The government of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al Bashir is engaged in a crackdown against a nationwide, broad-front opposition movement which has been commemorating the bloody repression that occurred in September of last year.
Al Bashir, who took power in a coup against Saddiq al Mahdi in 1989 and has ruled Sudan with a heavy hand and Sharia law ever since, is having increasing difficulty staving off protests and demands that he be removed from office, while dealing with an economy that is in dire straits, rebellions in the south and west of the country, and an indictment in the International Criminal Court.
In 2011, the long-running insurgency of Sudan’s southern provinces led to a referendum in which voters decided to break away from the rule of Khartoum (Sudan’s capital) and set up the independent republic of South Sudan. Thus Sudan lost a big chunk of its main revenue-generating resource, namely, oil. Al Bashir tried to deal with this by charging South Sudan high prices for moving its oil through pipelines that cross Sudan’s territory on the way to the oil outlet at Port Sudan, on the Red Sea. The conflict led to a brief armed clash last year. Meanwhile, South Sudan has been split by a rebellion, and many suspect that Sudanese President al Bashir has been supporting those rebels. There are also anti-al Bashir rebels in the southern part of the Republic of Sudan, in Blue Nile Province and the Abyei area of South Kordofan Province, as well as Darfur in the west.
These movements have had their economic impact. In 2013, the al Bashir government, strapped for cash, removed subsidies on fuel, which had a big impact on poor Sudanese. Gasoline prices rose 75 percent and cooking gas prices rose 66 percent. This led to disturbances which began on September 23, 2013, and went on for a week in Khartoum, Wad Madani, and other cities and towns. The response to the disturbances by al Bashir’s security forces was predictably harsh. According to Amnesty International, over 200 people were killed.
The events of a year ago only stimulated efforts by the opposition to remove al Bashir from power and replace him with a democratic secular government. Among the powerful voices for change in Sudan is that of the Sudanese Communist Party. Founded after the Second World War, the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) grew to be one of the largest such parties in the Arab world and in Africa. However, in 1971, the then-dictator of Sudan, Gaafar Nimeiry, repressed the SCP, forcing it to work underground for a while. In 1985 Nimeiry was overthrown by a mass popular uprising in which the Communists played an important role, and the SCP was able to work openly until a coup on June 30, 1989, brought Omar Hassan al Bashir to power. In 2005 a political agreement allowed opposition groups, including the SCP, to work openly once more, but the régime periodically arrests party members and confiscates editions of the SCP’s newspaper, Al Midan.
In January of 2014, al Bashir, under internal and external pressure, agreed to the general idea of a national dialogue leading to an eventual end to the one-party state headed by his National Congress Party. There followed months of discussion and negotiations, with different opposition parties forming rival united front groups.
All are suspicious of al Bashir’s intentions, not least because of his arrest of the venerable former president and head of the National Umma Party, Saddiq al Mahdi. On September 4 the government and some of the opposition parties, urged on by the African Union’s representative for Sudan affairs, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, signed an extremely general agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, outlining terms for further negotiations.
The Sudanese Communist Party, however, and others on the left grouped in the National Consensus Forces, are highly critical of the agreement because it lacks any specific commitment by the government as to how it will be implemented. Also, the Communists warn that new elections, scheduled for 2015, cannot be carried out under the control of the al Bashir régime. First, the leftists say, there must be a period under a transitional government, so that opposition candidates can campaign freely without fear of repression.
So al Bashir, worried about new disturbances on the anniversary of the September 2013 events, launched another wave of repression. On September 26, authorities pounced on demonstrators in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, and raided the headquarters of the SCP, confiscating documents and computer files as well as a run of 10,000 posters that the Communists had printed to commemorate the 2013 events. Arrests took place in Khartoum and elsewhere too.
The Sudanese Communist Party issues a call for international solidarity to demand that the Sudanese government release arrested party members and others. They urge calls to Sudanese embassies and consulates worldwide, including the one in Washington, D,C,, to promote these demands.
Photo: Sudanese anti-government protesters chant slogans during a demonstration in Khartoum, Sudan, Sept. 29, 2013. Khalil Hamra/AP