With the revolt which began over the doubling of fuel prices now in its second week, I spoke to an activist who is now in hiding in Khartoum. Ali – he asked to be called – has gone underground after his friend was arrested.
Phone records and duress in jail could, he fears, lead to his identity being revealed. But he has been able to give a fascinating account of the fight against President Omar al-Bashir and his National Islamic Front regime.
Question: What’s been happening?
Ali: The regime responded brutally to the protests against fuel prices. They shot live bullets against the people – most of them high school kids. Now the protests are bigger than anytime before. There was a wave of arrests on Wednesday night. I had to re-locate.
Question: Are you in hiding?
Ali: Yes I am.
Question: Who are involved in the protest? Is it ordinary people – students, women or is it the traditional political parties – like the Umma or the Democratic Unionist Party?
Ali: Originally it was spontaneous. It was just the neighbourhoods which organised themselves. It was started by high-school students in Omdurman. No-one was expecting it. Now every neighbourhood has their own organisers or activists, including party members. But no-one trusts the party leadership. We have heard that the DUP are withdrawing from the government officially, but unless I see their leaders on the protests, I am not going to believe it. No-one trust them; no-one takes their word.
Question: I have heard that in some areas the army is not involved in repressing the protests. Is that true?
Ali: I have heard stories about this. I have seen videos showing army waving to the crowd. I have heard stories of army officers being imprisoned. But I can’t say for sure. I know is that the people who are shooting are not the army or the police. They are from the Central Reserve Police – the same people who are killing in Darfur. They are loyal to the NIF. Some NIF agents have been shooting people in police uniform.
Question: Will this Friday be a big day?
Ali: Yes it will be a big day? Especially where there are markets. It will be a confrontation. On Thursday there was a protest – a silent protest. And another one at the university. Now people are finding ways of defending themselves.
Question: How are people defending themselves?
Ali: We need more tactics to prevent cars from entering the neighbourhoods. We go on the main roads and throw stones. Then the cars come and enter the neighbourhoods. That’s when they shoot bullets.
Question: So will people block the roads?
Ali: We learn to use nails to get rid of the tires and then burn the cars.
Question: What about guns?
Ali: We don’t have weapons. I know people who say we should arm ourselves like the Libyans. But this is just talk. We don’t have weapons in Khartoum. It is totally not going to happen.
Question: So it will be a peaceful resistance or nothing?
Ali: Yes, peaceful or nothing. Exactly. People who are really frustrated come up with this, but its not going to happen.
Question: Will the army join you?
Ali: The high ranking officials in the army – most of them are part of the Islamic movement. So I can’t see how they will join us, unless they split.
Question: But what about the ordinary soldiers? Might they join you?
Ali: The police are made up of ordinary people – they live in our neighbourhoods. The army is the same thing. But most of the army are in the war zones, like Blue Nile. The people who are shooting us are the Central Reserve. They drive four-wheel drive cars, called Thatcher. Like the British Prime Minister. Perhaps because it is a strong car – like the Iron Lady.
Question: What sort of people are the Central Reserve.
Ali: They come from small villages from the far North of Sudan where Nafie al Nafie [President al-Bashir’s adviser] comes from. They are poor villagers and get money. They are loyal to the regime.
Question: Who is going to win this struggle?
Ali: The people will win.