by Ayesha Alam (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1434)
With Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Syria engulfed in flames, how long could Sudan have been left unaffected?
Sudan is descending into political chaos, as part of the US-led program to use the momentum of the “Arab Spring” to unravel the Muslim East (aka Middle East). The playbook for war is being written anew — tactics and strategies being used in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia are migrating across Africa in the US’ bid to dominate the continent. Sudan currently finds itself on the chopping block, the latest victim of Muslim North Africa.
Social protests and rage over spiking gas and food prices have erupted. Non-governmental and civil society organizations are fanning the vapors of anger and instability from within. Economic shocks besetting the country — some a result of shortfall in domestic production, and others a result of externally imposed pressures. Sound familiar? The strategies used to fell Mohamed Mursi in Egypt are being lobbed against Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan, which is speedily headed for the disintegration and violence of the Balkans scenario.
From late September onward, the Sudanese have taken to the streets in a series of increasingly violent protests. The trigger is the economic crisis that has made daily life a burdensome trial for the people — Sudan, which has been driven to the point of 50% inflation, sports an increasingly worthless currency and faces the withering of investment and the lack of foreign exchange currency. Food and gas costs have doubled in a country that is used to purchasing both resources at cheap, government-subsidized prices. For instance, petrol stations in Khartoum raised the price of a gallon of petrol to 21 pounds from the previous cost of 12 pounds.
In turn, al-Bashir’s government seems to be at an impasse as to what to do. The military and police bid to dose the population with a “whiff of grapeshot” seems to have backfired. When the protests began to pick up steam, hundreds of people were arrested; in some cases, the police fired upon protestors. After 200 protestors were killed in encounters with the police, organizations such as Amnesty International began pointing fingers, and al-Bashir retraced his steps. He began doling out cash handouts to pacify the population. Needless to say, for a country that is already confronting the grim specter of economic collapse, this is hardly a sustainable policy option.
However, the broader context behind Sudan’s collapse cannot be ignored — partitioning of Sudan into two countries, that severed the oil- and energy-rich South Sudan from Khartoum. In 2010, after years of “humanitarian” lobbying on behalf of Darfur, the US and Israel were successful in splitting off the South (where three-fourths of Sudan’s oil reserves are located) into an independent country that is a veritable colony of international oil companies. If a distasteful government cannot be bombed out of existence, such as Libya’s Qaddafi, the playbook calls for smoking it out for the kill. This means scissoring a country and taking over its mineral resources. As displayed by the death throes of al-Bashir’s government, the results are effective — the political foe weakens by starvation to the point that a pinprick will snuff him out.
Humanitarianism is often a mask — the impulse to imperial domination remains untouched beneath the rhetoric to save another people from oppression and misery. Case in point is the media fanfare over the Darfur “genocide” — the same US that refused to intervene in the Rwanda massacre of 1994, deployed Hollywood stars such as George Clooney to argue for the plight of the “black Africans” being oppressed by Sudan’s Arab northerners. Non-governmental and civil society organizations working for “humanitarian change” are symbiotically linked to military intervention and regime change in world regions desired by the military industrial complex.
The loss of its oil and gas fields opens a desperate prospect before Sudan — over the past few years, it adopted neoliberal World Bank programs that led to phasing out its agriculture in favor of developing its energy sector, and like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, had been using oil revenues to export food into the country. While China and other nations were incentivized by the oil to pour lucrative investment into the country, after South Sudan has been partitioned and the oil fields made the exclusive domain of Anglo-American oil groups, that source of income has now dried up for Sudan. The economic prospects are desperate — it is facing almost complete economic collapse and widespread poverty, famine, and desperation.
On the other hand, the resources moving into the country under the moniker of “civil society development” are essentially funds for aligning social groups on NATO’s agenda to work toward destabilizing the country from within. Not only does it avert the danger of Arabian and Muslim countries seizing self-representation and breaking out of the thrall of US hegemony, it portrays free choice for Muslims as an auto-destruct button. The slogan that monarchies and autocratic dictators are better for the Islamic world than elected governments is tied to this propaganda.
Unfortunately, many of the opposition and civil society groups within Sudan are also responsible for fomenting the unrest. One of Sudan’s opposition leaders, Sadiq al-Mahdi of the National Umma Party, told worshippers at a masjid in the district of Omdurman that al-Bashir has been spending the state’s budget on “consolidating power” and failed “to lift the agony off the citizens’ shoulders.” After the sermon, protesters marched through the district, a longtime opposition stronghold, chanting “the people want the downfall of the regime,” the slogan made famous in the 2010 Arab Spring. Other groups and platforms such as Sudan Change Now and the Twitter feed #Sudan Revolts are portraying the current economic conditions and al-Bashir’s desperate flailings as tyranny that must be replaced by widespread protests for “true democracy.”
While al-Bashir’s government is no doubt guilty of excesses and mismanagement, the pattern of fanning social discontent from within, in preparation for unseating a ruler disliked by Western powers for someone who will not hesitate to impose an iron fist on NATO’s behalf, has already been tested out in the Egypt playbook to disastrous results. The Darfur issue is only now manifesting its far-reaching ramifications — truncating Sudan and transforming South Sudan into an oil and gas colony for Anglo-American oil was not only a desirable end in and of itself, it also struck the death knell for Khartoum.