The past decade has been a roller-coaster ride for Sudanese citizens. From the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur to the ethnic cleansing campaign targeting the Nuba people to the violent border clashes that accompanied the separation with South Sudan, this nation has witnessed hell. At least 200,000 people have lost their lives and 2 million more have been displaced in Darfur alone, according to conservative U.N. estimates. Hundreds more have died during the recent border clashes between the two Sudans, and thousands have been driven from their homes.
But now there is a glimmer of hope. Daily growing protests against President Omar al-Bashir's regime are spreading demographically and geographically, along with calls for strikes and civil disobedience. The spark was the government's June 18 announcement of a new round of austerity measures, including massively unpopular cuts to fuel subsidies. The most dramatic protests have so far occurred in Khartoum's al-Daim neighborhood, where police used extreme force and obscene amounts of tear gas in an attempt to suppress the demonstrators. In an example of the defiant mood taking over the streets, the protesters responded by burning a police truck.
As the fear barrier crumbles, Sudanese have a chance to topple Bashir and his National Congress Party (NCP) cronies -- and to build a better future for their country.
It is important to understand why Sudanese would risk their lives to oppose Bashir. The narratives peddled by some commentators about the country's recent conflicts -- that they are between "Arabs versus Africans," or "Muslims versus Christians" -- are not only unhelpful, they are wrong. These characterizations have neither benefited the international community nor the diverse citizens of Sudan -- including the Arabs and Afro-Arabs of the North who felt alienated by it, and who have also been violently oppressed for decades.
John Garang, the late southern Sudanese leader, made a crucial contribution to framing the situation as it actually is: A struggle between Sudan's diverse population and Omar al-Bashir's heinous dictatorship, which uses religion and tribalism to divide and control. "The Northerners are suffering too," Garang said in one speech. "This is the problem of governance in Khartoum."
The truth is that regardless of their background, Sudanese are suffering under Bashir's rule. Just take the case of Safia Ishaq, a member of the nonviolent youth resistance movement Girifna: In 2011, after the small Jan. 30 student-led protests inspired by Egypt and Tunisia, she was arrested for her activism and brutally gang-raped by three officers from Bashir's National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), the well-financed and notoriously abusive enforcers responsible for suppressing dissent and protecting the ruling party.
It is no secret that Bashir's Islamist regime, which seized power in a military coup on June 30, 1989, and hosted Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s before kicking him out only under withering international pressure, has a long list of bloody failings. But it just may be the worsening economic situation, which seems to have been the last straw for a growing number of nonideological citizens of Khartoum, that could end his grip on power. The recent austerity cuts have been particularly painful in a country already suffering from inflation that hovers over 30 percent, and which lost more than 70 percent of its oil revenues upon South Sudan's independence.
The recent demonstrations in Sudan's capital are different than previous student-led protests. They have been strategically dispersed -- relatively small crowds have spread out in numerous locations throughout Khartoum, stretching and exhausting the security forces' resources. Demonstrations calling for the fall of the regime erupted in university campuses as well as in Wad Nubawi, al-Sajjana, Bahri, Jabra, al-Kalaakla, and Um Badda, among other neighborhoods and areas in the capital.