#FF: It’s Freedom Friday in Sudan
Fridays are synonymous with protest throughout the Arab world, and today will be no exception as Sudanese activists launch another. As Ramadan begins, today’s Darfur Baladna Friday protest is likely to be marked by the same violent crackdowns and arrests that local organizers say have detained over 2000 people in the last month.
So far, President Omar al Bashir and his National Congress Party have laughed off the protests as insignificant. But the regime, which came to power in an uprising over 20 years ago, knows better than to simply dismiss a sustained wave of vocal opposition against economic austerity measures, media repression, and a politically ossified government where new blood has nowhere to go. The NCP doesn’t have the means to end austerity – especially when it’s in a stand-off with South Sudan over oil revenues. It’s made its position on press freedom clear by shutting down and confiscating newspapers in several cities. And as protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya showed, when the middle class takes to the streets, your regime is in trouble.
Bashir’s leadership is counting on its ability to contain the protests – literally. Mass arrests allegedly fill Sudan’s notorious ghost houses, where the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) have been known to torture detainees, have so far kept pace with the number of protestors entering the streets. The security services also monitor online communications and often target specific opposition leaders. Local organizers know better than to underestimate NISS, but both sides have learned from the last year of Arab Spring revolts.
That’s why today’s Darfur-dedicated protest deserves attention, and not only because it demonstrates a political opposition movement that stretches far beyond the grounds of just one Omdurman mosque. Putting “Darfur” and “#SudanRevolts” in the same headlines is strategically savvy, making a direct connection for Western media and pulling up keyword associations between “Sudan,” “Darfur,” “Bashir,” and “indicted war criminal.” By building on a wealth of established media associations, organizers at Girifna and around Sudan are drawing a clear connection between the regime that’s willing to purge its own citizens and the NISS officers beating and arresting people in the capital.
The fact that the protests have continued despite a month of violence and arrests is one sign that it has staying power; last year, similar protests were extinguished relatively quickly. But to reach a critical mass and force a tipping point, Sudan’s opposition will depend on its continued ability to coordinate visible, widespread protests across the country, from Khartoum and Port Sudan to Al-Fashir and El Obeid. So far, Fridays have been dedicated to the women, to the outcasts, and to Darfur. With more support and visibility, they may eventually be dedicated to The Majority.
Caitlin Howarth (@caitlinhowarth) is a Truman Partner and former human security analyst at the Satellite Sentinel Project.