In The Case for Democracy, Nathan Sharansky defined a free society as one in which people have the right to express their views without fear. “Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it’s a fear society.”
Sharansky argued that the West should support individual dissidents and movements striving for freedom and democracy and shun tyrannical dictatorships.
The regime of Omar al-Bashir came to power in Sudan through a military coup in 1989 that instituted a ruthless radical Islamist dictatorship. Since taking power, Bashir has launched a civil war against the Christian and Animist populations of what is now South Sudan and conducted ethnic cleansing campaigns against the African populations of Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states, resulting in the deaths of close to two million Sudanese and the displacement of millions from their homes. The government allocates 60%-70% of the national budget to support a security apparatus that is used primarily to wage war, repress political opposition, and ensure the survival of the regime.
Four weeks ago, rapidly rising prices, food and fuel shortages, and non-payment of salaries touched off economic protests and mass demonstrations throughout the country. Many Sudanese were no longer able to afford to feed their families when the price of bread tripled. The protests quickly escalated into a demand for regime change as demonstrators called for peace, freedom, and for Bashir to resign.
In its unsuccessful efforts to quell the protests, the Sudanese government has used tear gas, live ammunition, arrests, beatings, torture and imprisonment. The death toll is steadily increasing with dozens killed and hundreds wounded by live ammunition, tear gas and beatings. Snipers target demonstration leaders while security forces enter hospitals in pursuit of injured protesters, and beat doctors and nurses caring for the wounded.
Bashir claims that the Sudanese people are still behind him. The ruling National Congress Party has reiterated its commitment to amend the constitution to permit him to run for president again in 2020. He blames foreign countries striving to undermine Sudan’s sovereignty and security for fomenting rebellion. Bashir counts on support from authoritarian states to shore up his regime and hopes that Europe and the United States will not complain too much about his efforts to crush the popular revolt and continue to regard Sudan as a partner fighting radical Islamist movements in the Middle East and stopping African migration to Europe.
THE BASHIR regime may well be on its way out. Most of the major opposition groups in Sudan are uniting around the objective of ousting Bashir and installing a democratic regime. They have shown that they are fearless and determined to continue the demonstrations despite the escalation of government violence.
Sudanese civil society, which initiated the demonstrations, has displayed remarkable courage in not being intimidated by tear gas, bullets and beatings. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, trade unionists, imams, teachers, students, merchants, women and children are taking to the streets in steadily increasing numbers in towns and villages throughout the country.
Despite different ideological orientations, Sudan’s major opposition political parties are coalescing behind demands that Bashir resign. They are calling for the appointment of a government led by technocrats and a four-year transition period in which all the major stakeholders will sit down to discuss the nation’s problems and write a new democratic constitution.
The armed rebel movements in Darfur, South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and other regions whole-heartedly back the demonstrations. They have agreed not to participate in the protest marches in order to deny the government an excuse for blaming the rebel movements for inciting the mass protests and the use of greater force against peaceful demonstrators.
Sadik al-Mahdi, the conservative leader of the National Umma Party and a former Sudanese prime minister, heads Sudan Call, a broad coalition comprised of civil society, opposition political parties, and armed rebel movements. This kind of unity is unprecedented in Sudan and gives hope that the dissenters for freedom may win their battle.
While the Sudanese people are coming together to fight for freedom and democracy, the Bashir regime’s authoritarian state allies, e.g., Russia, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab States, including Qatar, are eager to save his regime. They echo Bashir’s plea that he must stay to preserve peace and security in the region.
As the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel should be on the side of Sudan’s dissenters seeking freedom and democracy. Why isn’t our government supporting Sudan’s freedom fighters and condemning the Bashir regime?
Bashir is no friend of Israel. Until 2015, his regime was closely allied with Iran and sent arms to Hamas. Bashir also accused Israel of fostering the rise of the Islamic State and other radical Islamist movements. Bashir now falsely accuses Israel of being behind the mass protests and recruiting and training Darfurians in Israel in order to destabilize his regime. In fact, Israel has lobbied the United States to lift economic sanctions on Sudan to stabilize the Bashir regime, contemplated deporting Sudanese asylum-seekers and dissenters back to Sudan on the grounds that it was now safe to do so, and granted official refugee status to only one Sudanese asylum-seeker.
Instead of discreet efforts to save the unsavory Bashir regime, Israel should be condemning Sudan’s brutal use of force to crush peaceful protests. Israel is a free society. Why is it supporting the fear society of Sudan? The writer is a Jerusalem-based international development researcher and consultant specializing in democracy and development issues in Africa.
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