Sudan protests biggest threat yet to Bashir

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir speaks during a meeting with police officials at the headquarters of the "police house" in the capital Khartoum on December 30, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 04 January 2019

Sudan protests biggest threat yet to Bashir

  • Some protesters have also adopted the slogan used in the 2011 Arab Spring — “the people want the fall of the regime”
  • Bashir came to power in a coup backed by extremists that toppled prime minister Sadiq Al-Madhi and his democratically elected government

PARIS: Deadly protests that have grown across Sudan in recent weeks are the biggest threat to President Omar Al-Bashir’s iron-fisted rule since he swept to power in a 1989 coup, experts said.
Clashes have killed at least 19 since demonstrations began two weeks ago, initially in protest against bread prices tripling but rapidly evolving in to anti-government rallies.
Rights group Amnesty International has put the death toll at 37 and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for an investigation.
“These demonstrations and the anger that animates them are much stronger than any we’ve seen in recent years,” said Eric Reeves, a senior fellow at Harvard University who has been tracking Sudan’s politics and economy for two decades.
“The shortage of bread ... and outrageous price increases is perhaps the greatest source of immediate popular anger, and there is nothing that can alleviate the problem,” Reeves told AFP.
Protests erupted when the government raised the price of a small loaf of bread from one Sudanese pound to three (from about two to six US cents).
Several buildings and offices of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) were torched in the initial violence.
Some protesters have also adopted the slogan used in the 2011 Arab Spring — “the people want the fall of the regime.”
Bashir, wanted for genocide by the Hague-based International Criminal Court over a conflict in Darfur, came to power in a coup backed by extremists that toppled prime minister Sadiq Al-Madhi and his democratically elected government.
Since then the former military general has ruled the African country with a tight grasp, using the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) to curb dissent.
NISS agents regularly arrest opposition leaders, activists and journalists who voice anti-regime opinions.

Civil War

Bashir, 75, took control at the height of a brutal north-south civil war that only ended in 2005. Oil-rich South Sudan seceded in 2011, becoming the world’s newest nation state.
Separate conflicts between Sudanese forces and rebels in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states have also killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.
Analysts say these conflicts and a failure to boost agriculture in a country once renowned as a major bread producer have left Sudan’s economy in a shambles, despite Washington lifting a two-decade trade embargo in 2017.
Secession by the south — which took three quarters of Sudan’s oil reserves — has seen Khartoum experience an acute foreign exchange shortage.
Inflation has soared to 70 percent while shortages of bread and fuel have hit the capital and other cities.
“The economy has been collapsing for almost a decade ... but the regime functions as a kleptocracy and maintains power only through national budgets that are wildly skewed to military and security service expenses,” said Reeves.
“I think the anger we’ve seen will not dissipate.”
The ongoing protests are more widespread than those in January 2018 and September 2013.
They began first in outlying towns and cities, which had been left with a particularly acute shortage of wheat and flour, after supplies were diverted to Khartoum.
But despite the attempts to stockpile in the capital, the protests still spread there.
“The government and the ruling party was caught by surprise when protests erupted outside Khartoum,” said Khalid Tijani, editor of economic weekly Elaff.
“It just showed the ruling NCP how isolated it is.”
After three days without major demonstrations, the opposition and activists have called for further protests after prayers this Friday.

Weakened

The protests are the biggest challenge Bashir has faced, according to Tijani.
“The demonstrations have weakened his position,” he said. “President Bashir was about to get consitutional amendments to permit him to run for the presidency again in 2020, but he will now have to reconsider that.”
Reeves said even middle and lower ranking army officers are “generally appalled” at the country’s economic and political situation.
“Some openly side with the demonstrators,” he said.
About 22 political groups close to the government have asked for Bashir to step down.
Although a change of regime is still unlikely in the immediate future, a European diplomat said Bashir will now be under permanent pressure.
“The decisive factor will be the attitude of the security apparatus, especially the army,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
“If the repression becomes too harsh, the army won’t allow it and that’s why the current movement of protests is potentially momentous.”
Bashir and his government have no answers to Sudan’s economic problems, said Reeves.
“He faces open and growing popular opposition ... all this makes Bashir’s future highly uncertain,” he said.


Pan-Arab poll: Biden better for region, but must shun Obama policies

Updated 26 October 2020

Pan-Arab poll: Biden better for region, but must shun Obama policies

  • Majority of respondents to Arab News/YouGov survey consider neither candidate good for region
  • Findings show strong Arab support for Trump on Iran but not on Jerusalem embassy move

RIYADH: Nearly half the respondents in an Arab News/YouGov poll conducted in 18 Middle East and Africa (MENA) countries believe neither candidate in the upcoming US elections will necessarily be good for the region.
Of the rest, 40 percent said Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden would be better for the region while 12 percent said the same thing about incumbent President Donald Trump. But a key takeaway of the poll is that if Biden, who served as vice president to Barack Obama until 2017, wins the White House race, he would be well advised to shed the Obama administration baggage.
When asked about policies implemented in the Middle East under the Obama administration, the most popular response (53 percent) was that the Democratic president left the region worse off, with another 58 percent saying Biden should distance himself from Obama-era policies.
The study surveyed a sample of 3,097 respondents online to find out how people in the MENA region feel about the Nov. 3 US elections.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Containing Iran was found to be one of the top four issues that respondents wanted the next US president to focus on. Strong support for Trump both maintaining a war posture against Iran and imposing strict sanctions against the Tehran regime was noticed in Iraq (53 percent), Lebanon (38 percent) and Yemen (54 percent), three countries that have had intimate regional dealings with Iran.
President Trump’s 2017 decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem proved overwhelmingly unpopular, with 89 percent of Arabs opposing it. Surprisingly, in contrast to most other Arabs, Palestinian respondents inside the Palestinian Territories indicated a greater desire for the US to play a bigger role in mediation with Israel.
Arab opinion was largely split on the elimination this year of Iran’s regional “satrap” Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with the single largest proportion of respondents from Iraq (57 percent) and Lebanon (41 percent) seeing it as a positive move, as opposed to those in Syria and Qatar, where most respondents — respectively 57 percent and 62 percent — saw it as negative for the region.

Iran also figured in the list of perceived threats to US interests, although well behind white nationalism (32 percent) and China (22 percent). The other critical challenges for the US as viewed by Arabs were cybercrime, radical Islamic terrorism and climate change.
For a country that touts itself as an ally of the US, public attitudes in Qatar were found to be surprisingly out of sync with US objectives in the Middle East. The perception of radical Islamic terrorism, Iran and Islamist parties as the “three biggest threats facing the region” was much softer in Qatar compared with the region as a whole.
It came as little surprise that three quarters of respondents want the next US administration to make it easier for people from Arab countries to travel to the US. The figure for Lebanon, for instance, was even higher, 79 percent, underscoring concerns that many young Arabs are actively trying to leave the region.
Among other findings, Arabs remain overwhelmingly concerned about such challenges as failed government (66 percent) and the economic slowdown (43 percent).
Close to half of the respondents (44 percent) would like to see the next US president focus on empowering young people in the Arab region and solving the Arab-Israeli conflict (44 percent), followed by containing COVID-19 (37 percent), reining in Iran and Hezbollah (24 percent), quashing radical Islamic terrorism (24 percent) and tackling climate change (17 percent).