After over 20 years, Sudanese citizens are finally rising up against Omar al-Bashir and his one-party rule. Even a month ago, some Sudanese activists were skeptical that an "Arab Spring"-style revolution could blossom in their country. After all, the Sudanese government has shown that it is willing and able to commit human rights abuses to stay in power; dissenters have kept silent for decades in fear of retribution. So what happened, and why now?
To put it simply: Oil. The secession of the South left Sudan with only 30 percent of its oil production capacity, and the drop in government oil export revenues has resulted in a staggering budget deficit of over USD 2 billion and growing. In mid-June, the Sudanese government announced a new set of austerity measures that included increasing taxes and removing fuel subsidies, which doubled gasoline prices and thus transportation costs. This sharp rise in basic living expenditures was the final straw for an already impoverished nation.
However, it has been Sudan's educated youth who have led the charge. Students from the University of Khartoum were the first to hold protests against the austerity measures, and students from other universities have followed suit. Going back even further, in 2009 a group of students in Khartoum started the peaceful Girifna ("We are fed up") movement, in protest of the National Congress Party's monopoly over the Sudanese government. This group, along with other youth opposition groups, has risen to prominence during the recent protests, thanks to their multilingualism and their savvy use of the Internet to mobilize demonstrators both at home and abroad.
These young people know that Sudan does not have to resort to such drastic measures in order to meet its USD 2 billion deficit. In fact, the government can save five times that amount by cutting military spending. But the Sudanese are beginning to understand that the current regime may not be willing to solve this crisis by giving up the military might that has kept them in power for so long. For example, Friday's Dubai TV report on the arrests of Sudanese protestors in the name of "maintaining security" and fighting terrorists" draws some worrisome parallels to other regimes. This oppressive might, wielded by a man who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, has also alienated Sudan from countries that would otherwise be willing to help. And so, faced with a choice between starving slowly and risking their lives for change, the Sudanese people have begun to rise up.
Whether this budding uprising will take root and achieve its goals remains to be seen. The international community has remained quiet for now. But drawing worldwide attention to this crisis, whether it be through the media, business, or politics, will be crucial in pressuring Khartoum to serve the interests of its people. If that pressure is not enough, one can only hope that the world will not stand idly by and watch another Syria take place.
Image: People wait to get fuel for their cars at a petrol station in Khartoum June 21, 2012: REUTERS/Stringer