SLOGANS sprayed across walls in a dusty, working-class district of Khartoum are painted over but still convey their message: Sudan’s young opposition activists want to bring an Arab Spring to their country and end President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s rule.The calls for democracy heard across Arab capitals — toppling autocratic leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen since the start of last year — have been late to come to Sudan, with demonstrations gathering momentum only since June.
So far, protests have still been small, usually drawing crowds in the hundreds. And they have petered out after the first few weeks in the face of a government response that has included teargas, batons, arrests and — according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International — torture.
The government denies using excessive force against protesters or carrying out torture, and dismisses the activists as a handful of agitators with little support among the public. Mainstream opposition parties say they sympathise with protesters, but have been lukewarm at in their support.
Still, a hard core of anti-Bashir activists are trying to spark a popular revolt to end his 23-year rule, devising tactics as they go to overcome the many obstacles to public dissent in the vast, ethnically-divided country.
In interviews with Reuters, underground activists outlined the strategies they hope will eventually bring down the ruling National Congress Party.
“We’re not going to make any compromises,” a 23-year-old female opposition activist who belongs to the Girifna (We’re Fed Up) youth group said in an interview via Skype. “They (the ruling party) have mismanaged the country for 23 years”.
A 37-year-old member of Change Now, another of the three main activist groups, speaking to Reuters in a car being driven around Khartoum to avoid surveillance, said: “The alternative we are looking for is a regime that guarantees us dignity, freedom, generous living, expression of our different cultures.”
Opposition groups say the triggers that fired Arab Spring uprisings in neighbouring countries are present. Many in Sudan’s young, growing population are jobless and unlikely to find work in a state grappling with the sudden loss of oil revenues after South Sudan seceded a year ago.
Weeks of protests emerged in June after the NCP imposed cuts in subsidies for fuel and other tough measures to contain an economic crisis brought on by the secession of the South — which cut off Sudan from three quarters of its oil output.
The activists say they are in the fight for the long haul, and accept they will not topple Bashir as quickly as demonstrators brought down Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak last year.
“I really cannot give you a time frame, but I think it’s not going to be quick. I really don’t think it’s going to be Egypt in 18 days at all,” said the Girifna activist, referring to the time it took to topple Mubarak.
Since the start of the demonstrations, security forces have arrested up to 2 000 people, according to a joint report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.