Sudan's Would-Be Revolution, as Told in Photos

Protesters are gathering across Sudan today for what they say that they hope will be a "Tahrir-style" national movement for the downfall of the autocratic government of President Omar al-Bashir. So far, protests are numerous but relatively small, with state security forces cracking down heavily. It's not Tahrir yet, but, while the two countries share a border and the Nile River, neither is Sudan quite like Egypt. Protesters, pushing for democracy and an end to Bashir's much-hated austerity measures, are calling today's demonstrations "The Friday of Elbow Licking," a reference to a senior Sudanese official who'd said that the Arab Spring would spread here "only if you can lick your elbow."
The Democracy Report
Here's a helpful map of protests, arrests, and violence so far, as mapped by Sudanese activists at SudanChangeNow2012 based on media coverage and what they call "trusted reports" from the field. You can zoom in to city block-by-block protests and clashes in, for example, the capital city of Khartoum. Below that are a series of photos that tell the story of today's "elbow-licking" would-be Sudanese Tahrir. You may notice that there are not many photos, and that none of them are by professional photographers. Sudan has tough restrictions against journalists: state security raided the AFP's Khartoum office, arresting a photographer who had taken pictures of the protests. This leaves the world to rely largely on citizen journalists, who often face even harsher punishments for reporting.




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Wired Sudanese are passing around this photo of a protest in the city of Al-Ubayyid. Here's a photo of al-Ubayyid 50 years ago to give you a sense of how dramatically Sudan has changed since its 1956 independence from British colonialism. The banner readers, "Al-Ubayyid 29th June Lick Your Elbow Friday." (Twitter/Shamarat)

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Protesters march in Omdurman, Sudan's largest city, just across the Nile from capital Khartoum. Their movement has listed 15 demands, the biggest of which is for the regime, in power since Omar al-Bashir's 1989 coup, to leave power. They're also asking for basic freedoms, inflation controls, and an end to religious discrimination. Though some of the country's youth and educated elite have long pushed for such a movement, it was Bashir's June 18 announcement of new austerity cuts, including to fuel subsidies, that sparked today's protests. (Twitter/Kumboya).

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A young Sudanese girl licks her elbow, holding a sign that reads, "We licked our elbows and there's no going back. Revolution until victor." (It rhymes in Arabic.) Bashir has dismissed the protesters, saying, "The people who are burning tires are a few agitators." The country's feared state security have recently clamped down, arresting journalists, activists, and opposition figures. (Twitter/AbdallahFHD).

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Protesters burn tires in Khartoum. Prominent Sudanese activist Amir Ahmad Nasr recently wrote at Foreign Policy, "As the fear barrier crumbles, Sudanese have a chance to topple Bashir and his National Congress Party (NCP) cronies -- and to build a better future for their country." That's a more optimistic take than most observers share. And even if protesters do oust Bashir, it might not matter: "An Arab spring? Not yet. More likely is that al-Bashir is losing the support of the ruling National Congress Party," John Campbell writes at CFR. "Essentially the ruling party would be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Most of the same people would remain in charge and continue largely isolated from the Sudanese people. But there really is no credible opposition ready to step in." (Activists, via AP).

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An elderly man sits during a protest. He may well have seen the entire breadth of post-colonial Sudanese history, which began with the 1956 independence from British rule (and from attempted Egyptian rule) as a single country that should have been two. The country's north and south have been in and out of conflict since then, starting with a civil war that began the year before independence, and continues today, even a year after the south finally won independence. (Twitter/Kumboya).

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A tense protest gathers in Bahri, a district of Khartoum just across the Blue Nile. Security forces have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and even live ammunition against demonstrators, according to reports as well as a statement from the UN human rights office urging the Sudanese government to show more restraint. "Its clear, though most protestors are peaceful, some throwing rocks and a teenager had a homemade molotov," one Sudanese activist tweeted. Violence has slowly escalated throughout the day, with so far one protester allegedly killed by tear has asphyxiation and several wounded hiding out in a Khartoum mosque that's currently surrounded by state security, according to Al Jazeera. (Twitter/Moez Ali).

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Women clap at a demonstration today in an unknown Sudanese town. Demonstrations earlier this month have mostly consisted of 100 or 200 young men throwing stones and burning tires, but today's protests are reportedly somewhat larger and more representative of society. (AP).

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Demonstrators gather around burning tires in Khartoum. State media has been largely silent, with cell phone service down nationwide for several hours today as police cracked down. A Reuters analysis of the movement concluded, "The government, running out of policy options that can both stabilize the economy and soothe discontent over inflation, may have to depend on such security measures to maintain order at least in the short term." (Activists, via AP).

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Protesters march toward the city center in Omdurman, across the river from Khartoum. Blogging at Arabist on the Sudanese regime's struggles to keep order at home, challenge the newly independent south, and absorb the staggering economic losses that came when the oil-heavy south seceded, Paul Mutter writes, "None of this month's events this bodes well for the government, especially if violence escalates and it finds itself confronting major demonstrations all over the country." (Twitter/Yousif Elmahdi).

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This short and inscrutable video is circulating rapidly on Sudanese social media. Purportedly, it shows an injured protester being carried away after clashes with security forces. With so little information coming out of the country, it's difficult to know for sure what's happening, or what will come next. (Twitter/Kumboya).

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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