Is this the beginning of a new Arab Spring in Sudan?

Sudan, the beautiful country of Africa where the Blue Nile and White Nile merges and surrounds it like a necklace, is going through hard days.

The street movements which started in the Western parts of the country around the middle of last week has spread to other regions. While there are people wounded and killed during the clashes, at some places the police and military even came face to face.

Why is Sudan in a state of chaos?
Although some speculative comments were made after Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s leader who has been in power since 1989 despite all the internal and external opposition, visited Syrian leader Bashar Assad, the actual reason behind it is completely different. It is not possible to explain the developments taking place in the Middle East and Africa only with one parameter or with one event. In parallel to this visit, which also concerns Turkey as well as the entire region, the declaration that the U.S. is withdrawing from Syria, Russia’s increasingly active role in the region, and the possibility that the balance in the region may tilt in favor of Turkey and Iran, certainly affects Sudan, which is a member of the Arab League. However, this time we need to look for the crux of the problem in economic hardships which Sudan’s people have been struggling with for the last 20 years and haven’t yet been able to overcome.

For the last three months, the lack of foreign currency, the absence of hot money, and most importantly, the increase in the price of food products, and especially the increase in the price of bread, went beyond a level that people can tolerate; it destroyed their hopes, and thus today’s uprisings came to be. What comes to minds are the conditions of the Arab Spring which started in Tunisia. Can there be a new Arab Spring here? In fact, the impact of the Arab Spring was also seen in Sudan as well, and at the time Omar al-Bashir was able to curb the protests which claimed the lives of 200 people. Afterward, he continued the National Dialogue movement that started in 2014 and ended in 2017 which also included the opposition in Sudan. This process fostered new hopes in Sudan. People hoped that the decisions made and the newly formed National Consensus government would solve the problems, but it didn’t happen.

Omar al-Bashir came to power on the brink of a civil war. Instead of normalizing the conditions, he became a side of this war for years. He dealt with the Darfur issue on the one side, and the South Sudan issue on the other. The masses who remained silent during the war made demands in the post-war period and this put Omar al-Bashir in a helpless position. The resources exhausted and the ones that were lost after South Sudan’s secession on the other hand tied the hands of the governments of Sudan, which changed many times.

Not to mention the hardships caused by the embargo imposed, with the excuse of the 9/11 attacks, and the interventions of certain Gulf Countries that wanted to be active in the Red Sea after the Arab Spring.

Sudan started to urbanize irregularly since 1956 when it gained its independence. The patterns of consumption changed. People abandoned large agricultural lands, went to the cities, and the country became dependent on imports in the food sector. The fact that stockbreeding increased beyond the levels that the climate allowed, in some regions like Darfur, added to the imbalance and even brought about clashes.

During this process, the country had two sources of foreign currency. One was the money sent by the workers who were working in Arab countries in the Gulf and Libya, and the other was the revenues of the oil extracted in South Sudan.

The chaos started in Libya after the Arab Spring, and the discharge of Sudanese workers in Saudi Arabia after the Saudization policy went into effect, forcing the workers to come back home. In addition, Sudan was only left with the transferal money for pipelines after the revenue coming from the extraction of oil came to an end with South Sudan’s secession. However, the civil war breaking out in South Sudan also put an end to oil production in the country, hence Sudan also lost this resource.

My sources who are familiar with the issue agree that the economic crisis, which the country hasn’t been able to emerge from, caused the hike in bread prices, people queuing up to buy oil, the black market for flour, and the closing of bakeries and limited bread sales.

Is Omar al-Bashir in a difficult position?

The important question here is: Can Omar al-Bashir control the events and carry the country to the elections that are going to take place in 2020?

Although there are people who are looking for an answer to this question in the opposition, the state of the opposition doesn’t provide us with sufficient data in determining the future of the country. In fact, the existence of an organized opposition in Sudan since old times, although it has not been effective and active, unlike the Arab Spring countries, plays a positive role in preventing these problems from causing bigger explosions. For instance, besides the Al Muttamar al Watani (National Congress Party) which is still the governing party, there are also many other political parties such as the National Umma Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, and the Sudanese Communist Party. Hence, even the fact that one of al-Bashir’s advisors moved to the opposition after 2013 prevented the formation of a possible radical opposition against al-Bashir.

Moreover, the political understandings of the oppositional groups and parties and their weakness against the pressures coming from the government makes things easier for Omar al-Bashir. That is why it is expected that he may take control of things this time as well. Although the President of Sudan National Intelligence and Security, Salah Ghosh, stated that the foreign currency problem will be solved soon, Sudan is going to enter 2019 in harsh conditions. Because Sudan urgently needs a development and production model.

On the other hand, the stability of Sudan is very important for Turkey’s policies in the Red Sea and Africa.

*By: Zekeriya Kurşun. The article was published in Yeni Safak Turkish daily newspaper on 24 December 2018.