The facebook call for a popular revolt -30 January- materialised into a series of student-led demonstrations in downtown Khartoum and its twin town Omdurman, as well as al-Obeid and Kassala. The protesters seemed to emulate the Tunisian and Egyptian precedents acting in independence of the political parties, and depending largely on autopoietic forms of organisation with a minimum baggage of programme. The demonstrators decried the rising costs of living and demanded President Bashir’s step down from power.
Despite the relatively small number of participants, estimated in the few hundred altogether, the police force seemed quite challenged by the stubbornness of the young agitators. Rather than coalesce in one big demonstration protests sprang up in several locations in the Sudanese capital. Where the students chose to gather inside university campuses the police force was more successful in preventing them from entering the streets, and less so in cordoning off smaller groups in public transport stations and marketplaces.
Guessing rather than knowing who the ring leaders could be the police arrested amongst others involved young men and women who happen to be the sons and daughters of political figures, the sons of Mubarak al-Fadil, the Umma Party leader, and the daughter of Hussein Khojali, the Turabi-leaning Islamist and editor in chief of the once influential Alwan, a newspaper aligned with the National Islamic Front (NIF) in the 1986-1989 democracy.
More just than point to the National Congress Party’s (NCP) crisis of rule this wave of political agitation is also symptomatic of the shortcomings of the political establishment in Northern Sudan as such. Just as the political parties had failed in comprehending the rural crisis in the country, whereby regional insurgencies emerged and matured beyond the reach and influence of Khartoum’s politicians, they seem to be equally disconnected from the dynamics of the urban Bashir generation so to speak, the young women and men whose whole lives have been moulded by the NCP’s adventure in power. One link between the two, the rural and the urban crises, is possibly the dissatisfaction, political, economic and cultural, of masses of young women and men who have little to expect from a political-economic order characterised by corruption and nepotism despite school and higher education, the rite of passage to wellbeing in the post-colony. If all of today’s demonstrators are angered by the NCP most are equally frustrated by the inadequacies of the oppositional political parties, a concern that found its expression in the slogan shabab la ahzab (youth, no [political] parties).
Expectedly, the opposition parties will attempt to capitalise on today’s agitation and polish the intifada card on the negotiation table, announced or clandestine, with the NCP. The NCP on the other hand is likely to invite its militarised youth and student wings to provide an antidote to the urban unrest. In one university at least, Omdurman al-Ahliyya, armed NCP students did a better job than the security and police forces in suppressing their colleagues.