Middle East In Focus
What began weeks ago in Sudan as a protest against rising food prices has resulted in the dramatic ousting and subsequent imprisonment of the country’s longtime ruler, Omar Al Bashir. Developments in the country have so far taken a familiar turn, with the military promising to hold free elections once “security and stability” has been restored. Such promises are met with suspicion from the opposition, who fear that their hard-earned gains may be taken away from them. The similarities to protest-driven ousters in Algeria and Egypt, where regime holdovers did their best to hold on to power, has sparked a number of sympathetic editorials in Middle Eastern dailies.
That sentiment is expressed in a recent op-ed by The National’s Faisal Al Yafai, who sympathizes with the fears of the Sudanese protesters, many of whom “are suspicious of the intentions of the army, that is only because this is not the first time the winds of change have blown through Khartoum – and not the first time the incumbents have found a way to cling to power.... Sudan is at a precarious point. The protest movement has won some victories and the army is now listening to the grievances of ordinary citizens. Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan has lifted a curfew and pledged to disassemble state institutions to ‘fight corruption and uproot the regime and its symbols’. But the old power structures have not entirely gone away and they did not remain in power so long by simply relinquishing it under pressure. At this pivotal moment, both sides will need to make some compromises to end the stalemate on the streets.”
Writing for the Saudi Gazette, Hussein Shobokshi characterizes the Sudanese protestors as “true heroes,” while adding that some of the skepticism over the promises issued by the military is due to the country’s history: “The Sudanese people have demonstrated in the streets in a civilized and peaceful manner with no attempt at intimidation. They have shown respect for all, especially for women and a woman Alaa Salah has appeared as an icon to the cheers of the people. It is a patriotic and sincere movement that has not been penetrated by wrongdoers. There is popular concern in Sudan today with regard to the optimism in the leadership of Abdul-Fattah Burhan Abdul Rahman, the new transitional leader, for fear that he will become a Bashir or Nimeiri but there is hope that he may be the 2019 version of Swar Al-Dahab. There is an old Sudanese saying: ‘the person who is bitten by a snake is afraid of a rope’.”
A Khaleej Times editorial is also complimentary of the Sudanese protestors, noting with some optimism that the protests have laid the foundation for lasting change: “This is only the start of their revolution for full democratic rule.... Corruption had plagued Sudan and the ousted president, his cronies, and the ruling elite that included the military had a huge hand in it. For three decades the people of Sudan showed remarkable resilience and pluck. They were patient and were hopeful for a better tomorrow. They have now been rewarded and want results from the government. They want elected leaders in power. They will not allow the army to hijack their revolution as they organize, rise, and build Sudan again. We salute their spirit.”
Others have turned their attention to the original demands of the protestors. For example, in an op-ed for Jordan Times, Ali Kassay cautions against losing sight of the need to address the country’s economic needs: “people want food on their tables more than patriotic slogans in the media. Nationalist posturing cannot distract people from the hunger of their children, so whatever else the leaders may have in mind, their top priority should be economic reforms that seriously improve their people’s living standards. Sudan is a beautiful country with a rich history and enormous potential. Its people have suffered immensely over the years. Let us pray that their new rulers have the wisdom and integrity to let the people have a share of their country’s prosperity.”
A National editorial touches on a similar theme, arguing that with Al Bashir out of the way, the new Sudanese government can begin focusing on the real needs of the Sudanese people: “Sudan now stands on the cusp of real change. Its leaders and people must seize the momentum to usher in a peaceful transition in which the voices of the Sudanese are heard, particularly the younger generation, who make up the majority of the 43 million-strong population.... Whoever ultimately takes charge will need to tackle inflation, food scarcity, unemployment and a weak economy. Across the region, economic malaise has been a trigger for unrest. For now, protests in Sudan have remained relatively peaceful but if a concrete attempt to improve people’s lives does not emerge, anger will continue to grow. The Sudanese people must feel they are being heard for real progress to be made.”
Finally, Asharq Alawsat’s Hazem Saghieh frames the dramatic developments in Sudan in the context of greater changes in the region: “The revolts witnessed in recent days have revealed an additional common factor between the peoples of Algeria and Sudan: An admirable civilian insistence to oust the ruling regimes, which has also learned the lessons of the Arab Spring revolts. The youths in both countries realized that they had no option but to choose change after the ruling regimes lost their grip on the sources of information.... It may be too soon to tell whether the militaries in Algeria and Sudan would be able to translate their pledges into action, but it is certain that their intentions, which are chased by the peoples in both countries, are the same.