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Bashir haemorrhaging domestic political support as Sudanese protests rage

Ministers are peeling away from Sudan's cabinet and condemning the ruling party's crackdown on dissent
Sudan has caught fire over bread prices and dire living conditions (Reuters)

KHARTOUM - Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s domestic political support is being rocked, as his security forces struggle to contain protests that have raged all week.

Despite words of support from countries such as Egypt and Qatar, Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has seen several of its political allies withdraw from the government or make unusually harsh public criticisms of its handling of a crisis that shows no sign of slowing down.

Demonstrations have erupted daily since 19 December, as Sudanese protest the spiralling economic situation, shortages of essentials such as bread and fuel, and rising prices.

The Sudanese authorities said on Thursday that 19 people had been killed since the protests began, though rights group Amnesty International said the actual toll was at least 37.

The Sudanese Congress Party, an opposition party, said the death toll lay around 40.

Breaking ranks

The majority of politicians and political groups turning on Bashir and his party are those who joined the national unity government that was formed after 2015.

On Thursday, the Umma party announced its withdrawal from the cabinet, citing the killing of protesters and the NCP’s failure to implement recommendations that were outlined in the national dialogue that preceded the government’s formation.

The Umma party and the NCP have had a fractious relationship since September, when Bashir removed its leader Mubarak al-Fadil as investment minister as the president attempted to cut government expenses.

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Meanwhile, the Islamic Popular Congress Party (PCP) also blasted the government, calling for an immediate and transparent investigation into the killing of demonstrators and those responsible to be brought to justice.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, PCP Secretary-General Idriss Sulaiman, who is also minister of international cooperation, said the number of deaths is far larger than the official figure.

The protests are showing no sign of slowing down (Reuters)

Similarly, representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has participated in the government under the leadership of Mohamed Osman Almirgani, announced on Wednesday that they were participating in the protests and would join any probable strike that may be declared by the trade unions.

They further called on the leadership of the party to “be responsible and allied with the Sudanese people at this historical moment”.

Sources have told Middle East Eye that former Darfur rebels who broke from their armed movements to join the government have also begun secret consultations to withdraw from the cabinet.

This includes Abu al-Gasim Imam, who is a minister of state and head of the Second Revolution movement, and Abdul Kareem Dabajo, who leads the Justice and Equality Movement, MEE understands.

Most of these pro-government political parties have begun to understand that the regime is now falling down and they must jump out before the boat sinks

- Salah al-Doma, political analyst

Political analyst Salah al-Doma believes that the NCP’s allies will withdraw one after another as they have no interest to remain in the government.

According to Doma, only Bashir’s inner circle will continue fighting alongside him until the last moment.

“Most of these pro-government political parties have begun to understand that the regime is now falling down and they must jump out before the boat sinks,” he told MEE.

“But they need to put some excuses to the public opinion.”

MEE has reached out to multiple government and NCP officials, but none answered the calls.

Insecure security forces?

In another unusual statement, the Sudanese national army announced its loyalty to Bashir, saying that the military is disciplined and committed to working under the highest leadership of the country.

The statement came amid reports that some senior military officers have joined protesters in the cities of Atbara, Gadaref and Port Sudan.

Interestingly, one of Bashir’s main allies in the security forces, Mohamed Hamdan Heeti, who is leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), has also made a rare criticism of the government, accusing officials of causing a cash shortage that has emptied ATMs and urging the government to provide services to people.

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A recent report by the Associated Press suggested that Bashir’s control over the security apparatus was waning, and that his forces had expressed half-hearted support for the president amid the protests.

According to a Sudanese military expert, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, there are multiple signs that the ruling party’s grip on the army and police was weakening.

The expert told MEE that the heavy use of violence, in addition to ethnic and political polarisation in the country, can easily lead to splits among the security forces.

“Under the current ethnic and political tension in the country and the massive use of violence, besides the realities of the general discontent and the economic deterioration, it is very probable that part of the forces may join the protesters or look at other options to save its future interests,” he said.

Crackdown

In the meantime, the government’s core organs are still fighting against the growing popular resistance, as a grouping of trade unions called the Independent Professional Unions (IPU), including the doctors, teachers, labourers, journalists and others, has joined the protests.

The IPU has taken a prominent leading role in the protests, and was responsible for calling the demonstration on 25 December, which was one of the largest seen in recent years.

However, the government has begun to aggressively crack down on the protests, killing, injuring and arresting hundreds of people.

Teachers and journalists joined doctors on Thursday in announcing a strike that will last at least three days.

The Central Committee of the Sudanese Doctors said in statement that three of its members have been wounded in the past few days. It further stressed that the security apparatus has used live bullets against the protesters.

Queues for bread are a common sight in Sudan (AFP)

The government has also strongly reacted to the journalists’ strike, arresting 10 journalists hours after it began and beating them without giving specific reasons, according to the Sudanese Journalist Network (SJN).

Khalid Fathi is a leading member of the SJN who was also wounded during the wide protests in downtown Khartoum on Tuesday, when police fired a tear gas canister onto his leg.

Fathi told MEE that security forces wearing police uniforms have used live fire against peaceful protesters.

“Although the protests were peaceful, I saw the security apparatus in police uniforms taking to the streets and using massive violence against civilians,” he said.

Among other measures to control the protests, authorities have closed universities and schools, and blocked social media platforms.

'Traitors and mercenaries'

In the face of the crisis, Sudanese authorities have announced a state of emergency and a curfew in several provinces.

Government officials have accused Israel of plotting with rebel groups to cause violence in the country.

The government now wants to draw attention from the suffering of the people and the reality of the protests that have rocked the entire country

- Mohamed al-Anir, SLM/AW spokesman

Bashir has also accused what he described as “traitors” and “mercenaries” of plotting with foreign enemies of the government’s Islamist orientation in order to bring it down.

Sudanese state television aired footage of what it described as 18 students with alleged links to Israel, who have been accused of fomenting the protests.

However, the allegations were denied by Darfur rebel group Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM/AW), which said the students were tortured and forced to make confessions.

SLM/AW spokesman Mohamed al-Anir told MEE the accusations were incorrect, and said “our movement has nothing to do with the government plans to repress these protests”.

“For sure, these naïve claims by the government won’t have affected the Sudanese people,” he said.

“The government now wants to draw attention from the suffering of the people and the reality of the protests that have rocked the entire country.”