The real stakes in Sudan’s protests

Opposition parties in Sudan find it normal and even within their rights to take advantage of people’s hunger to reach power. They do that in large part to cover up the real reasons they have for disagreeing with the government.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, his party, his loyalists and those who benefit from his being in power did not go overboard in blaming the common folk; on the contrary, they empathised with the people’s plight and tried to expose the opposition’s fabricated narrative and the reasons behind it.

Both parties in the Sudanese tug of war — the government and the opposition — are trying to turn their quarrel into a political one. It is as if bread is a political issue. They are making a grave mistake because the object of their transactional wars — bread — does not deserve this kind of humiliation in a game of political opportunism – if it is conceded that what is going on in Sudan is a political issue. This is debatable.

One thing the government and the opposition in Sudan have in common is fear that popular protests will be a prelude to the Islamists falling from power. This point would corroborate the consensus that it was the communists who were responsible for changing the character of the protests. Usually, protests in Sudan are rather tame and do not pose a threat to the regime. In general, faces may change but the regime remains in place.

The grievance of the Islamist opposition in Sudan is not with the regime but with the people in power, who incidentally are also Islamists. Therefore, when the opposition calls for a new leader, it does not mean that it is calling for a regime change to allow greater public freedom and start the process of searching for social justice based on the principle of citizenship.

When the government and its opponents focus on the problem of bread, they are reducing the problem to an insignificant detail to buy time for negotiations on how to redistribute and share the spoils of power.

From their point of view, the common folk are not and should not be concerned with this. The common folk have no reason to take to the street in protest except bread and some other small economic concerns, such as fuel. When these problems are solved, the common folk will go home after carrying out their duty in the street.

This political game hides a tragic irony. In Sudan, politics, in its modern sense, does not play an important role in the social system. Sudanese society is ethnically pluralistic in a variety of ways. Tribalism, regionalism, ethnicity and sectarianism represent an apparent part of this pluralism. There is a lot that the outside world does not understand about the bases of this pluralism.

If the Muslim Brothers of the government and those of the opposition are unanimous on the need for the government’s Islamic regime to stay in place in Sudan, it does not mean they do not have their own typically Sudanese criteria for discriminating among themselves in their struggle for power.

It is safe to assume that al-Bashir can put a quick end to the opposition’s game of exploiting the bread riots in Sudan by opening his doors to some figures from the opposition. If al-Bashir chooses to address the issue of the price of bread and many other solvable issues, he could knock out the Sudanese opposition for many years to come.

In this context, it is possible to conclude that the conflict between al-Bashir and his opponents will not lead to positive results for the Sudanese people. The latter are bound to stay hungry for freedom, true citizenship and social justice.

One cannot rely on popular protests to bring about historic change in Sudan, unless current power equations between the government and its willing opponents are reversed. It is humiliating for the Sudanese to have bread become the catalyst for that.

Al-Bashir has called for broadening political participation in the government. That call gives cause for pessimism because it conceals a complicity between him and the Islamist opponents of his ilk. This means that the Sudanese people are bound to remain in their stereotypical role of rioting for bread.

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