrs. Bush,” read the sign, “are mostly welcome.” The millions of Sudanese starving in the countryside would have been much less hospitable.
Mass demonstrations in Khartoum at the end of March 1985 initiated a series of events which culminated in the overthrow of President Ja‘far Numairi’s regime in Sudan by the Sudanese military. What began as popular protest against increases in the price of basic commodities was transformed within a week into a broad movement of political opposition. The rise in food prices was only one manifestation of the deep economic problems facing Sudan. The outbreak of overt opposition to the regime was a clear indication of the political bankruptcy of Numairi’s economic and social policies. The question nevertheless remains as to whether the political changes that have taken place will significantly affect the underlying structural causes of Sudan’s continuing economic and political crisis.
Ten years ago, Sudan was described in a Food and Agriculture Organization report as a potential “breadbasket of the world.” Hopes for the development of Sudan’s economy were running high at the time: the investment of Arab oil-generated revenues in Sudan’s agricultural sector seemed to hold immense promise. Vast quantities of hitherto unused arable land could be brought under cultivation. This would transform the Arab world from an area of food deficit into one of food surplus, laying the basis also for the development of extensive processing industries in Sudan.
Colonel John Garang’s Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) played no direct role in the April 6 coup in Khartoum. But as the only organized, fighting resistance to the regime of Ja‘far Numairi, it laid the groundwork by chipping away at the state in a guerrilla campaign that cost the government one million Sudanese pounds ($400,000) a day. The new military rulers have given top priority to ending the rebellion, which has paralyzed vital economic projects and drained army morale and resources for more than two years.
Khartoum, April 23. General ‘Abd al-Rahman Siwar al-Dhahab, in power since April 6, was expected to name an interim cabinet on Monday, April 22, to govern the country under army supervision for a transitional period of one year. In the meantime, General Siwar al-Dahab appointed an interim cabinet for southern Sudan, headed by General James Lawrence Marou, a member of the Transitional Military Council. Two high level officers of the Sudanese Army traveled to Libya on Sunday, April 21, to try to improve relations between the two countries.
In late 2015, hundreds of Sudanese staged a sit-in outside the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Amman, Jordan. Their hope was to obtain recognition of their rights as refugees and asylum seekers, and to receive better treatment from the agency. A previous protest in 2014 had ended when Jordanian police persuaded (or compelled) the Sudanese to leave the site. This time, however, after the Sudanese had camped out for a month in the posh neighborhood of Khalda, the police arrived in force in the early hours of a mid-December morning. They dismantled the camp and transported some 800 protesters and others—men, women and children—to a holding facility close to Queen Alia International Airport.
Khalid Albaih is a political cartoonist “from the two countries of Sudan,” in his words, who is now based in Qatar. His drawings appear at his Facebook page, entitled Khartoon! in a play on the name of the Sudanese capital. Katy Kalemkerian and Khalid Medani spoke with him in Montreal on November 9, 2014, and conducted a follow-up interview by Skype after the January 2015 attack on the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, notorious for its regular caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in degrading or humiliating poses.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. South Sudan and Sudan had agreed to share oil revenue, oil was flowing again and, despite considerable problems, relations appeared headed in a slightly better direction. Both governments were drawn to China as a key provider and practical enabler of economic assistance, a political partner and international ally. In early December 2013, South Sudan and China had made progress on negotiations about a package of support to expand a serious non-oil Chinese role. Then, on December 15, the irruption of violence in Juba and its rapid spread to other parts of South Sudan changed everything.
On June 16, 2012, female students at the University of Khartoum mounted a demonstration that released a wave of protest on campuses and major towns across Sudan. The young women exited the university gates chanting “Freedom, freedom,” demanding the “liberation” of their campus from the grip of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and the reversal of a 35 percent hike in bus and train fares announced earlier by the government.
In Egypt’s constitutional crisis today, there are echoes of the rise of the National Islamic Front (NIF) in Sudan.
The March 2001 destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan, Afghanistan, introduced a new loanword into the Euro-American political vocabulary. The Taliban’s new explosion into world consciousness catalyzed, until September of that year, more hand wringing than substantive investigation of their social origins, political meaning and global import. Similarly, the July 2012 desecration of saintly burial markers in Timbuktu, Mali, tombs that were among the greatest monuments of Islamic Africa, has largely failed to register as more than cultural vandalism. These crimes against the cultural heritage of the Islamic world may presage far graver damage to the people of the Sahara.
While the attention of the Western and Arab media has focused on the historic victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate in Egypt, street protests of a scale not witnessed for two decades continued into their second week in Khartoum and other major Sudanese cities. Anti-government protests, initially led by students from the University of Khartoum, have inspired similar nationwide demonstrations in al-Obeid, Kosti, al-Gadaref, Port Sudan, Wad Medani and Atbara.
After weeks of escalating border violence and heated rhetoric, war has returned to the Sudans. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) formally ended 40 years of civil war between north and south Sudan, and paved the way for the creation of the Republic of South Sudan, Africa’s newest independent state. But the CPA was comprehensive in name only: It left details of border demarcation, economic cooperation and political reform unspecified and without mechanisms for enforcement. During the six years of shared government between north and south mandated by the CPA, little progress was made toward settling these issues; instead of encouraging cooperation, the arrangement functioned further to bifurcate political power in the hands of the agreement’s official partners, the National Congress Party (NCP) in the north and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the south. The SPLM came to dominate a sovereign government following southerners’ vote to secede from the Khartoum-centered state in January 2011. Post-secession negotiations hosted in Addis Ababa have only inched along while both governments — as well as their various allied militias — have tried to use force to alter the facts on the ground.
Renewed conflict along the border between Sudan and South Sudan follows a predictable pattern, says MERIP editorial committee member Khalid Medani in an interview with KPFA radio.
The casual Sudan observer might conclude from recent news stories that George Clooney's arrest at the Sudanese embassy in Washington on March 16 has been the most significant event of the past week. It takes some digging to find any coverage of the preliminary agreement signed by representatives of Sudan and South Sudan in Addis Ababa on March 13, which is at least a step toward the settlement of disputes over borders, citizenship and oil revenues that have sustained diplomatic tensions and cross-border violence between the two states since the South's secession in July 2011.
On July 9, 2011, tens of thousands of South Sudanese gathered in the capital city of Juba at the mausoleum of rebel leader John Garang to celebrate the creation of their new state. Six months earlier, these jubilant crowds had voted in a referendum for independence from northern Sudan; more than 98 percent cast their ballots in favor of secession.