Unrest Increases in Sudan Amidst State of Emergency

By Leah Cerilli

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has declared a state of emergency in an attempt to quell uprisings calling for the overthrow of his presidency. This action has only intensified the protests that began in late December. The protests began as a reaction to poor economic conditions such as expense increases, currency devaluation, and fuel shortages. Sudan’s economy has been suffering since its secession from South Sudan in 2011, which contained almost 75 percent of Sudan’s oil reserves. The unrest quickly developed into widespread protests against Bashir’s rule, who has been in power since 1989 following a military coup.

The state of emergency declaration includes a ban of unlicensed public gatherings, increased policing powers, and the establishment of emergency prosecutors and courts. Security personnel are permitted to search citizens and properties as needed, as well as confiscate money suspected as being used in illegal trade. These actions are part of an effort to control civilian actions and justify securitization measures such as the deployment of additional troops in populated areas that have seen the most protest. The Sudanese government officially announced that the death toll from the protests amounts to 31 deaths as of late February, but the actual number is estimated to be higher.

In addition to announcing a year-long state of emergency, Bashir dissolved the central and state governments. He has begun the process of replacing government officials through appointment, predominantly with senior military officials. Bashir also dissolved all elected regional governments and replaced all state governors with senior military officials. Protests widely escalated following the emergency declaration and government appointments, particularly in the capital city Khartoum.

Bashir’s actions are notable on a regional level due to the implications of Islamist and nationalist politics. Although he rose to power as a Muslim politician, Bashir seems to be distancing himself from Islamist political parties by appointing military officials and setting a nationalist tone. Islamist parties such as the Popular Congress Party sympathize with the protestors, blaming Bashir’s government for the economic crisis that started the unrest. Neighboring countries, such as Egypt and Turkey, faced unrest from Islamist parties during the Arab Spring and are consistently attempting to suppress the Islamic faith throughout the region. Both Egypt and Turkey have announced their support for Bashir and concern for stability in the country.

The situation in Sudan is being paralleled to the 2011 Arab Spring. One popular slogan in the Sudanese protests, “The people want the fall of the regime”, was made famous by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Similar to the Arab Spring, the protests are largely made up of young people. Women are also playing a dominant role, taking to the streets to protest abuse and sexual harassment, in addition to arbitrary detentions by security forces.

Bashir has stated he will only step down if elections are held to replace him. Sudan’s next elections are scheduled for 2020, but protesters have vowed to remove Bashir from power before then.