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Sudan: 'Arab Spring' protests wane, but activists remain optimistic

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been a 'genius' at cracking down on opposition, activists say. But the government's control may work to its disadvantage, as economic woe continues.

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"It's normal that people get scared," says another graduate, who has been unemployed for a year, and hopes to get a professional job that pays at least $160 per month. "When they lose the people [activists leaders] who motivate them, they will definitely step out [of the protests], and the government knows this." 

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Circumstances are grim for this graduate student, as they are for so many Sudanese. Of his graduating class of more than 50 engineers, only seven have a job – and one of those started a farm.

In his Khartoum neighborhood, where one vice president lives, women and children live on the streets, and some wait at the back doors of restaurants for scraps. The government has built a multitude of high-profile buildings – causing Sudanese to joke that it is a "concrete and metal pipe" regime.

But it also spends 70 percent of its budget on defense while "people are starving," says the graduate.

The disadvantages of ruling

The government may appear to have all the advantages of staying in power: control over security forces, the military, and the media. But they also have "every disadvantage," says Hassan al-Turabi, an Islamist opposition leader who helped engineer Bashir's rise to power, but has since fallen out with the regime and spent years in jail.

"Disintegrating the country, complete political suppression – people are libertarians in this country, we never had pharaohs like Egypt," Mr. Turabi told the Monitor, ticking off disadvantages. "We are free people who [historically] lived in the desert, nomadically, so we feel the impact of any censorship, any pressure, any monopoly of authority upon us."

"I am quite sure that all over Sudan, something is happening," says Turabi. Divided opposition groups agreed two weeks ago to join forces and back the street protests, though with little apparent impact.

"We are organizing gradually, from below.... It's freedom against dictatorship; it's unity and peace talks [in] Darfur or even the south, and not warfare and aggression and force," says Turabi. "Dictatorships don't unite people, they hold them together by force. It's a military dictatorship."

Activists say they have made progress since the dismal failure in January 2011, just days after huge turnouts in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Inspired by the Arab Spring revolts popping up, they wanted to do the same in Khartoum. A protest Facebook page indicated that 10,000 people would attend.

On that day, just 100 showed up and were arrested – a defeat that crippled the optimism of many would-be Sudanese activists.

The engineering student was one who lost hope that day, but feels a new optimism now, despite the "slide" away from street action. He says there are two scenarios.

"The government will continue cracking down and more people will be jailed, which will make more people angry and engaged, because of that and the economy," says the student. "Or the protests will just be put down until they stop. Even if that happens, Sudan will never be the same. Any mistake now could be their last."

Follow Scott Peterson on Twitter, at @peterson_scott 

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