Sudan: a new Arab spring after Algeria?

This is the question that naturally comes to mind, as the aftermath of the Arab Spring was dramatic with the destruction of Syria and the repressive return of the army to Egypt. Only Tunisia and Morocco have partially recovered, while the question now arises in Algeria. And here the story seems to be repeated in Sudan!

This Arab spring and Islamic country have about 40 million inhabitants. It is located in the south of Egypt to which she transmits the Nile and of which she has been a part several times for millennia. The word Sudan is a deformation of the Arabic word meaning “the land of the blacks”, and therefore especially slaves until the arrival of Islam, which forbids it between Muslims.

Although the population is darker than Egypt in the north and center of the country, it nevertheless considers itself superior to the black populations of the south, who are not Muslims and have served as a reservoir of slaves until now.

In addition to being between two worlds, Sudan also suffers from being caught between an Egypt in the north that needs the waters of the Nile, and Christian Ethiopia to the east where the tributaries of this river are and where the dams multiply, which reduce their flow. It’s southern part, bordered by the Central African Republic, was Christian and non-Arabic, hence its recent secession.

To the west is Chad, a country which, like Sudan, is divided into a dry northern part, Muslim, and where the Arabic language is official with French, and a more typically sub-Saharan southern part of population and climate, and partly Christian.

In 1895 Sudan became independent of Egypt then under English rule. This temporary release has remained mythical today, being the victory of an Islamist before the letter, the Mahdi, who crushed the English army. But, forgotten episode, a branch of this Mahdist army was defeated by a handful of French in 1998, in Fachoda, a few hundred kilometers south of Khartoum, and today in South Sudan.

The English took their revenge on the Sudanese with a powerful army which then met the French at Fachoda. After a strong initial tension, this incident led to the final phase of sharing Africa between Europeans. The English kept “Eastern Sudan” (present Sudan) and French “Western Sudan”, including Chad and Mali. It was above all the beginning of the “cordial understanding” between the two countries, an alliance that was going to be indispensable in the face of Germany and which enabled France to double the latter in Morocco with British support.

I spared you the many political events of Sudan during the following century, including a communist moment until the execution of the party leaders by the military in 1971. One of the permanent problems was the unity of the country and the struggles between a Centralized regime imposed from Khartoum and a federal regime requested by the people of Darfur in the west, Beja land in the east and those in the South. These populations were massacred at various times, and non-Muslims were massively sold as slaves in the center and north of the country.

In 1983 sharia was generalized, and the rebellion of the animist and Christian South grew (probably 2 million dead and 4 million displaced), with the support of American Christian groups. But the discovery of oil in the south removed the desire of the central government to abandon this region.

In 2009 and 2010, the International Criminal Court issued two arrest warrants for genocide against President El Bechir, who was not arrested in the countries where he traveled.

Finally, the South gained independence in 2011 under the name of “South Sudan”, depriving the north, which kept the name of Sudan, of a large part of its foreign exchange earnings, which is one of the reasons for the current crisis. Another is the Islamism of President Omar El Bechir who took power in 1989 and hosted Bin Ladin from 1991 to 1996.

The end of the oil rent deprived the state of resources for its daily operation and triggered high inflation. Above all, it no longer allows the government to buy social peace, as well as representatives of oppressed minorities and opposition groups. We see that the current situation reminds Venezuela, after a rentier era-evoking the Algerian situation, with some variations, the key actor not being the army itself but the secret services.

The latter, particularly hated, had become a state in the state protecting the president against all, including the army. They were taking a growing share of the budget (we are talking about 70%!) And had even started building a pharaonic sports center at a time when the economy was collapsing all around for lack of money and currency.

ATMs are empty, banks are out of cash. The few remaining currencies would have been diverted by relatives of power. The fall is tough after the economic boom, or rather financial, that came from the oil before it passed into the hands of South Sudan. Inflation, poorly measured, is at least 70%.

The demonstrations then multiplied for several weeks, until the day when the opposition asked the crowd to concentrate before the headquarters of the armed forces to call them to fraternization, which led them to file the president El Bachir on April 11, 2019.

Defense Minister Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf announced the establishment of a transitional government for two years until a new free election and promised that the future government would be entrusted to civilians. But his proximity to the secret service forced him to resign 24 hours later while the military claimed to have regained control of these services.

Sudan: a new Arab spring after Algeria?
Defense Minister Awad ibn Auf

The situation resembles that of an Algeria that no longer has oil. And the question is the same: the military being close to the regime, they pretend to rally to the population in order to perpetuate a system that feeds them, or will it allow civilians to take control of the country?

Note in passing the misunderstanding of the left-wing French press which attributes the economic failure to “an ultraliberal policy hidden under an Islamist appearance”. It is a reflection of their ignorance, because, on the one hand, the Islamists are economically liberal (at least as long as they do not yield to the temptations of authoritarianism giving them power over the economy), on the other hand, it is useless to invoke ultra-liberalism to explain the damage of an annuity that has killed the rest of the economy (still like in Algeria!) and then resulting from its sudden disappearance.

The same mechanism is likely to be put in place with the second component rentier the country: the gold mines, which are in the hands of local mafias.

In short, another illustration of the old saying: “All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

  • Optimistic version: by dint of getting rich while neglecting the development of the country, absolute power eventually succumb.
  • Pessimistic version: it can cling by massacring the people (Syria), or reborn under a democratic disguise. I will not name any country, to be able to continue to have visas…

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