Over the last fifteen years, what we have mainly heard about Sudan—what had been the largest nation-state in Africa—revolved around the secessionist movement in what is now known as South Sudan, and the genocide being carried out by the Sudanese government against the people of the Darfur region in the western part of the country. We have heard stories of horror and murder, refugees, and systematic repression. Now we hear of revolution.
Sudan was created by British colonialism as an amalgamation of regions that had had little to do with one another. After independence, the government—based in Khartoum—tended to be dominated by Arabizedtribal groups from the northern part of the country. I use the term “Arabized” because their original ethnicity ranged, but over time they came to adopt the language and culture of Arabs.
Regional resentment exploded in two major wars in the southern part of the country, which ultimately led to the split-off of South Sudan. Separately, a combination of desert expansion and political opportunism drove the genocidal activities supported and orchestrated by the Khartoum government against the people of the Darfur region.
Despite the fact that the people of Darfur are mainly Muslim, the Khartoum government and their allies in the region have treated them as aliens and waged something that is equivalent to a race war against the population, something highly ironic since both populations are African.
In the midst of all of this, a deteriorating economic situation led to peaceful, popular protests against the Khartoum government, a government led by Omar Al-Bashir.
Al-Bashir gained power through a coup and has been solidly in control, despite international pressure, warrants for his arrest, and continuous turbulence in the country. He has received outside support, including from several Arab states but also economic arrangements from other countries. His hold on the Sudanese military has remained strong.
Yet the people revolted and their numbers increased over time. And these revolts, which began as protests against economic conditions and the rising price of fuel, exploded into larger demands against the government and, ultimately, demands for the resignation of Al-Bashir (and the dismantling of his dictatorship).
Al-Bashir has indicated little interest in living out his life in exiled retirement and has, instead, repressed the protests. The government has killed some protesters while others have been arrested and tortured. Yet the protests continued and grew. Labor unions have played a significant role and professional associations have taken the lead.
One of the most noteworthy features of this moment has been the fact that Al-Bashir’s efforts to play the Sudanese “race card” have failed miserably, at least so far. He suggested that if his government fell, the Darfurians would take over, a less than subtle appeal to Arab bias against the people of that region. Interestingly, that has appears to have had little impact. Instead the protesters have replied to Al-Bashir: “We are all from Darfur!”