Middle East

Uprising in Sudan may resemble Syria: ex-PM

An image grab taken from AFP TV shows Sudanese demonstrators shouting anti-regime slogans during a protest outside the Wad Nabawi mosque in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman on July 6, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/STR)

KHARTOUM: An Arab Spring-style uprising in Sudan would likely follow the bloody example of Syria or Libya because its armed forces and judiciary are not independent and could be used against its people, former Prime Minister Sadeq al-Mahdi said Wednesday.

Sudan has so far not seen the wave of popular unrest that unseated long-serving leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, but austerity measures launched last month to contain an economic crisis have set off anti-government protests.

The demonstrations have rarely gathered more than a few hundred people at a time but discontent over rising food prices and other economic woes worsened by the secession of oil-producing South Sudan a year ago could yet ignite more protests, said Mahdi, who was ousted in the bloodless 1989 coup that brought President Omar al-Bashir to power.

“All the writing is on the wall ... The regime, which has come to power through a coup, has failed. All the programs have failed,” he told Reuters in his compound in the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman.

But he said any uprising was more likely to resemble the one in Syria, where the armed forces are being used to put down a 16-month revolt, than that in Tunisia, whose veteran leader fled to Saudi Arabia in the face of pro-democracy protests.

“We do not have the same kind of, let us say, national armed forces and neutral, independent judiciary. In both cases in Sudan the two have been politicized, like Syria, Libya and Yemen,” he said.

Mass demonstrations led to the downfall of military rulers in Sudan in 1964 and 1985. In both, the army sided with demonstrators at some point, Mahdi said, but added he was less certain that would happen now.

“The uprising, which is possible, could lead to a Syria scenario or a Libya scenario or a Yemen scenario.”

Sudanese officials dismiss charges that the country’s courts and other institutions are politicized. Bashir said Wednesday there would be no Arab Spring in Sudan.

Mahdi, head of the powerful Muslim Ansar sect and descendent of an Islamic leader who fought the British in the 19th century, became prime minister after his party won democratic elections in the 1980s, but was ousted in 1989.

The politician spent four years in self-imposed exile in the 1990s, but returned to Sudan in 2000.

Last week, his Umma party signed a document with other major opposition groups calling for strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations to oust the government, but has yet to bring its members onto the streets in force.

Mahdi said Umma’s leadership did not plan to mobilize protesters until after a “shadow peace agreement” with rebel groups in the Western Darfur area and in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.

The party’s aim was to create political change through negotiations involving a variety of players, including the ruling party, rather than through bloody upheaval, he said.

Young activists have accused the Umma party and other opposition groups of being too compliant with the establishment and reluctant to press hard for change.

But Mahdi said: “We are committed to change, it’s just that we think it is possible that the pressures could make change with less blood. We are not reluctant. We are more experienced, and we know, let us say, the rules of the game.”

Mahdi said the economic situation would continue to fuel protests.

“When will it boil over? I can’t say. But it is there. It will not go away so long as the factors behind it are there,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 12, 2012, on page 9.

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