Sudan and Egypt have a rich shared history, with both countries being under British imperial rule until the second half of the twentieth century. When Sudan was debating the terms of its independence, many Arab Sudanese argued for a union with Egypt, their fellow sons of the Nile. And now, it seems, each is holding what may be its most important demonstrations to date, at the same time. In Sudan, six straight days of protest have marked the most significant threat to the regime yet seen.
International media attention is being focused on Egypt's rekindled protests in Tahrir Square because it is the next chapter of the year-long story of Egypt's revolution. The results of the presidential runoff election set to be announced soon are viewed by liberal Egyptians as the capstone of a hijacked revolution. That the two candidates are the Muslim Brotherhood's pick and a former Mubarak prime minister is telling. And the delay in announcing those results has sparked suspicion that the ruling military council is meddling with the votes. Even if the results are verified as completely representative of the people's will, the role of the ruling generals after any transition is uncertain. To be sure, there is much to be done to complete the revolution in Egypt.
Further south, the capital of Sudan, Khartoum, has been wracked by six days of protests following the government's announcement of austerity measures last week. The June 2011 secession of what is now South Sudan took with it two-thirds of the country's oil, forcing the government to redefine its budget and rethink its priorities. The ruling National Congress Party chose to cut the number of civil servants, slash government salaries, increase taxes, and cut fuel subsidies, rather than cut down on military and security spending.
Bloomberg News reported that the reduction in fuel subsidies alone are expected to increase transportation costs by 35 percent for the average Sudanese, according to the Bus Driver's Association. This is on top of food and transportation prices that have been steadily increasing for the last several years, particularly after the secession. Inflation for May increased to 30.4 percent, according to the country's statistics agency. The finance minister has admitted that the country is effectively "bankrupt."
The announcement of fresh austerity measures pushed the population too far and a group in the girls dormitories of Khartoum University began protests on the 13th. One of the biggest issues with past attempts to organize protests in Sudan has been the gulf that separates Westernized, educated, liberal young people and the more conservative general population. However, when all Sudanese realized how these measures would make it even more difficult to eke out a living, the base of the protests broadened to include many non-activists.
Most interestingly, there are reports -- as yet unconfirmed -- of police officers joining the protests. These optimistic reports are tempered by easily confirmed reports of police and plainclothes security officers beating and detaining those protesting. There are also reports of students who have died in custody over the last week.
The protests are not the only threat to the regime's 23-year grip on power. The prospect of war with South Sudan has become all too real in the past months, with tensions peaking after South Sudanese troops occupied the town of Heglig, Sudan's only remaining major oil field. Meanwhile, rebellions continue to rage along the Sudan-South Sudan border and the Darfur region, with the different groups of rebels recently agreeing to coordinate their efforts.
The regime is also rife with internal revisions. Hardliners demand that the country reconquer South Sudan, the military wants more money to deal with the many conflicts in the country, Islamists are pushing for an Iran-style theocracy, and the businessmen who have become wealthy under the regime fear the plummeting economy and increasing isolation. Sooner or later, it will be impossible to reconcile the sometimes-competing demands of these important interests.
At the moment, it is difficult to get reliable information out of the country. I'll keep in touch with contacts there and try to get some verifiable information on how many have been detained, injured, killed, the numbers at the protests and their intensity. As of this second, there have been protests since midnight local time until now. The protests may end with the government successfully crushing them, the government hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass, or internal and external pressures forcing the regime to step aside. Those options are presented in decreasing order of likelihood. An update will be up within 24 hours.
Follow Shadi Bushra on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ShadiBushra