The Sudanese government’s determination to mend relations with Washington and its decision to jump on the “war on terrorism” bandwagon have brought noisy demonstrators onto the streets of Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan. They have been shouting anti-US and pro-bin Ladin slogans, and thrown president Bashir’s attempts at reconciliation with his opponents into disarray. The demonstrators even hinted that Sudan was ruled by the CIA.
The demonstrations, which began several days before the strikes against Afghanistan on October 7, had been arranged to express support for Palestinians on the first anniversary of the al-Aqsa Intifada, and appeared at first to have the government’s tacit backing. Khartoum clearly calculated that its perceived support for the Palestinian cause would help to prevent public resentment of its growing links with Washington from becoming unmanageable. The People’s Organisation for Solidarity with Palestine organised the rally, and 2,000 people gathered outside the presidential headquarters on October 3. The demonstrators burnt an Israeli flag, and presented a note to the UN head office addressed to secretary-general Kofi Annan. The note demanded an end to Israeli aggression against Palestinians, called for the application of UN resolutions and demanded Sharon be handed over to the international war crimes tribunal.
But the demonstrations soon developed into a protest against the US, as well as support for Usama bin Ladin and Afghanistan. The demonstrators burnt George W. Bush in effigy and repeatedly shouted: “America is the terrorist...the CIA will not rule us.” Student demonstrators also waved pictures of Shaikh bin Ladin wearing battle-dress, with the caption “One opposed to an empire”.
The authorities — clearly taken by surprise by the anti-US feeling and the support for Afghanistan and bin Ladin— stepped up the usual protection for the US embassy in Khartoum, increasing significantly the number of policemen guarding it.
The Sudanese opposition parties tried to exploit the occasion, distributing in the capital on the same day a statement castigating the government for its subservience to Uncle Sam. The statement urged the government to “normalise relations with its own people instead of humiliatingly seeking to normalise ties with the US”. The statement also called on the government to abolish the laws against public freedoms, and to release political detainees. The latest draconian legislation, introduced last year, was used by Bashir to detain Hasan al-Turabi in February, yet the opposition parties did not protest, as he was then portrayed as an ‘Islamic extremist’ by the West and the Arab governments allied to it.
It is significant that the opposition parties did not send representatives to join the demonstrators, and that their statement failed to criticise the “war on terrorism”; nor did they express support for Afghanistan and Shaikh bin Ladin. They have no intention of offending the US and are, in fact, looking forward to meeting Jack Danforth, Bush’s special envoy to Sudan, who is due in Khartoum next month. They were merely exploiting the anti-government sentiment sweeping the country and US pressure on Bashir to sound more conciliatory.
A few days before the demonstrations, Bashir announced that charges against Dr Turabi and his colleagues would be dropped and that he had ordered the release of several. The move was attributed to pressure from Washington. When, on October 2, representatives of Dr Turabi’s party tried to enter its head office, several of them were arrested and jailed. The authorities said that the decision to drop the charges against the party’s leaders did not remove the ban on the party. Bashir’s efforts to appear to be ‘democratic’ were quickly dashed.
Media reports, claiming that Khartoum had tried to hand over bin Ladin to the US during his stay in Sudan, also put strong pressure on the government, which made half-hearted attempts to deny them. But its earlier admission that the CIA and the FBI have had teams in the country for the past year, and its support for the US-led war, have persuaded many Sudanese of the truth of the reports. Its latest denial, reported by al-Hayat daily on October 3, amounts to an indirect admission. According to al-Hayat, Sudanese officials said that Khartoum had refused to supply information on Iran and the Hamas movement, admitting by implication that it had furnished the US with other information.
The pressure on Bashir is will increase as a result of the attacks on Afghanistan, and it looks as if it is too late for the president to ditch Washington, which may be the only hope he has of avoiding being swamped by the flood of public anger at the West’s continuing aggression on Muslims.