Has Sudan Avoided the Arab Spring?

Article Summary
Although Sudan has witnessed a number of anti-government protests, particularly following a decision to lift fuel subsidies, the protests haven’t reached the level of those in other countries of the Arab Spring.

The Sudanese government has absorbed the second shock triggered by its decision to remove fuel subsidies. This shock was even more violent than the first that hit the country in 2012. Yet Sudan is likely to face a third shock in 2014, which may be as violent and bloody as the recent wave of protests. This will occur when the government completely lifts fuel subsidies, which will increase the prices of many goods and services directly or indirectly associated with fuel. This step will present additional burdens for Sudanese citizens, who are already suffering from low purchasing power.

The salvation government may have dodged the bullet of an Arab Spring that nearly ravaged Sudan — already dealing with several separate insurgencies in Darfur (in the west) and in the two border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan (in the south) — but the social situation of Sudanese citizens remains harsh and unenviable.

Unbearable increases

During our tour across a number of neighborhoods that witnessed violent protests in Khartoum and Omdurman, we sensed a prevailing — yet cautious — tranquility. People were quietly preoccupied with their daily activities as usual. If it were not for the remains of scorched public buses and gas stations and burned tires, one would not have known that a wave of violent protests had flared. This is especially true in the Thawra neighborhood of Omdurman, near the central market in Khartoum, and in the Coptic and Indian neighborhood of Omdurman, near the residence of opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi.

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In the evening, I met with a young man who had participated in the protests. He asserted that those who staged the protests were not members of the rebel Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), as some parties loyal to the government had claimed. He indicated that the protests were organized by young men affiliated with several political parties and movements, even including some supporters of President Omar al-Bashir. These young men all gathered in a spontaneous, yet aggressive way to denounce the increase in fuel prices, which led to increases in transportation fees and the prices of several goods and services.

Hassan, an eyewitness who works in the private sector, told me that he used to commute from Bahri to his workplace in Omdurman using public transportation for 1.5 Sudanese pounds ($0.34). Now, however, transportation fees have doubled to three pounds ($0.68). Hassan said his salary is limited and he is married to two women and has four children. “Life was hard and now it is even harder,” he said, pointing out that all of residents of the neighborhood in which he lives had taken to the streets. They staged protests voicing their anger, and set public buses and gas stations ablaze to express their rejection of these increases, which have particularly affected transportation fees.

Hassan condemned the acts of sabotage targeting private property and the attacks on citizens and police stations, and accused other parties of exploiting the spontaneous protests for other purposes. He said that the police had not fired on protesters and denied that armed persons had infiltrated their ranks. However, he noted that tear gas was used heavily by the police to disperse protesters, causing some of them to have difficulty breathing.

Ismail, a civil servant who was not involved in the protests, believes that the state’s decision to lift fuel subsidies significantly affected citizens’ living standards, especially for heads of households. He also believes the salary increase he received is not sufficient, compared to the high cost of living.

On the other hand, Sudanese journalist Hudaibi al-Jamaa told El-Khabar that the “Negro” gangs exploited the spontaneous protests to carry out looting and attacks on citizens. The driver who was accompanying us agreed with Jamaa and pointed out that these gangs had attacked female student residences and stirred fear in the outskirts of Khartoum. The latter indicated that these gangs originate from Chad and they operate in an organized manner in Khartoum’s remote and poor neighborhoods. He also revealed that the citizens had to organize night patrols to protect their neighborhoods from attacks by these gangs, which are armed with machetes, knives and batons.

They events claimed the lives of about 70 citizens. Meanwhile, 700 people were arrested and around 40 gas stations and 100 public transportation buses were set ablaze.

Protests stimulate political life

Despite criticizing the government's decision to lift fuel subsidies and its use of excessive force, the opposition political parties did not condone the burning and destruction of private and public properties by some of the protesters. This was the stance expressed by Sadiq al-Mahdi, a leader of the National Umma Party (NUP). According to Jamaa, although Mahdi said he had not called for the protests, hundreds of his supporters joined the protests following a speech he delivered at a mosque in Omdurman near his residence.

For its part, the Popular Congress Party (PCP) — led by veteran Islamist Hassan al-Turabi — called on its supporters to participate in the protests. But the protests, which lasted about a week, soon came to an end, as people only responded to calls made by some political parties, especially the small ones.

The news in these events is that the reformist movement within the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) issued a statement in which it criticized the government's decisions, which prompted the party to summon its members and refer them to the disciplinary committee. The latter decided to suspend the activity of these members.

El-Khabar attended a rally in which 150 people from the reformist movement participated — along with the uncle of President Bashir — in front of the Atiq mosque in central Khartoum. But police officers dressed in civilian clothing quickly and intensely intervened and surrounded the march. No confrontations were recorded.

High fuel prices even affect the price of sacrificial animals

On the way to Omdurman, we met many livestock owners who were selling herds of sheep of different breeds. Sudan is one of the top exporters of sacrificial animals to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and Algeria was about to become one of those countries that import livestock from Sudan, despite its own abundance. The prices of these animals, however, witnessed a hike compared to the past few weeks. The price of a male sheep ranged between 1,300 and 1,500 pounds [$295-$340] before state fuel subsidies were lifted. Today, however, the price reaches 1,700 pounds [$386], or about 31,000 Algerian dinar. In Algeria, the going rate for these animals is around 60,000 dinars ($739). In other words, the price of sacrificial animals in Sudan is half the Algerian price.

When we asked about the relationship between the rising fuel prices and the recent increase in livestock prices, we were told that the livestock owners bring the animals from Darfur and North Kordofan. These areas are 400 kilometers [250 miles] to 1200 kilometers [750 miles] from the capital, Khartoum, and the animals are transported in large trucks. Given that the price of fuel has increased, the price of transporting the livestock increased, which led to an increase in the price of livestock.

Although the government doubled the minimum wage from 350 pounds [$80] to 700 pounds [$160], a livestock owner confirmed to El-Khabar that the turnout of citizens to buy sacrificial animals this year is less than that of previous years, due to decreasing purchasing power. To our surprise, we found out that the prices of sheep meat dropped from 30 pounds [$6.81] to 28 pounds [$6.36] per kilo. A Sudanese explained to us that the Sudanese people buy less meat as the Eid al–Adha holiday draws near.

Another livestock owner told El-Khabar that sheep prices vary from one strain of sheep to another. The local strain is the best because it has tender flesh. The al-Hamri strain has lots of flesh and al-Kabashi sheep are big. These are the most famous breeds in Sudan.

As for the prices of vegetables and fruit, they also increased following the rise in fuel prices. The only exception was potatoes, the price of which dropped from 7 pounds [$1.69] to 5 pounds [$1.14] per kilo, while the price of tomatoes increased from 9 [$2.04] to 12 [$2.73] pounds, bananas rose from 3 [$0.68] to 4 [$0.91] pounds, and mangos from 15 [$3.41] to 25 [$5.68] pounds.

Sudanese still Support Al-Khader and an Egyptian insults Algeria

To this day, the Sudanese have not forgotten the Omdurman match in which the Algerian soccer team beat its Egyptian counterpart and qualified for the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.  Many Sudanese watched the match between Algeria and Burkina Faso on Oct. 12. As soon as the match was over, our colleague Jamaa in Khartoum called us to tell us about the defeat of Algeria in Ouagadougou, and expressed hope that the team would make it up in Algeria.

For his part, Mustafa, a member of the international press corps in Sudan, was very enthusiastic about the match. He told us that his brother supports the Algerian team and that he watched the match with excitement.

In the Arab market in Khartoum, I met a merchant who was happy to know we were from Algeria. He started recalling the historical days of the match between Algeria and Egypt in Omdurman, and how noted the Algerians enthusiastically welcomed the Al-Khader team.

Before we left Sudan, we had lunch at an Egyptian restaurant near the international airport with a group of Sudanese. One of them said that clashes occurred between the Algerian and Egyptian fans near this restaurant, and we heard an Egyptian waiter talk about the game in Omdurman. He started swearing at the Algerians and describing them as terrorists, adding that the Egyptian people are the best in the world, and noted that they defeated Algeria 4-0 in the African Cup. He did not know that I was Algerian. I asked him who had qualified for the World Cup that year, Egypt or Algeria? And who were the terrorists who attacked the Algerian players in Cairo? And who were the terrorists who killed 3,000 Egyptians in Rabia al-Adawiya? “That was a revolution,” he said. “A massacre, you mean,” I replied.

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Found in: fuel subsidy, sudanese economy, soccer, mass demonstrations in sudan, arab spring
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