Like many authoritarian regimes throughout the Arab world and in sub-Saharan Africa – Sudan sits on the cultural frontier of these two worlds – Sudan watched the Arab uprisings of January and February 2011 with increasing alarm. In an attempt to nip any nascent protest movement in the bud, Sudan clamped down hard on opposition figures and independent journalists and bloggers. But as economic discomfort began to grow – rising food and fuel prices, planned cuts in civil service jobs, lack of growth to absorb large numbers of well-educated unemployed youths – Sudan’s government has struggled to maintain control.
While the protesters thus far have been entirely unarmed, Sudanese police have reportedly responded with great force. Human Rights Watch, the New York based rights group, says that eyewitnesses and participants reported beatings, arrests, and attacks with tear gas, truncheons, and rubber bullets.
“Sudan is using these protests as an excuse to use violence and intimidation to silence dissenters,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch in an emailed statement. “Authorities should call off their security forces and vigilantes, end the violence immediately, and respect the right of the people to protest peacefully.”
Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the US State Department, condemned the Sudanese government’s crackdown, Reuters reported. “The heavy-handed approach adopted by Sudanese security forces is disproportionate and deeply concerning,” she said.