Sudan is literally on fire. The past five days in Sudan were filled with blocked roads, gas stations on fire, and live ammunition at the funerals of dead protesters, and there have been multiple reports of live ammunition and heavy tear gas in multiple neighborhoods just this afternoon.
Photos of dead teenagers hit Facebook and Twitter followed by a #SudanRevolts on Monday. YouTube footage clearly showed Sudanese security officials in uniform opening live fire on protesters, while the government cut internet connection and claimed those protesters were killed by other citizens—not security forces. Sudan human rights organizations have reported over 100 dead with numbers increasing.
Sudan is no stranger to protests. Waves of protests have been occurring since 2010 amidst a debt and an economic crisis. The last set of protests during July of 2012 went on for several weeks. The government had announced an increase to prices of basic goods, which brought thousands of people to the streets, where they were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. But this time around, it's different.
Gas prices doubled in a year, but as gas controls everything, when fuel prices double, prices for everything double. Ashraf El-Gaaley, a Sudanese blogger, explains that this increase is only a fraction of what's rightfully pissing off Sudanese citizens. In a country, still entrapped in civil wars, where 75 percent of the budget goes to military forces and less than 5 percent of the budget goes to education, they've reached a breaking point with political, economic, and security failures. The government knows this, and they're clamping down more brutally than usual.
Naturally, when Sudanese President Al Bashir announced hiking fuel prices and removing subsidies on Sunday citing austerity measures to reduce the budget deficit, people immediately ran to the streets in large numbers.
Taking a break from the demonstrations, Amjed Farid of Sudan Change Now and blogger, Ashraf El-Ga'aly agreed to chat with me about what triggered the demonstrations and what’s happening on the ground in Sudan.
VICE: Let's start with updates from last night. I heard the government warned that they were going to cut off the internet, what happened?
Amjed: Last night the government committed another crime in the neighborhoods against the protesters in Wad Madani and other neighborhoods. There were night protests by mainly youth, and the government opened live fire against and the bullets killed about 41 of the protesters in one town and five were reported dead South Khartoum. The day before yesterday, 141 protesters were reported dead in different areas in Khartoum from different hospitals. As well as there was testimony from medical officials who said wounds were in the upper part of the body and dying from bullets to the head
How did this all start?
Amjed: Every year our government raises prices of everything in Sudan and states the same reasons. After the announcement last Sunday, the protests immediately began in central Sudan, and the government used excessive force against protesters.
Ashraf: A month ago, the government and the people both knew that this decision would be taken. The government knew that the people would protest and demonstrate against these decisions. Since the first day of these protests, many people have been murdered so that means this was a planned thing to kill the people. In 2012, people protested for a couple of weeks. No one died or was murdered. From the very first day we had around 40 murders. I think they planned it.
Why did they open fire on the first day of protests?
Ashraf: The government is very frustrated because this time no one is going to accept these new decisions. Life will be impossible if people would accept it, so I think the government is very frustrated, and they don't know what to do.
Protests in the past were different?
Ashraf: Usually the police forces used to fire tear gas and arrest some people, but now this time they fire randomly and arrest many people from their houses so this time the brutality of the police and security forces will make the people join more and more to face that. They've blocked the internet for the first time. They've banned many newspapers from publishing so this time it's different.
What is the government claiming?
Amjed: In the beginning they denied anyone was killed and then, they accused the protesters of killing the people. And after that, they said the protesters are destroying the public places. They changed their story like three or four times and every government official has their own lie about what is happening. What's happening is security forces in uniforms are killing people in the streets.
Ashraf: It's a habit for the government to defame the protesters. When I was a student in University of Khartoum we used to protest in the periods of student union election against the intervention of the security forces in the election process. Our protests used to be inside and around the campus only, but the government used to call us vandals and homeless people even though we were university students.
Do you know any victims?
Amjed: We have a very active youth member in who started a public initiative to help those who were affected by the floods of Sudan last month. He was 22 years old. He was shot and killed last night during a march to take another young man to the graveyard who had been killed the day before. It was a tragedy for all social activists in Sudan. There are a lot of stories about people who are being killed in Sudan. Everyone now has a personal tragedy.
Are there more protesters getting killed who are this young?
Amjed Farid: A lot of those who are getting killed are 22, 25, 17 years old, 15 years old, and there are some children also—ten or 12 years old—who were killed. And also, there are people in their 40s and 50s who are getting killed. Almost 200 or something are being killed in different areas, from different social status.
What about these reports about protesters vandalizing buildings or setting them on fire?
Ashraf: There is complete absence of the opposition parties and leaders from the events, therefore the demonstrations are not organized. All of that led to this kind of acts of sabotage and riots. I admit there are some people who take advantage of the demonstrations and did some looting. I think when the people organize their acts and demonstrations and have some leaders to direct the action, the people themselves will stop any riots.
Amjed: They talk about gas stations being set on fire but actually when this happens it is only tens of people, not hundreds or thousands with the main demonstrations.
Ashraf: There are also some accusations that police members stand behind these acts and riots. Yesterday protesters found three police officers trying to break an ATM machine in Khartoum. The protesters held them and published their ID numbers and names.
Amjed: The government has some security agents who come around the demonstrations and do these things. It is a tactic from the government to stigmatize the protests and say the protesters are destroying the country and it's not true.
How has austerity measures affected everyday citizens?
Ashraf: one gallon of fuel costs 21 pounds (about $4.77 USD). In 2011 it was around 12 pounds.
Amjed: They have doubled the prices of the gas, so they have doubled the prices of the normal goods so that now, it's not even possible for everyone to buy— not just the poor. This economic crisis is happening when there is a huge annual budget on security and armed forces. This expenditure, they are not providing any social services to the people. They want us to pay these taxes from our pocket and our children's needs to provide the price of the corruption and the price for the irresponsible war of Sudan and the civil war in Darfur. So they want us to pay the price of killing our people. It's a difficult crisis. They created madness and they want us to pay the price for that.
Is it just about the austerity measures though?
Ashraf: it's a combination of continuous failures. We have started importing most of the vegetables and fruits even though we have huge areas that we can use for planting and farming but they put many kinds of taxes on the farmers. Most of the farmers now have loans to the agriculture bank. Most of the farmers now are in prison because they couldn't pay the loans back.
It’s also about security. For the past 25 years, the President said that 77 percent of the national budget goes to security purposes where less than 5 percent goes to education and healthcare. Let me tell you something: we have been in the longest civil war in Africa, they said they ended the war with The South and brought peace, but in 2012 they started another civil war in Darfur and other states, so we are in a civil war currently. Israeli air forces hit Khartoum and Port Sudan nine times since 2008. Last time they hit a factory in Khartoum in September 2012. That factory was in a residential area. So do the citizens feel secure even though they pay 77 percent of the national income to security forces? No education, no healthcare, and also citizens don't feel secure or safe.
What are your specific demands?
Amjed:The beginning it was about the economic crisis but after our blood was shed in the streets we are saying, this government should go, this regime has to go, and it should go now because it killed us. We demand freedom in our country. We deserve it. We demand justice for our blood. We demand a responsible government that can lead us out of these hardships.
Do you expect the protests to stop?
Amjed: I expect that people will be out in the streets until the demands are met.
Ashraf:It's a breaking point. No one can handle it anymore.