Sudan: Protests Continue Amid Financial Constraints

3 MINS READJul 5, 2012 | 10:00 GMT
Members of opposition group Girifna in Khartoum

Protests in Sudan reached a new level of intensity June 29 when 400-500 worshippers emerged from the Imam Abdel Rahman Mosque in Omdurman after Friday prayers and were attacked by police using non-lethal ammunition and tear gas. The protests began two weeks earlier, prompted by inflation, economic problems and austerity measures Khartoum implemented to offset lower oil revenues.

The groups involved in the protests have a wide variety of interests and demands, with some wanting to oust Sudanese President Omar al Bashir or the entire al Bashir regime. The protests, which so far involve only a few thousand participants across the country, probably will continue and become more frequent, but Khartoum's ability to contain the demonstrations will limit their effectiveness. Only in the unlikely event that Khartoum's security apparatus becomes less effective because of financial strain would it become possible for the protest movement to accomplish regime change.

The protests in Sudan have evolved from small student-led demonstrations at universities, inspired by the Arab unrest of 2011 and 2012, into protests involving a wider segment of the population. Two groups were instrumental in making the protests grow: Girifna and Sudan Change Now. Both are youth-based activist groups that developed in 2009 and 2010 with the goals of removing al Bashir through nonviolent resistance and of working toward democracy. Some Girifna members received training in Egypt in using similar protest tactics, which worked for the Egyptian April 6 youth group.

Both groups used Twitter, YouTube and other forms of social media to mobilize members. They use slogans such as "Lick Your Elbow Friday" (the name for the June 29 protest) and "Sandstorm Friday" (the name for the protest on June 22). The activists also plan protests for Fridays — prayer days in Sudan — when more people can join in. The groups are coordinating demonstrations for July 6.

Girifna and Sudan Change Now have employed unified advertising and color branding and have borrowed logos and slogans from other revolutionary groups in an effort to market the resistance to other groups that could be persuaded to join the movement. The makeup and tactics of the protesters will indicate how successful they have been in spreading their message.

Other groups that could join the movement include opposition parties and members of the general population who are upset with the state of the economy. Not all these groups necessarily demand regime change; some would be happy with political concessions, others with the restoration of funding to social programs. Khartoum could use several tactics to divide the groups and thus limit the size of the youth movements' support base. The government could appease some groups and work against others and has already tried to drive a wedge between clerics and protesters by accusing the protesters of demanding a secular state.

Despite economic austerity measures, Khartoum's ability to control the protesters has not dwindled. The government's budget allocation to security and military has remained at 70 percent. Sudanese authorities have been able to respond to the protests by disabling mobile communications and deploying security personnel.

However, Khartoum's financial problems will not go away without a deal with South Sudan, which controls most of the crude oil fields that straddle the countries' shared border and generate a great deal of revenue for both governments.

If Khartoum's financial constraints continue to worsen, Sudan might have to spend less money on security. Khartoum could remove troops from the South Sudanese border, or it could trim security personnel and/or supplies. The former could give Juba the upper hand in the border conflict and would give Khartoum incentive to negotiate. The latter could damage Khartoum's ability to control the protests, possibly allowing the resistance movement to succeed.

The protests in Sudan are likely to continue and become more frequent. If financial constraints affect Khartoum's ability to contain the demonstrations, the government might need to make concessions to some groups within the resistance movement in order to weaken the movement overall.

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