Can Egypt, Tunisia uprisings spread to Sudan? - Emirates24|7

Can Egypt, Tunisia uprisings spread to Sudan?

With Arab uprisings spreading, Sudanese are debating whether their nation could be next as students begin protests against the government they blame for rising prices and years of repression.

As protestors force the hand of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, seasoned Middle East analysts are eating their words. If it can happen in the region's powerhouse, it can happen anywhere?

Here are some questions about whether the domino effect can spread to north Sudan. South Sudan, which this month voted to secede from the north, is unlikely to be affected.

How popular is President Bashir?

Supporters say President Omar Hassan Al Bashir is more popular than leaders in Egypt and Tunisia because of his anti-Western stance, so most Sudanese want him to stay. 

"Uprisings happen against docile leaders who ingratiate themselves to the West and put its interests above national dignity," the Sudanese embassy in London's spokesman Khalid Mubarak said in a blog.

"Bashir was never groomed by the West which ... gives itself the right to choose leaders and depose others, even if they win elections."

Bashir is the only sitting head of state wanted by the International Criminal Court, but this arrest warrant has played in his favour at home.

Signing the 2005 peace deal between north and south Sudan that allowed the south to vote for secession was viewed as a sign of weakness by many in the north. But the Hague court allowed Bashir to play the role of hero.

While Bashir's government was never liked by the West, he had shown he was sensitive to pressure, handing over Carlos the Jackal, expelling Osama bin Laden and working closely with Washington in its "war on terror".

More internationally aware Sudanese, however, recognise that their future will be isolated under a leader wanted for genocide.

But with a government-dominated press and little room allowed for debate on Darfur or the International Criminal Court, many Sudanese view Bashir as a stalwart against a hypocritical international system which targets the developing world while Western leaders are left unaccountable for their war crimes.

Isn't there an economic crisis?

Being a hero doesn't pay the bills. Sudan is in a deep economic crisis, with foreign exchange shortages, a devalued currency and soaring inflation.

Much of the population is without regular electricity or running water. They worry about putting bread on the table and  finding work to pay for it.

As the oil-producing south is expected to split from the north in July, the crisis will hit hardest next year.

So far, the government can still divert funds to support the poor. But that cannot last forever and Sudan could see wider discontent as the year progresses.

How do they feel in regions?

Sudan has seen uprisings in many of its regions which have suffered as successive governments have marginalised them.

The needs of people in the poorest regions of Sudan are far removed from those in Khartoum.

Society is divided by tribalism. In Khartoum, elite families dominate the traditional political parties, with many of the same leaders who led Sudan post-independence.

Those in Khartoum's political elite have become far removed from the people they profess to represent in Darfur, the east or the south.

Tribalism could fuel further unrest in the regions if people fear that their concerns are not being addressed by central government.

What's next?

Those opposing the protests in Khartoum this month have covered Facebook with comments like "there is just no alternative for these guys".

Analysts have said this for years about repressive leaders throughout  the Middle East and Africa, including Tunisia's Zine Al Abdine Ben Ali and especially Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.

Adding to that, the ICC arrest warrant has left Bashir with few allies willing to host him abroad so many believe he would fight to the death to remain in power.

For any popular uprising to take on mass appeal in Sudan, it must not be coloured by tribal or opposition party loyalties. But economic hardship could cause protests to spread beyond young professionals and students.

For now many Sudanese prefer to remain glued to their televisions or radios to see how Egypt and Tunisia play out before making their own decision to go for broke.

But a successful transition of power in Egypt would go a long way to encourage those who want to achieve the same thing in Sudan.   

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