KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Young people in Sudan, the last Arab state to experience a successful popular uprising, are using social networking sites to rally support for their plan to topple the government through peaceful protests.
Encouraged by weeks of Tunisian demonstrations which ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on Friday, Sudanese are harking back to the popular uprising in 1985 which overthrew President Jaafar Nimeiri after 16 years of harsh rule.
Fresh from this week’s demonstrations against rising prices, young Sudanese are circulating calls on Facebook, Sudanese websites and by text message calling on families to stand outside their houses and light a candle for 30 minutes at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) every day — starting on Saturday.
“People will stand for one day, two, three, seven – soon it will reach the media … then it will hit the streets and topple this tyrant,” Wail Jabir wrote on Facebook, where more than 400 people have already signed up for the protest.
“This is just a beginning,” another comment said.
Students demonstrating against rising food and petrol prices clashed with police on Wednesday and Thursday in three towns in the mostly Arab north, including Khartoum.
The Khartoum government is grappling with a deep economic crisis at the same time as it faces the near-certainty that South Sudan, which produces 75 percent of the country’s oil, will secede when results of a referendum are announced.
Foreign exchange shortages have forced Sudan to cut subsidies on petroleum products and sugar, a strategic commodity, to devalue the currency and restrict imports.
Khartoum deployed 17,500 police in north Sudan for the southern independence referendum which ends on Saturday. The opposition says the aim was to crack down on dissent rather than secure polling booths, as few southerners voted in the north.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is wanted for war crimes and genocide in the western Darfur region by the International Criminal Court, the only sitting head of state indicted by the court, and even some close allies have refused to let him visit. Bashir denies the allegations.
Sudan’s 1985 uprising began with popular protests by students and spread into a general strike, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets.
Eventually the military leadership turned against Nimeiri and joined the protesters, recalls lawyer Omer Abdelaati, who gave the speech calling for the general strike in 1985.
“It was just like this,” he said, pointing to footage of Tunisia on the news. “The schools, universities, banks, everything closed, Khartoum was paralysed — everyone was on the streets in Khartoum and in the regions,” he said.
A joint civilian and military transitional government then ruled for one year before holding Sudan’s last democratic elections in 1986.