Tag Archives: Tunisia

Bashir is not running for re-election: let’s not get over-excited

OMG!!  Bashir won’t run for re-election!  In 2015 (which is a bit of a Yemeni-esque get-out clause.)  He also, more interestingly, has said he has offered to step down as head of the NCP, and has offered a package of reforms (optimistically called democratic by the Guardian, but then they’re probably all a bit sleep-deprived from the Tunisia-Egypt-Libya-Bahrain late-night live blogging).

This isn’t just about the fear of protests by youth in Sudan: the attempted protests in early February were comprehensively put down, with large-scale arrests, one death and a more general lack of will for the scale and type of protests seen in previous periods of economic crisis and political anger.  That isn’t to say there isn’t a need for this kind of announcement.  While I don’t think the various factions of the NCP are as nervous as the SPLM about their position, they also know they have real issues with their support base, particularly with the middle and upper classes that were their primary support base in the 1980s.

As Magdi says, the social and economic forces that brought the NCP to power have also restructured both urban and rural society.  There are significant frustrations in town and countryside with different aspects of the NCP rule, as well as the medium-term issues facing the economy – partly to do with how much the North can get out of GoSS for oil transit – and probably the changed international situation, particularly if Gaddafi goes.

There is an international trend towards younger leaders – whether or not they have the experience, or even the power.  There’s also more practical considerations: the NCP are handicapped by Bashir’s ICC status, regardless of the charge’s actual weight or implications.  The NCP are failing, and their elite sponsors and support base know that some changes are necessary, at least for appearances’ sake.  This also potentially would undermine the opposition parties’ refusal to enter talks with the NCP.  I don’t know – I’m just watching, and I would love to see a good analysis of this.  I’m still learning about northern politics.

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The history behind political change and the attraction of ‘turning points’

The Libya and Bahrain protests are so distressing it’s hard to read other news, but I need to sort through my electronic piles of stories on Sudan.  However, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa (as well as one of my friends’ new PhD proposal) is making me think about the attractiveness of tipping points in history.

There’s a really attractive oversimplifying element in discrete political events, as shown with the coverage of Sudan (in its North-South, Arab-black, Muslim-Christian tautology), Tunisia and Egypt, and now particularly Bahrain, with its Shia-Sunni divide.  It’s also fun to compare.  As well as comparisons and calls for ‘copy-cat’ referendums in Armenia and Azerbaijan, Balochistan (pinpoint that on a map, my friends), Kurdistan, Georgia and even Quebec, there are also more historical comparisons.

Douglas Johnson, at the Royal Africa Society’s seminar on the referendum on 4 February, used Somaliland’s UDI as a ‘lesson’ to the South about the importance of international recognition and the referendum route.  In comparison, Heather Sharkey, in talking about how some have seen South Sudan’s independence as a late-comer to the 1950s and 60s independence parties, looks at the turning point of Congolese independence and the CIA assassination of Lumumba in 1961 as an example of what can go wrong almost immediately following self-determination, particularly with international collusion and pressure.  Eritrea and Katanga have come up as comparisons in other seminars.

Turning points allow for teleological absolutism: Sharkey points out the tendency of news reports on the South to see secession as inevitable, even geographically obvious.  But seeing political events as discrete moments also lends itself to counterfactual history, as Sharkey says historians will focus on whether the referendum, and secession, was avoidable.

It’s too easy to see political events, particularly elections, as self-contained units – the announcement, the campaigning, the voting, the result.  Maybe this is why there’s been so much focus on the individual deaths that were ‘sparks’ for the Tunisian and Egyptian protests, and why so many political (and not so informed) commentators have been left saying how sudden and unexpected these events were, or being reductionist as to the causes.  It’s far too difficult to explain the history of Libya, say, and the causes and outcomes – political and psychological – of previous attempts at political unrest and change; it’s also very hard to express in a news-worthy fashion the real emotional frustrations that lead people to take on intelligence services, police and armies in this way.

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Mohammed Abdulrahman and the Sudanese protests

Mohammed Abdulrahman died from injuries sustained from police beating during the protests on Sunday in Khartoum.  Abdulrahman, a student at Ahlia University, has been called a martyr and compared to al-Gorashy, the student that died in the October 1964 uprising.  My thoughts are with his family and friends; both Ahlia and Omdurman Universities have been closed today.

Laura Mann has made an ushahidi SMS protest map here; an update on what digital organisation is happening can be found here.   So far this is probably the best and shortest summary of events yesterday, although the figures for arrests vary.

The police seem to have been particularly proactive, as they basically stormed six universities and didn’t let 300 students out of Khartoum University.  This tallies with some personal reports on Facebook saying that there were very few people on the streets, and most of the YouTube videos show people in front of university gates.  People on Facebook are complaining about the lack of organisation, but in the face of a media blackout and suspension of internet access over the weekend, as well as a huge preemptive police operation, it looked pretty frightening to start with.  There are various numbers going around about how many people are still in detention, including two sons of al-Fadil, an opposition politician, and the government has been blocking the independent radio and newspapers in the North today.

So far Yassir Arman has been the only major politician to speak about Abdulrahman’s death, and against police brutality.  Taha has said that the demonstrations were allowed, while this has been contradicted by other unnamed NCP officials, but the only major NCP comment is from Obeid here, who says that the Sudanese protests won’t amount to anything as Bashir is democratically elected and there is popular involvement in Sudanese politics.

The site for the next protests (1 February?) is here.

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Roundup on student protests in Khartoum

The news reports on the protests in and around Khartoum today started to come out a few hours ago.  Here are a selection.  The main facebook group organising the protests today is here.

The tragic death of Mohammed Bouazizi was credited with sparking the protests in Tunisia; however, the death of al-Amin Musa in Omdurman’s marketplace on Friday 21 January has had far less international recognition as a political suicide and, as far as I can see at the moment, far less emotional and political impact on the protesters in Sudan today.  Magdi el Gizouli has written an excellent post on the reactions of the Muslim clerical association and Sudanese government press here.

I’m very poorly informed about Egyptian politics, but my concern is that the protests in Egypt have precedent – 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010, from a quick look – and the Tunisian protests have come at the end of two years of political reshuffling and attempts to mitigate unrest.  It’s not that north Sudan hasn’t had its share of constant protest, or that it’s not in the grip of a serious foreign exchange crisis and economic failure, but I’m concerned that these protests are inspired by the real hopes of change in Tunisia and (cross fingers) Egypt, and the idea of a political domino effect, among a few educated young Sudanese who are able to be socially active, in that they are willing and able to take the risks of protesting.

Regardless, I hope the people arrested today (and there are conflicting figures, up to several hundreds) are released quickly without harm.

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