Sudanese Parliament Shortens State of Emergency

Sudanese men and women have been protesting since December. ( SBS )

Sudanese men and women have been protesting since December. (SBS)

In response to continued widespread protests, the Sudanese Parliament resolved to shorten the nation-wide state of emergency from one year to six months in a vote on March 11.

The protests pose a serious threat to Omar al-Bashir, the country’s embattled president, who declared the state of emergency on February 22. The last time in his three-decade-long rule that al-Bashir declared a state of emergency was in 1999, when the country’s “internal problems” prompted him to dissolve Parliament, according to the Guardian. Many consider the current state of unrest to be the most formidable challenge his regime has ever faced.

At the same time, al-Bashir appointed a new prime minister, dissolved the country’s central and state governments, and appointed military officers as new state governors, the Guardian reports.

According to the New York Times, the state of emergency grants security services broad powers, including the ability to search buildings, restrict movement, arrest suspects, and seize assets during investigations. Though Parliament shortened al-Bashir’s proposed year-long declaration, the legislature retains the right to extend the term after it ends.

The state of emergency is one in a long list of tactics that the al-Bashir government has adopted to contend with widespread opposition in the country. Human Rights Watch has estimated that 51 people have died as a result of state violence towards protesters. Security forces have also used tear gas, stun grenades and mass arrests to deter opponents, Reuters reports.

Protests started in December in the state of Atbara after al-Bashir’s elimination of wheat and food subsidies had caused sharp price increases. The movement quickly spread to other parts of the country, and calls for economic assistance transformed into demands that al-Bashir step down.

Critics blame the long-time president for the sustained period of economic downturn and rising poverty in Sudan. Fuel and cash shortages made for a tense economic situation in the months leading up to the protests. Meanwhile, al-Bashir blames foreign intervention, especially Western infiltration and former sanctions, for the crisis.

Though Sudan has experienced other bouts of popular unrest before, notably in 2013 and 2016, the current situation is distinctive. First, demonstrations have spread to regions in the country which have historically been pro-regime. Second, the movement’s leaders are atypical; whereas the intelligentsia and urban elite have generally led resistance in Sudan, young people and women are in the driver’s seat this time around.

Women in particular have much to gain from reform. They need the permission of a male guardian to travel or work, and ‘public morality’ laws facilitate gender harassment for infractions such as wearing pants, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Though al-Bashir called for the release of all female prisoners who were arrested at demonstrations, the government sentenced nine women protesters just a day later, according to the Washington Post.

The opposition movement, headed by the National Umma party, has used a number of non-violent tactics since December, including hunger strikes by detained protesters, a nation-wide, day-long strike, peaceful marches and demonstrations, a refusal to pay taxes, and boycotts of state-owned services.

The United Nations and other international actors have called for an acknowledgment of the “legitimate grievances of the Sudanese people.”

“Dissent must be tolerated and not restrained with excessive force which can lead to loss of life,” Aristide Nononsi, UN Independent Expert on Human Rights in Sudan, said in a statement. “I strongly urge the Sudanese security forces to exercise the utmost restraint to avoid the escalation of violence.”

Whether al-Bashir will heed that cry remains to be seen.