For two weeks, thousands of protestors in Khartoum, Sudan have demonstrated against the government’s move to eliminate a longstanding gasoline subsidy, which caused domestic gasoline and diesel prices to more than double. The protests mark the most widespread demonstrations in Sudan since President Omar al-Bashir seized power 24 years ago. And the level of popular outrage expressed in several cities around the country prompted analysts to label this a “turning point” for the regime.
What began as a protest against higher fuel prices has expanded into a demonstration against al-Bashir’s regime following the deadly crackdown on initial demonstrations. Amnesty International and the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies accused security forces responding to the demonstrations of “shooting to kill,” while medical personnel on the ground documented deaths in the 200s. Opposition leaders are calling on al-Bashir to step down and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of rebels opposed to al-Bashir’s regime, stated their intention to support the protests.
The Sudanese police have responded to the demonstrations with force, arresting 700 and killing over 100. Currently, there are conflicting reports on casualties. In order to contain protests, the Sudanese government shut down internet access and several newspapers. In an effort to stem public outrage, government officials proposed offering cash or vouchers to offset higher fuel prices. Even Members from the ruling party signed a memo calling on al-Bashir to reverse course on subsidy cuts, and criticizing the government’s response to “peaceful” protests. President Omar al-Bashir spoke on Tuesday for the first time since the demonstrations began, defending the increase and fuel prices and denying his government’s role in the killing of protestors.
South Sudan Factor:
According to the Sudanese press, the austerity measure stems from the decrease in Sudanese oil production in the wake of South Sudan’s secession from the north in 2011. Sudan forfeited approximately three-quarters of their oil fields to South Sudan in the peace agreement. However, Sudan does maintain control of the pipelines necessary for the fuel’s transport and export.
Oil is critical to both states’ economies and remains a point of contention in their relations. Following the South’s secession in 2011, oil production plummeted as the former unified Sudanese oil sector was cleaved between the two states. Border clashes occur regularly, as both governments maintain a heavy military presence at the border and accuse the other of funding the rebel groups. South Sudan has used the threat of shutting down its oil production as a way to pressure the North to withdraw from the border; Khartoum, in turn, has used its pipelines as leverage when dealing with the South. In an effort to thaw relations, Sudan and South Sudan’s Presidents met in Khartoum a month ago. There, they hoped to strike a deal that would return oil production to pre-secession levels in a summit that was hailed by regional leaders and the presidents as a success. However, oil facilities will take months to come back to being fully online and the limited flow of oil over the past two years has already damaged the Sudanese economy, setting the stage for last week’s removal of the fuel subsidy that sparked the protests.
The United States’ Response:
The U.S. Department of State issued a press statement condemning the violent response to the protests:
The United States condemns the government of Sudan’s brutal crackdown on protesters in Khartoum, including the excessive use of force against civilians that has reportedly resulted in dozens of casualties. Such a heavy-handed approach by Sudanese security forces is disproportionate, deeply concerning, and risks escalation of the unrest.
This post was co-written with Center for International Policy intern Kyle Dallman