Thousands in Sudan protesting last month at the University of Khartoum
This weekend brought news that tens of youth activists associated with the groups Girifna and Sharara have been arrested, as part of the Government's continued and sustained crackdown against any opposition movement which threatens the power of President al-Bashir.
The timing of this new wave of arrests is not random. On 30 January 2011, whilst the world watched events Tunisia and Egypt, a third revolutionary spark was lit. As EA noted on the day:
No one took much notice when a Facebook page was created, calling on Sudanese to join protests today against the 21-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir. Reports, however, suggest that a protest did take place today in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, joined by university students and mostly youngsters.
Khartoum had indeed erupted with demonstrations. Protests continued across February, mostly focused on the capital, and were met with fierce resistance by Sudanese security forces. News of the attempted uprising failed to travel far outside the country. The al-Bashir regime tried to silence the demonstrators through mass arrests, severe restrictions on social media and online communications, and a harsh crackdown on any newspaper which might be sympathetic to the protesters' cause.
The world more or less ignored Khartoum and the struggle against al-Bashir from then. As I wrote last month:
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, 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.
In December, protests began at the University of Khartoum, focused on the failure of the government to compensate the Manasir who suffered greatly from flooding caused by the creation of the Merowe Dam, some 350 miles north of the capital. These protests --- which followed the mass-sit in begun in November by the Manasir in El Damer --- were met again with state repression, tear gas, and mass arrests. Despite an initial victory against punitive decisions made by the University administration, students have faced continued harassment and difficulties. Many, for example, found themselves prevented from returning in the new semester.
The arrests of activists in Khartoum this week is yet another troubling indication of al-Bashir's unwillingness to accept open critique. It also shows, however, just how scared the regime is of the growing solidarity movement in the north of the country, between the Manasir's continued struggles and youth activists in the capital (many Manasir themselves) who wish to see change in Sudan and freedom from corrupt rule. Coupled with the continued violence in Darfur --- and al-Bashir is a wanted war criminal for his role in the genocide there --- the one year anniversary of last year's attempted uprising marks an opportune moment to consider a vision for what a new Sudan could be. Writing for Al Jazeera English, Amir Ahmad Nasr does just that, through a return to the ideas expounded by John Garang.
Reviving the "New Sudan" Vision
Amir Ahmad Nasr
John Garang, the Southern Sudanese Christian rebel-turned-statesman, was arguably one of the best and most charismatic leaders Sudan has had. He surely had many flaws, but one of his greatest contributions was his "New Sudan" vision, which widely appealed to many Sudanese, even in the predominantly Muslim Arab north.
What Garang essentially did was reframe the overarching narrative about Sudan's internal conflicts and struggles. Rather than talk in terms of either the counter-productive Arab Muslim north versus African Christian south narrative or Darfur's Arab versus African tribes storyline, he took an honourable stance and made an important valid observation.
He affirmed Sudan's pluralistic nature and mixed identity, and emphasised the crucial fact that all Sudanese citizens, regardless of their backgrounds, were suffering under a murderous and repressive dictatorship. He was a staunch opponent who had been battling Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's regime in Khartoum for nearly two decades.
Al-Bashir's regime came to power in 1989 after he and his former ally, the Islamist leader, Hassan al-Turabi, deposed a democratically elected government in a coup. Under him, the country has witnessed a series of unjust policies and murderous practices. He has shut down newspapers critical of government actions. Many of the government's critics were tortured in what came to be called Ghost Houses. In 1990, 28 dissenting military officers were executed after a mock trial. Corruption has spread.
Worse, the government's propaganda machine beat the drums of war and instigated fighting against the southern Sudanese in a conflict that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands. Then again in 2003, Darfur erupted in a rebellion that was met by the government in a conflict that claimed at least 200,000 deaths due to war, famine, and disease, according to UN estimates.
The Southerners, the Darfurians, the Nuba of Southern Kordofan and the Ingessana of the Blue Nile, have often been at the receiving end of al-Bashir and his entourage's brutality. They have been one of the greatest victims of his regime's abuse of religion and divisive policy of tribalism.
This was, and still is, strongly reflected in Western media coverage of Sudan and the attention directed by US advocacy groups to those causes. Unfortunately, in the process, both Western media and advocacy groups have reinforced the dichotomies and helped spread the aforementioned counter-productive narratives along with simplistic explanations. They have also unintentionally alienated many Northern Sudanese opposed to al-Bashir and his morally bankrupt policies who now feel that their identity is unfairly under attack.
One must not overlook the suffering happening elsewhere in Sudan, such as in the north and in the heart of Khartoum. Let us not forget the January 2005 massacre of the Beja youth by government security forces in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, in which more than 20 peaceful Beja protesters - including women and children - were reportedly shot dead and hundreds were arrested. Their crime? Protesting years of injustice and the marginalisation of their people, and demanding democracy and development.
Let us also not forget the oppression of the Arab Rashaida in eastern Sudan. Or the Kajbar massacre of 2007 in the upper north, in which peaceful Manaseer and Nubian demonstrators protesting the construction of the large Merowe Dam were injured and killed by security forces.
The dam has since destroyed the protesters' communities; it has displaced them and flooded their homes without adequate compensation from the government. It has also drowned Sudanese pharaonic antiquities and historic sites dating back thousands of years before they had even been fully excavated. Such is the wonderful mindset and attitude of the beloved ruling regime.
Again, as Garang correctly noted, all Sudanese are suffering under the same dictatorship. He acknowledged the reality and charismatically advocated for a "New Sudan" on the basis of a civil and pluralistic democratic state that would affirm the rights, dignity and freedom of all citizens.