Sudan joins Arab spring - ‘Elbow Lick Friday’s’ rock the regime

Sudan until the recent secession of its southern part was Africa’s biggest country. It is mostly known and in particular portrayed as such in the world media, for its wars, genocides, organised famine, and ethnic, religious and tribal strife. But revolutions tend to cut through the old divisions fostered by the sitting dictators, old colonialist powers and new imperialist forces. This is exactly what is happening today in Sudan since the beginning of the ‘Sudanese spring’.

On the 18th of June, youth, workers and the lower middle classes from many regions, villages, and different ethnic and religious background rose up en masse. The revolt is directed against the heinous Islamist dictatorship of Omar al Bashir and the ruling National Congress Party that has held power since the coup in 1989.  This is the first revolt of this magnitude against an Arab Islamist regime. As is often the case, it is the students that take the lead, breaking the barrier of fear. They are clearly inspired by the other revolutions in the Middle East, from which they borrow the tactics, the organisational methods and slogans.

The youth revolts

This is what Jadaliyya reported at the end of the month of June:

“… street protests of a scale not witnessed for two decades continued into their second week in Khartoum and other major Sudanese cities. Anti-government protests, initially led by students from the University of Khartoum, have inspired similar nation-wide demonstrations in al-Obeid, Kosti, al-Gadaref, Port Sudan, Wad Medani, and Atbara. They began on June 16th with courageous female students at the University of Khartoum’s downtown campus taking to the streets chanting ‘no, no to higher prices’ and ‘freedom, freedom.’

“The students initially protested the announcement of a thirty-five percent hike in public transportation fees and called for the “liberation” of the campus from the presence of the ubiquitous National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).  Since then, Khartoum and other cities have been sites of daily protests driven by a widening political agenda. Echoing calls heard in the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria, protesters chanted ‘the people want the fall of the regime,’ ‘we will not be ruled by a dictator,’ and ‘revolution, revolution until victory.’ Clearly mindful (and no doubt apprehensive) of the protesters’ slogans referencing the Arab uprisings as well as two previous popular intifadas that have removed military regimes, President Omar al-Bashir quickly insisted that this is ‘no Arab Spring’.”

Since then many, especially in academic and media circles, have insisted on Sudan’s “exceptionalism” and how it will not be affected by a revolutionary upsurge of the people. This is an echo of the claims of “the robustness of Arab authoritarianism”, a theme that is recurrent in academic studies on the Middle East.

Something similar was said about Tunisia and later about the Egyptian people. All those peoples were not supposed to revolt and overthrow the existing regimes. The influential International Crisis Group (ICG) similarly argued recently about Sudan that “years of subjugation at the hands of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) have yielded both political apathy and a weak opposition.”

Jadaliyya continues:

“However, since they began, the protests have expanded in both their geographic reach and their social profile. Moving beyond the middle class campus of the University of Khartoum, protests now include more lower class students from other universities, supporters and activists belonging to the major opposition parties, civil servants, the unemployed, and workers in the informal sector. Moreover, despite the use of teargas, batons and sweeping arrests on the part of the State Security and Intelligence Services, the protests have expanded to include residents in the populous informal settlements and working class neighbourhoods of Buri, al-Ilafoon, al-Gereif, al-Sahafa, al-Abbassiya and Mayo south of the capital. As the protests continued with greater force into their tenth day security forces, frustrated at not being able to stem the tide of the protests, entered the dormitories of the University of Khartoum’s Faculty of Education and set them ablaze. The students, responding to Bashir's public statement on June 24th describing the demonstrators as ‘saboteurs’, foreign ‘aliens’ and 'rogues' chanted, ‘we are not rogues, you will end up dead in a sewage system’, referring to how former Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi was caught before he was killed.”

Widespread repression

After dismissing the uprising as “small groups of demonstrators”, the regime has started to take it very seriously. The escalation of repression is an indication of the loss of social control by the regime. Khartoum and all the major cities were besieged by the police. Rubber bullets and teargas were the first reaction, then they started to crackdown massively on the protesters, arresting more than 1000 activists. They were carried to “phantom houses” or undisclosed locations, where they are tortured and the women raped by the infamous National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). 

At the end of July the security forces bloodily repressed demonstrations in Darfour. Radio Dabanga reported on the first of August:

“Yesterday morning dozens of people were killed and injured during protests in Nyala, South Darfur. In addition, protesters burned a petrol station, two police stations and the administration of education in north Nyala county. Protests continued today and demonstrators consider it the most violent since protests broke out in Sudan last June. Protesters are complaining about the high prices of basic commodities and the rise of transportation tariffs. They call for the fall of the regime chanting ‘Nyala revolts, revolts! Against the thief of Kafuri’, referring to Sudan's president Omar Al-Bashir” . 

Since the middle of August the movement seems to have receded, but sooner rather than later it will surge up again. These were only the first beginnings, the first exploratory steps of movement in the making, testing the regime and testing itself.

Brutal austerity

The last large-scale student demonstrations erupted in 1995. Before that, Sudanese revolts twice overthrew military presidents, in 1964 and again, albeit briefly, in 1985. Actually social unrest has been brewing since last summer. Smaller protests in 2011 were a reaction against the economic policies resulting from the secession of the oil-rich South. Two thirds of the country’s oil reserves were lost, leaving the North with a big budget deficit, a weaker currency and rising costs for food and imports. The situation worsened after South Sudan (with no direct access to the sea)  shut down its oil production in January after accusing Khartoum of charging exorbitant transit fees for transport of its oil through Khartoum’s pipeline.

Oil revenues fuelled unprecedented economic growth in the past. But this financial prop has vanished, undermining the stability of the North, while simultaneously eroding the patronage networks of the regime. Restrictions on the outflow of foreign currency were imposed and some imports were banned. State subsidies on basic commodities such as sugar and fuel were reduced. The budget deficit nevertheless continued to soar. It is estimated at 2.4 billion dollars.

On June 18th, the president-dictator imposed a new round of even more draconian measures, lifting fuel subsidies and higher taxes on consumer goods, telecoms and a large range of imported products.  70% of the government’s budget is swallowed by military expenses, which are untouched by the austerity measures. Meanwhile the ongoing wars in Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan cost $ 4 million a day!

People are fed up with this situation. As one demonstrator explained: “Sudanese people die three times over: they die of poverty, die of illness and die of war”. The economy will contract with 7 per cent this year according to the IMF and inflation is 40 per cent high.  Hyperinflation could be looming according to some economists.

elbowoutOmar Al Bashir, pretends not be impressed by this movement. He told the demonstrators overthrowing his regime was as difficult as ‘licking ones elbow’, a Sudanese metaphor for an impossible task. Consequently, the days of protest after Friday prayers are now known as  “Elbow lick Fridays”. They used to be called “Sandstorm” days.

In honour to the leading role played by women in the Sudanese intifada, the day of action of July 13th was coined “Kandake Friday.” "Kandake" in the Kushitic language is a title for strong women. The term was used by the Kushites to refer to their queens, a reference to the brave and revolutionary women of Sudan.

The rapid deterioration of the social and economic conditions has ignited this wave of protests. Nevertheless the scope of the protests indicates a wider and deeper discontent with existing society and with the political regime itself.

Overcoming the ethnic and religious divide

map of sudanThe regime has stayed in power by fostering all kind of divisions in society. The youth instinctively understand that strength comes from unity. This is overcoming all the divisive heritage of the Bashir regime and of colonialism. It is no accident that new organisations of young people have sprung up in this revolution. All of the opposition parties are discredited in the eyes of the revolutionaries fighting on the streets. So the Sudanese Youth for Change (Sharara) declares: “The key factor for the success of this revolution that it is for SUDAN and it is above partisan and regional and sectarian strife’

Another resistance movement, Girifna, states in its program of demands:

“5- Put a stop to the use of religion to terrorize political opponents as well as stop all atonement campaigns and accusations of treason.

11- Stop the war on our people of South Kurdufan, Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains.

12- Ensure the freedom of mobility, residency, work and ownership to South Sudanese residing in Sudan.

14- Put an end to the ethnic monopoly over power and permit the participation of all marginalized peoples.”

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The‘Change Now’ movement is also very clear on this question. On its website it defines itself clearly:

“We are the sons and daughters of Sudan. We descended from its various regions, cities and villages; from its different religious, ethnic and political groups and backgrounds. Having crossed paths previously, in classrooms, football fields, workers' workshops and scaffolds"; we all share the common dream of earning an honourable living, away from the dooming spectre of unemployment, and were all deeply concerned about the miserable state of affairs in our country,  which we witnessed in our neighbourhoods and our deprived cities and villages;”

“Ending all forms of discrimination and exclusions, which have been deepened by the present regime through its unilateral policies against different regions and ethnicities of the Sudan, as well as stopping the marginalization of Eastern Sudan, Kordofan, the Nuba Mountains, Darfur, the Blue Nile and all other regions, and maintaining peace through realizing social justice.” ( .

This is extremely positive. The desire for unity in Sudan is very strong after decades of intestine wars. But from the recent Syrian revolution we know that it needs a politically conscious leadership to protect the revolution against being corrupted and degenerated by imperialist intervention and sectarian bigotry. In the absence of a mass organisation and leadership based on CLASS unity (that is, to place the common interests of the working class and the poor peasants above religious, ethnic and tribal division) the very hopeful beginnings of revolutions can be derailed.

The reference to a Sudanese national feeling and consciousness, although progressive in the light of the cynical fostering of ethnic and other divisions, will in itself not solve the problem of unity. The feeble Sudanese bourgeoisie was never able to unite Sudan and assume one of its basic missions as a social class before history. It has always bowed before foreign imperialist interests and has preferred to carve up the country instead of uniting it.

The only road at the disposal of the Sudanese revolutionaries to fight tribal divisions is the road of working class unity, together with the support of the poor peasantry. It is surely no accident that the first working class group in Sudan to massively join the Communist Party and establish a powerful trade union was the railway workers whose professional activity by itself united the whole of the country.

Sudanese women take the lead

womeninsudanIt is generally accepted that the women, girls and mothers lead the revolutionary protests all over Sudan. It was the female students of the University of Khartoum who started a spontaneous demonstration against the sudden rise of the cost of living. They were rapidly followed by their male counterparts.

The image promoted by the western media and imperialism of Moslem women as helpless victims who needed to be saved and “empowered” by NGOs is shattered. In the 19th century Orientalism represented women in the Middle East as lascivious and passive objects of pleasure.  Both representations imply that women in that part of the region cannot become active and conscious participants in changing their lives, and both are false.

There is a good reason why Sudanese women are at the forefront of the struggle to overthrow the Bashir regime. First of all, women are the ones who are faced with the requirements of daily life, of feeding the children and keeping the families together.  Secondly, they are the ones who suffer most from the repressive laws of the regime. The state apparatus is upholding a reactionary set of laws based on Islamic law (Sharia). The penal code is really barbaric.

“Official police figures reveal that in Khartoum state alone in 2008, 43,000 public order offenses were allegedly committed by women. These “offenses” are determined by the “public order” police at their own discretion and may include wearing trousers or makeup and result in punishments that vary from monetary fines to public lashings.” (1)

The very aggressive interpretation of the Sharia by the regime is a way of terrorising the population, especially women who are known in Sudan for their courage and fighting spirit.  Punishment ranges from crucifixion (!) and “cross amputation” (cutting off the right hand and the left foot) to public stoning and flogging (see the barbaric act of flogging in the streets of Khartoum :

But even imprisoned for protesting the flogging, Sudanese women are very spirited and courageous, as this video taken clandestinely in prison shows:

United States hypocrisy

The United States like to portray itself now in the Middle East as the true friends of democracy. After having given support to the dictators, they realised their stooges were going to be overthrown and came out in favour of “democracy”. This they did very reluctantly, after the beginning of the Arab revolutions,  and only with the hope they could protect their economic, military and strategic interests with weak bourgeois democracies.

Those are the real and only “values” and “ethics” guiding Washington’s policies in the Middle East and throughout the world. In Sudan the US’s hypocritical position is best articulated by its special envoy Princeton Lyman. Here is an extract of an interview last year with the paper Asharq Al-Awsat (March 2011)

“[Asharq Al-Awsat] The U.S. administration has welcomed the Arab Spring which has overthrown a number of dictatorships in the Middle East and led to free and fair elections being held. Are you calling for the Arab Spring to encompass Sudan, as well?

“[Lyman] This is not part of our agenda in Sudan. Frankly, we do not want to see the ouster of the [Sudanese] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.

“[Asharq Al-Awsat] The SPLM has said that it wants to bring the Arab Spring to Sudan. Do you oppose this?

“[Lyman] We want to see freedom and democracy [in Sudan], but not necessarily via the Arab Spring”. (March 2011).

So the US vision is that the brutal regime of Bashir must reform itself out of existence! This is really as impossible as ‘licking one’s elbow’.  The regime will never commit suicide. If it engages in reform it will only be out of fear of a revolution from below. But those reforms will be aimed at maintaining the political, military, social and economic status-quo behind a facade of “change”. So the revolutionary youth can never trust the reforms coming from the Bashir dictatorship.

No help can be expected from the United States, or from the so-called  “international community”. They are responsible for the actual mess in Sudan. They are only interested in the oil, the natural resources and the geostrategic position of Sudan. To spaek clearly, imperialism is not part of the solution but part of the problem of Sudan.

The only realistic option must come from a mass uprising (mass demonstrations, general strike), prepared by democratically organised committees of struggle in the campuses, colleges, neighbourhoods, workplaces, in the villages and in cities. The first demand must be the establishment of a revolutionary constituent assembly which will place in its hands all the necessary powers to change society. 

The opposition parties and national unity

The Sudanese opposition parties, who never initiated the Sudanese intifada and even denied the possibility of such an uprising, have now come together and signed a Democratic Alternative Charter. They include representatives the National Consensus Forces (NCF), an opposition coalition including the National Umma Party (NUP) of Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, the Popular Congress Party (PCP) led by Hassan Al-Turabi, and the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP).

“”The text of the DAC adopts the use of “peaceful mass struggle” in the forms of civil disobedience and popular uprising to topple the regime and then establish an interim government in which all political forces will be represented to rule the country for three years until a new constitution is installed and elections are held. It then proceeds to describe the principles that should guide the process of writing the constitution, including that Sudan is “a civil democratic state” predicated on equal citizenship rights. The DCA further calls for “the abolition of all freedom-restricting laws”, “respect for the reality of diversity in Sudan” and “safeguards against the use of religion in politics” It also calls for responding to the demands of people in the Western region of Darfur through various means including “compensations” and “accountability for the war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed during the conflict in the region. (2)

Prepare a real revolutionary leadership

In reality, this front of parties is a unnatural alliance of parties representing different and antagonistic social forces. It is a front of discredited bourgeois parties with a weak workers’ party, the Communist Party. In other words, it is a front of class collaboration.

Although the CP does not have the forces it used to have it is still an important point of reference for the left, the unions etc. It should never have entered this front and should leave it immediately. The SCP should become the political mouthpiece of the revolutionary youth.

Not to do so it will mean repeating the fatal mistakes of its policy of alliances with the “progressive or national bourgeoisie”. This led to the mass murder of its members in the 50’s and 60’s.  That policy has nothing in common with communism but it is a rehash of the criminal policies of Stalinism, which have led to bloody defeats in one country after another in the Middle East.

A real revolutionary Marxist policy is one of complete class independence in the struggle against the dictatorship, building alliances with the poor peasantry and the revolutionary youth.

“National unity” between social forces which such antagonistic interests are extremely dangerous and negative. How can there be unity between the exploiters and the exploited? How can workers join with their bosses? How can poor peasants find common interests with their landowners? How can the revolutionary youth of Sudan have confidence in those parties who did nothing to overthrow the regime but tamely accepted the role of  a ‘responsible opposition’ of the dictatorship? How can the victims of repression trust their torturers! This is impossible. Along this road no solution for can be found.

Behind the words “mass struggle” and “overthrowing the regime” there is no serious strategy plan of revolutionary mass action. At best its campaign will be a campaign of ‘pressure’ on the regime. As soon as the mass movement develops independently with its own revolutionary methods as in Egypt (mass strikes of the workers, mass demonstrations and direct organised confrontation with the state apparatus) the parties of the DAC will call on the youth to limit themselves to “responsible action”. They will call for moderation and negotiation. But neither Mubarak of Ben Ali was “negotiated out of power”!

The Sudanese youth has shown great courage and sacrifice in confronting this brutal regime. But courage is not sufficient to guarantee victory. To be victorious courage has to be matched by a revolutionary program and strategy. Marxism represents a formidable arsenal of ideas, not only to understand the world but more importantly to change it.

In addition to fighting in the streets, the revolutionary youth of Sudan must study Marxism, form discussion groups and spread the ideas. Here you will find the ideas, program and tactics necessary to win. In this way you will prepare the revolutionary leadership the Sudanese revolution needs so urgently.

The parties of the DAC will betray the democratic ideals of the Sudanese Intifada. No confidence can be given to them. Capitalism and imperialism (and the parties that defend them) can never bring democracy, social justice and a harmonious coexistence of the different religions and national groups in Sudan.

In reality the only democratic revolution in Sudan is a socialist revolution. Socialism means, in the firat place, the nationalisation of the natural resources and monopolies under the democratic workers control. It means the expulsion of imperialism and the establishment of a genuinely democratic state of the workers and poor peasants, established on the basis of elected local, regional and national committees.

A socialist revolution in Sudan would rapidly spread to the whole of the region and the entire African continent. Above all, a socialist revolution in Nigeria and South Africa with their large industries and numerous and powerful working class would transform the destinies of the whole continent. This is the only solution for the people of Sudan.


2)    Sudan Tribune, july 4th , 2012

Videoreport of the clashes in Khartoum

Breaking the barrier of fear


Protest music for the Sudanese revolution

‘System Down’

LA (Dictatorship)