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Year on, Sudan demos fade but threats intensify

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    Supporters of Sadiq al-Mahdi rally in Khalifa Square in Khartoum's twin capital of Omdurman on June 29. One year after an eruption of Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations against President Omar al-Bashir's government, the movement has faded but armed rebellion and other challenges have intensified.AFP

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    Female supporters of Sadiq al-Mahdi rally in Khalifa Square in Khartoum's twin capital of Omdurman on June 29. Sudan's popular protest movement, however, has not been sustained, in contrast to Arab Spring uprisings against authoritarian leaders in the region, including in next-door Egypt.AFP

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    A Sudanese military tank in the city of Nyala in the Darfur region on Thursday. In far-west Darfur, security has deteriorated, and late last year the government said it disrupted an attempted coup which analysts see as reflecting a political struggle within the regime.AFP

One year after an eruption of Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations against President Omar al-Bashir's government, the movement has faded but armed rebellion and other challenges have intensified.

One way or another, though, Bashir's regime is going to fall, activists say.

Rebels in April widened their offensive to topple the government, pushing into a previously peaceful part of the country in what analysts called a humiliation for the authorities.

In far-west Darfur, security has also deteriorated, and late last year the government said it disrupted an attempted coup which analysts see as reflecting a political struggle within the regime.

Tensions have continued with South Sudan, further weakening the economy.

Sudan's popular protest movement, however, has not been sustained, in contrast to Arab Spring uprisings against authoritarian leaders in the region, including in next-door Egypt.

A crackdown by government security forces, divisions among the political opposition, an absence of inspiring alternative leadership, and fears of chaos if the Bashir government falls are among the reasons activists cite.

"They see what is happening in Syria, for example," a veteran activist said, asking not to be named for security reasons. "And they don't want that to happen in Sudan."

A businessman, who last year gave "underground" support to the protesters, expressed concern over anarchy if the regime collapses.

Every political faction is armed, he said, while the military could not intervene because it has become weak and politicised under the National Congress Party (NCP) government.

"Another Somalia or another Syria" are possible alternatives to the current regime, said the businessman, who too asked not to be named.

But activists are convinced the Bashir government is going to collapse with or without major protests.

"The regime will fall by peaceful demonstrations or by armed change, or it may change internally," said a youth activist from Haq, the New Forces Democratic Movement opposition party.

On June 16 last year a protest movement lasting more than a month began when students demonstrated against high food prices outside the University of Khartoum.

The rallies, often involving groups of 100 or 200, spread to a cross-section of the population and to other parts of the country, becoming the longest-running challenge to Bashir who seized power in an Islamist-backed coup on June 30, 1989.

Activists threw stones and blocked roads in a call for regime change met with police tear gas and rubber bullets.

Then the demonstrations flickered out, like the fires protesters had set in the street.

The movement lacked coordination and suffered from disunity among opposition political parties which could have provided momentum, the businessman said.

Activists also say the government's crackdown, which involved the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service, was a factor in suppressing public dissent.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said scores of peaceful protesters were arrested.

Sudan's economy worsened in subsequent months, with inflation exceeding 40 percent, yet no mass movement emerged.

"We haven't gotten to the point where people are starving in the streets yet," the businessman explained.

Protests over various issues since then have not been sustained as they were in June and July last year.

"We cannot say that there were 'demonstrations' against the government. Only a few people," says Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid, a senior NCP official.

"There is no concrete reason for demonstrations."

The Haq activists, who cite diverse inspiration from the French Revolution to the militant Femen women's group known for its topless protests, say many Sudanese see political activism as a luxury.

Their focus is on getting enough to eat -- or on emigrating from the country where estimates of unemployment exceed 30 percent, one activist said.

Too many Sudanese lack an analysis of why they are suffering, according to the activist who sees "a crisis of consciousness" that helps to explain the lack of widespread anti-government action.

At the same time the government has divided the political opposition and the broader society on tribal and other lines, activists say, adding that the ruling group itself is now fracturing.

"The regime is so weak and so isolated and hated by everybody," said the veteran activist, who too asked not to be named for security reasons.

Ebaid of the NCP rejects such charges and says the party represents diverse points of view.

"We are not (a) one-man show. Even for me, sometimes I say something different within the political bureau of the NCP, and sometimes I find supporters and sometimes I don't."