What is remarkable about the protests in Sudan that broke out last week is the exclusive participation of youth under the age of 25 — a fact that was confirmed by the record of casualties and injuries. This means that the age of the protesters is the same as the age of the regime that was established in 1989. Hence, they have never experienced or lived under a regime other than the current one. How, then, did the regime fail, despite its massive efforts, to make them an integral part of it, while hiding behind the so-called civilized project aiming at "rebuilding the Sudanese man"? Targeting youth was among the strategic priorities that this regime started to implement.
The educational curricula of all stages were subject to a radical change under the slogan “Islamization and a return to authenticity.” “Returning to authenticity” seemed to be an intellectual process that showed the underlying contradiction of historical facts. This process contributed to unintentional alienation, whereby the school syllabi were devoid of topics related to Sudan and were replaced by general Islamic topics. Instead of Sudanese geography and history, students are taught a syllabus called “Humans and the Universe,” which intends to weaken an already frail national feeling and to enhance the Islamic nation’s religious feeling that transcends borders. Consequently, this inclination contributed, consciously or unconsciously, to the corrosion of the Sudanese youth’s identity.
On another note, the government was keen on monopolizing culture and media and directing them as efficient means to fake awareness. Furthermore, the regime strayed from any serious culture that could ultimately produce a critical mind that works in favor of change. Strict surveillance was imposed on the publication, entry and showcasing of books. Moreover, the department that controls artistic material was given wide privileges to monitor publications and audiovisual productions.
The regime also worked on giving the youth a hard cultural choice between radicalism and the unknown, or moral depravity and weakness. For instance, state TV frequently broadcasts religious sermons, fatwas and extremist religious speeches, while the evening programs focus on songs and frivolous series. This is what confuses the youth and pushes them to try to manage, in vain, the tough equation between “tradition and modernity” or “authenticity and current times.” Consequently, they experience a state of severe cultural and psychological schizophrenia. Moreover, the regime has not succeeded in turning them into religious youth, but instead the exact opposite. The youth idolized artists their age, like the young singer Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, who succumbed to illness early this year and whose body was received by a huge crowd at Khartoum [International] Airport.
The regime’s plan has taken the political, economic, cultural and social marginalization of youth a bit too far. Moreover, it has worked on forming a youth elite that supports it absolutely and that constitutes a substitute for public youth associations. In student unions, a premature corruption appeared that gave rise to student leaders clad in suits and driving luxury cars. The regime allowed these leaders to get involved in the bids of buying books and stationery. Furthermore, marginalization was obvious in the employment recruitment process that favored the regime’s partisans. As a result, a soaring unemployment rate prevailed among the youth, thus throwing them into a state of depression, desperation and penury.
The repercussions of such a situation were hard to circumvent and led the youth to the abyss of social vices, from drug addiction and prostitution to organized crime (the "Negro" gangs were among the most famous and they reflected this social phenomenon par excellence). To address this problem, the government resorted to violence and established oppressive laws like the “public order law,” which set up mechanisms such as whipping in public places to humiliate the youth.
Because the political parties have grown old and are not capable of self-reforming or declaring their own death, the regime persisted. Its practices accelerated the process of the youth taking initiatives to fight the political stagnation that the country is experiencing.
Youth groups started to split from their parties. Then, strictly youth entities such as Shabab al-Taghyir (Youth of Change) and Girifna (We Are Fed Up) appeared, in addition to youth coordination committees locally and abroad. It was as though there was a premeditated generational conflict because the problematic issues were neither precise nor clear-cut, especially since everyone agreed that the current regime must fall and a pluralistic one must take its place.
Ghosts of young people
The salvation of Sudanese youth is no longer within the country’s borders, after the notion of a “nation” has become cloudy and ambiguous. Most youth reply with doubt and criticism when you argue with them about their nation and its duties. Immigration has become their sole hope, no matter the price. Sudan’s streets have become inhabited by ghosts of young people whose flame for a future is slowly dimming. The quality of life has deteriorated, and three meals a day have been reduced to just one. There can’t possibly be any more restrictions. For this reason, the policy of lifting subsidies for essential commodities implied that “if the sword doesn’t kill you, something else will.”
The protests that broke out on Sept. 23, 2013, show that the Sudanese youth are political orphans. Until this moment, the parties have not expressed their stance, especially the two main conventional parties. Motivated by common sense, the youth spontaneously took to the streets, and they weren’t concerned with the calls asking for peace that saw no harm in counterviolence.
It is clear that the regime decided to use excessive violence to spread terror and terrorism among the masses. The casualties and the intense use of live bullets confirm that the regime feared the consequences of any lax treatment.
This is an uprising of youth and the product of an economic, social and cultural crisis among impartial young people. Therefore, this ongoing uprising needs an innovative and creative political impetus. In all cases, we are facing a social movement that is the result of multiple forms of marginalization, which ended with the secession of the South, the oppression of women and pride in publicly whipping them.
The above article was translated from As-Safir al-Arabi, a special supplement of As-Safir newspaper whose content is provided through a joint venture of As-Safir and Al-Monitor.
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