Police attack a sit-in of 16,000 student protesters on Sunday
Yesterday, Sudanese police violently disrupted a sit-in protest by 16,000 students at the University of Khartoum, arresting as many as 73, whilst dispersing the rest with tear gas and batons.
The protest was organised by Manasir students in Khartoum State Universities, alongside the grassroots organisation Girifna. Many in this coalition of activists, along with those in other organisations, have been demanding the overthrow of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir throughout 2011. Al-Bashir, wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court, is viewed by the activists as a corrupt tyrant, presiding over mass unemployment through a government rife with cronyism.
The suppression came on the day when the death of Darfur rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim was announced. Ibrahim's alleged slaying by the Sudanese army could cause further turmoil in an already unstable country.
Sunday's protest was held in response to a similar, smaller action on Thursday --- about 700 students, protesting in support of Sudanese citizensdisplaced by the Merowe Dam north of Khartoum, were attacked by police. Many were injured during the beatings, and four students were arrested, among them Muhammad Idris, the President of the Darfur Association of Students.
The Merowe Dam campaign has gained size and momentum in recent weeks. Activists have been occupying "Justice Square" in Manseer, Khartoum throughout December, with this image, apparently taken on Friday, indicating the scale as the occupation entered its fourth week.
In a year marked by uprisings and protests across the globe, events in Sudan have often failed to obtain the media's attention. On 30 January, Khartoum erupted in demonstrations, but this received scant coverage, particularly in relation to Tunisia and Egypt. In the following months, what was one country has become two. While many Western overtures have been made to newly-independent South Sudan, the northern country has continued its economic slump and slide towards Sharia law.
Protests, anchored in antipathy towards al-Bashir, have continued in Sudan and particularly in the capital throughout 2011. The spirit of possibility has persisted, especially amongst Khartoum youth, despite the brutal torture --- including rape --- meted out by the regime to demonstrators at the start of the year.
Safia Ishag describes how she was gang-raped by Sudanese police for taking part in the 30 January protests
A male activist reveals the marks left by beatings received by police following his arrest
One reason why the protest movement in Sudan may have failed to gain traction outside (and indeed, within) national borders is a consequence of the government's repression and alleged infiltration of social media. Many protesters who were arrested and tortured following the 30 January protests claim that their interrogators demanded they give up their Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail passwords. Reports have also suggested that Sudanese police have created fake protest events on Facebook and sent out fake SMS messages to activists, arresting demonstrators who turned up.
The regime also worked hard to keep stories of the protests out of the local press, targeting journalists at demonstrations, preventing them from covering the protests, and removing pictures from their cameras. On the day after the 30 January rallies, pro-government newspapers ran front page stories cautioning that more protests would lead to anarchy and disorder. The same day, two newspapers (Ajrass Al Hurriya and Al Sahafa) were stopped from publishing editions which had stories on the opposition marches. The following day, Al-Midan newspaper was banned from distribution, and on 3 February, security forces raided its offices, arresting 16 people.
This intimidation and suppression has displayed the vast arsenal the al-Bashir regime was ready to unleash against protesters from the start of attempts to build a social movement for change. However, if this has limited attention to other attempted revolutions in 2011, the 30 January protests have initiated a movement which sees itself as a spark to ignite the whole country in unified opposition.
Events of the last week may prove to be the catalyst for a wider movement to flourish. Whether the passion fueling the movement leads to its expansion, or whether it encounters a failure to achieve broad popular support, it is vital --- amid orchestrated suppression and the abuse of the last clampdown --- that the world not look away this time.
An earlier version of this article credited Youth for Change with organising the student sit-in on December 25. The sit-in was actually organised by Manasir students in Khartoum State Universities, alongside the grassroots organisation Girifna. Many thanks to a reader for the correction.