Mass protests in Sudan have been ongoing since December 2018. The rising cost of bread and fuel has sparked calls for “Just fall – that’s all” against President Omar al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party. Leaders of nine opposition parties have been arrested.
The individuals reportedly include Siddiq Youssef, a senior leader of Sudan’s Communist Party, and leaders from the pan-Arabist Ba’ath and Nasserist parties. Sudan’s opposition is weak, split on ethnic and religious lines. There seems almost no chance that any of the existing political parties could topple the regime, which has been in place since 1989.
The protests started on 19 December. Since then the offices of the ruling party have been burned down in the city of Atbara; and the Association of Sudanese Professionals has become the leading voice within the demonstrations. The Association of Sudanese Professionals, a semi-underground union originally set up by doctors and now including lawyers, teachers and university workers, has held a series of strikes. At first it focused on a rise in wages. Now it has become the leading voice in opposition to the government.
Bashir has the support of Turkey, which has passed aid to the government, and of the Arab League, of which Sudan. Egyptian President al-Sisi and the Saudi monarchy have been quick to reassure Bashir that he has their full support. Bashir has claimed the protests are the result of foreign interference. Since the coup in 1989, Bashir has ruled over a repressive Islamist regime, originally based on the politics of the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood. Morality laws outlaw women congregating in public and restrict the consumption of alcohol.
To gain the support of Egypt, Bashir has now cracked down on the Brotherhood, helping to deport members of the Egyptian group back to Egypt. Saudi Arabia has used Bashir as a proxy to make links with Assad in Syria, and got his backing for its war in Yemen. Sudan has broken off ties with Saudi’s arch-rival Iran, and describes the Iranian government as a threat to the region.