When a president attacks his own people because they dared to challenge him and rise up in opposition indicates a crisis in legitimacy, whereby the ruler does not feel that he needs public support because he rules with force and oppression.
This of course is one of the signs of autocratic rule, showing that the president is falling into the trap of the arrogance of power that will eventually lead to a furious popular confrontation for as long as it takes. Regimes that respect their people know that legitimacy derives from this respect, and that the ability to remain in power stems from popular support. If this support is lost, the government will depart through the electoral door if the foundations of democracy are in place or through revolutions and chaos if peaceful, democratic means of expression are absent.
The problem is that many rulers do not learn, especially in authoritarian regimes, and hence we heard the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi insulting his people and describing those rebelling against his regime as rats, stray dogs and drug addicts. Likewise, we heard former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh asking the protestors demanding him to leave: “Who are you? I will not leave, you leave!” Similarly, we hear Syrian President Bashar al-Assad describing the protestors as mercenaries and conspirators, saying, according to Edward Djerejian, the former US Ambassador to Damascus, that the Syrians lack maturity and are not ready for the structural reforms that he has promised ever since inheriting power from his father, none of which he had implemented by the time the revolution broke out against his regime.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is of the same ilk, describing those participating in the demonstrations recently launched against his regime and its policies – especially after the intensification of the economic crisis caused by the secession of the south and the expanding war in the north – as deviants and vagrants. Then we heard him saying in a speech last week that “in Sudan we have a hot summer, a burning hot summer that burns its enemies”, in response to those chanting that Sudan is witnessing the beginnings of a revolution similar to those of the “Arab Spring”. So who are these enemies that al-Bashir is threatening? Are they the people who al-Bashir once claimed he had come to serve, and not to rule over, or is he talking about protestors from another country or planet? Either way, they are protesting against the government’s policies that have led the country towards its current crisis, and produced the stifling economic situation that the people are paying for with their growing sufferings every day.
The comments made by the Sudanese President and a number of his top aides and party officials, who launched an attack on the protestors and described them with various insults, reflect the depth of the crisis threatening a regime that is eroding after 23 years in power. The regime now seems bloated as a result of the corruption that flourishes within its joints, and the reports of internal protests reflect the rumblings of discontent within its very body, with regards the current situation. The regime has deviated from its course and the slogans that it raised ever since the military coup planned and orchestrated by the National Islamic Front, overthrowing a democratically elected system to impose a fully totalitarian regime. The regime today is facing a crisis that no sane person could deny, a crisis created internally at the hands of its leaders, and yet some have tried to portray it as a foreign conspiracy and claim that those participating in it are instigators and deviants. During many stages of its reign, the regime has faced protest movements and attempts to overthrow it, but the current crisis is perhaps the most dangerous because it comes in light of a worsening economic catastrophe, and at a time when the Sudanese have seen Arab revolutions toppling four leaders and about to topple a fifth, evoking the memory of the two Sudanese popular revolutions, the first in 1964 and the second in 1985.
The irony is that on more than one occasion, Omar al-Bashir has challenged those who want to overthrow his government to try and take to the streets and do so if they can, believing that the ouster of his regime was impossible, and claiming in a speech in 2010 that those wanting to overthrow the government were “elbow-lickers” [those attempting the impossible]. In response, those participating in the recent protests have called one of their Friday demonstrations “”elbow-licking Friday”, whilst another was called “the Friday of deviants”, borrowing another term from al-Bashir’s provoking and arrogant speeches. In spite of the repressive government measures that the protestors face, they have not stopped and the demonstrations have now entered their second month, which proves that this crisis is different and may pose one of the most serious challenges to the regime, if it doesn’t overthrow it completely, and there are many indicators of this.
The government, after it denied for a year that it would face any difficulties following the secession of the south and having lost more than 75 percent of its oil revenues, has returned today to place the blame for the economic crisis with the secession and to recognize, in the words of al-Bashir, that austerity measures will be a bitter medicine. Government figures confirm that the budget deficit is equivalent to US$ 2.4 billion, and that this deficit is likely to widen despite the austerity measures that have finally been imposed, including the removal of fuel subsidies and an increased tax on a number of products and consumer goods, leading to rising prices and an inflation rate of 37 percent that is also expected to increase. The government does not have the resources to make up for the oil revenue lost with the South’s secession, and its policies in this regard have only worsened the crisis. The atmosphere of tension and escalation has prompted South Sudan to stop its oil exports, meaning Sudan has lost the revenue it could have obtained by transiting southern oil through northern pipelines. Moreover, Sudan is today facing the consequences of three wars stretching from Darfur to South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, with nothing on the horizon to indicate a breakthrough. Instead, there is also potential for further deterioration on these three fronts, and for the government, this means that 80 percent of its budget allocations are going towards security and the military.
Omar al-Bashir is undoubtedly right to say that the summer in Sudan is “burning hot”, but the question is who will it burn or who will roast in its fire?