Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is facing the greatest threat to his leadership since he seized power in 1989.
Demonstrations that began in Khartoum on Monday, September 23rd, to protest a dramatic cut in fuel subsidies have spread throughout Sudan and intensified with the government’s bloody response. While the final trajectory remains unclear, the unprecedented scope of protests and the government’s use of live ammunition, internet shutdowns, and widespread detentions have led some Sudan experts to speculate this could be the end for Bashir.
Dozens of people were reportedly killed in the first few days of protests, including at least 50 shot in the chest or head on Tuesday and Wednesday alone. An increased security presence met protesters ahead of evening prayers on Friday, causing further clashes and reported deaths that may now number well over 100.
While government attacks in Darfur and other parts of Sudan have been ongoing for years, unrest and mass killing has rarely touched Khartoum and other cities currently facing mass protests.
Bashir’s announcement on Sunday that the government will cut fuel subsidies led to an increase by almost 100% in the price of gasoline and diesel overnight. In addition, the Sudanese pound has sharply depreciated in value over the past few weeks and the prices of essential food products, like sugar, have risen dramatically. The combination of these shifting economic factors and continuing political unrest over Bashir’s regime triggered a public outcry.
Thousands gathered in the city of Wed Madani on Monday, but soon the protests spread across the nation with news outlets reporting demonstrations in the capital, Khartoum, Omdurman, Port Sudan, Atbara, Gedarif, Nyala, Kosti, Ed Obeid, Ed Damazin, Kassala, and Sinnar.
The protests initially began peacefully, however violence quickly erupted in many of the cities. It has been reported that civilians have set fire to cars, petrol stations, and police buildings and thrown rocks at the security forces. In response, Sudanese police and National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS) officers fired tear gas and live ammunition in attempts to control and disperse the crowds.
While the Sudanese government insists that fewer than 29 people have died over the past four days of protests, credible news sources and activist groups put the death toll at minimum of 50 casualties as of Friday, September 27th. However, some Sudanese opposition groups maintain that the number of deceased exceeds 100. Most of the victims ranged between 19-26 years of age, the majority of them students. One of the deceased was a 14-year old boy from North Khartoum. Hundreds more civilians have reportedly been detained by Sudan’s NISS, including activists, demonstrators, political opposition leaders, and students.
Lucy Freeman, Amnesty’s deputy chief for Africa, said the police’s “aiming at protesters’ chests and heads” is a “blatant violation of the right to life,” urging authorities to end the violent repression of the protestors.
The Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha, who was addressing an event in Khartoum on Thursday, said that his government does not fear those demonstrations and insisted that the economic measures decided this week will remain in place. Sudan’s Minister of Information Ahmed Bilal Osman told Al Jazeera that the protests were forms of “terroristic attacks” meant only to cause chaos in the country.
The Sudanese government appears to be doing all that they can to contain the protests, but the oppression seems to have only incited the people more. Around 3,000 people took to the streets again on Friday in Omdurman demanding freedom and the resignation of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement denouncing the Sudanese government’s crackdown on protests, the excessive use of force against civilians, and the inhibiting of universal rights of freedom of speech and assembly.
The U.S. statement and the violent actions of the Bashir regime underscore the level of absurdity and potential embarrassment of a near visit by Bashir this week to New York to address the UN General Assembly. Bashir had stated his intention to travel to New York on the very same day he announced the subsidy cuts, going as far as to say he had secured a flight and hotel.