The Irish Times view on Sudan’s unrest: Revolution echoes loud and far
Sudan’s strategic role in the Arab and African worlds makes the outcome of this struggle influential in both
The political revolution under way in Sudan, which has toppled president Omar al-Bashir’s 30 year military dictatorship, is a hugely significant event with profound implications for its own future and for other Arab and African autocratic regimes. The mass movement responsible for the change has deep roots in Sudanese society. It has shown an impressive discipline capable of ushering in a more democratic and constitutional system, culminating in the continuing sit-in around the centre of military and political power in Khartoum. Its demands for a civilian government to run day-to-day affairs and for a shared civilian-military transitional regime to bring that about are convincing and deliverable.
This crisis has been building for months and years, determined by the regime’s weakening economic and political position and the opposition’s skill in taking advantage of that. The immediate background goes back to public protests against the withdrawal of wheat price subsidies and a trebling of bread prices in the provincial town of Altara last December, which quickly spread. They led to the signing of a charter by civil society groups in January demanding an end to military rule and transition to a democratically accountable civilian government. Bashir fought back with a state of emergency and vicious repression, but was not able to stem the tide. Shifting loyalties in the armed forces signalled an end to his rule.
Other Arab and African states fear the rebellious and democratic content of these revolutionary events
Much now depends on how skilfully both sides handle their demands and expectations. Within 24 hours of his departure, Bashir’s nominated successor General Ahmed Auf had also gone, giving way to a more capable and accommodating military figure, Abdelfattah al-Burhan. He has suspended curfews, released prisoners and is negotiating with 10 leaders of the regime’s street opponents. They will have to decide what demands to insist upon, where to compromise and how to maintain and manage the peaceful and symbolic sit-in that signifies their popular support. They can count on many sympathisers among the military but acknowledge the need for transitional arrangements between military and civilian rule.
Sudan’s strategic role in the Arab and African worlds will make the outcome of this struggle influential in both of them. Bashir cultivated allies in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Gulf states and received subsidies from them to shore up an economy weakened by the loss of oil revenues after South Sudan seceded in 2011. Growing inflation, poverty and joblessness stimulated the unrest that led to his downfall. These states fear his civilian successors will encourage Islamic unrest and want to shore up military rule. Other Arab and African states fear the rebellious and democratic content of these revolutionary events. They have obvious echoes in Algeria and Ethiopia and in other places where younger generations reject corrupt, ineffective and older rulers.