WhatsApp, Facebook cannot replace presidents, says Al-Bashir

WhatsApp, Facebook cannot replace presidents, says Al-Bashir
Sudanese demonstrators march along the street during anti-government protests after Friday prayers in Khartoum, Sudan January 11, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 31 January 2019

WhatsApp, Facebook cannot replace presidents, says Al-Bashir

WhatsApp, Facebook cannot replace presidents, says Al-Bashir
  • “Riot police are firing tear gas at protesters in north Khartoum but they are still demonstrating,” a witness
  • Officials say 30 people have died in violence related to the latest protests

KHARTOUM: Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir on Thursday mocked his opponents’ use of social media to mobilize protesters against his three-decade rule, saying that Facebook and WhatsApp cannot replace presidents.

Organizers of the anti-government protests that have rocked Sudan for weeks, have made routine use of social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter to get out the crowds.

“Changing the government or presidents cannot be done through WhatsApp or Facebook,” Al-Bashir told a televised rally attended by hundreds of loyalists in the eastern town of Kassala.

“It can be done only through elections. It’s only the people who decide who will be the president,” he said.

Activists have extensively documented the protests which erupted on Dec. 19 and have flooded social media with footage of clashes with security forces.

The demonstrations have been spearheaded by the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) which issues regular online announcements of forthcoming rallies, using the hashtags #Sudan_cities_uprise or #Just_Fall.

Other hashtags such as #SudanRevolts and #SudanUprising have also helped build momentum, amassing hundreds of tweets and retweets by the hour.

The Sudanese government has sought to curtail the use of social networks, activists and analysts say. Internet users have reported difficulties accessing Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp since the early days of the protests.

The demonstrations began in the farming town of Atbara against the government’s decision to triple the price of bread. But they have mushroomed into nationwide protests widely seen as the biggest threat to Al-Bashir’s rule since he came to power in 1989. 

Sudan’s economic woes triggered mass protests in 2013 and 2016 that were put down only at the cost of dozens of deaths. 

“The situation is difficult, but not impossible,” the president told Thursday’s rally.

“We will concentrate all efforts on satisfying the people, particularly the young.”

Border opened

In another development, the Sudanese president on Thursday announced the reopening of his country’s eastern border with Eritrea, which has been shut since last year. Sudan closed the border in January, 2018, after Al-Bashir announced a six-month state of emergency in the regions of Kassala and North Kurdufan to help fight the trafficking of weapons and foodstuffs.

“I announce here, from Kassala, that we are opening the border with Eritrea because they are our brothers and our people. Politics will not divide us,” Al- Bashir said in televised remarks before scores of supporters in the town of Kassala, which is near the border in eastern Sudan. 

Bashir struck a defiant tone in Kassala on Thursday about the protests.