The First Hints of Violence Set Back Sudan's Beleaguered Protest Movement

In a way, the protest movement reflects a larger split in the Sudanese polity: protesters seem to come from the urban middle class, students, and other groups most likely to be pinched by Sudan's economic crisis, according to Kodouda. Sudan is mired in a deep economic trough, partly thanks to a (possibly resolved) dispute over oil revenues with neighboring South Sudan, which culminated with the South's decision to shut down its oil infrastructure last February. And Bashir was recently in Qatar, asking for an extension in repaying a $2 billion loan.

But the movement seems to have so far failed to engage the more dispossessed sectors of society that are less directly affected by austerity. "Most of the people living in Khartoum are marginalized," says Shami. "Most of them won't go to demonstrations because they don't have the ability to organize themselves and I think they would be afraid to do so."

Mohammed Nur, a Khartoum-based doctor and civil society activist who has worked in western Sudan, told me he suspects that the regime and its supporters dread an organized or credible movement among people from the country's peripheral regions, such as Nyala. "The people of Khartoum and generally of the riverine areas ... are always afraid that the substitute of the regime will be the new political forces of the marginalized regions," he wrote in an email.

The Nyala incident is a case in point: the protestors were urbanites and students, people who, despite the regime's claims to contrary, were almost certainly unrelated to the militant movement that is fighting the government elsewhere in Darfur. But they were also Darfurians, potentially making them both dangerous and disposable from the regime's perspective.

Back in Khartoum, protests are still limited in scope, organization, and ambition. The government could still be in trouble, though: austerity measures have hit civil service salaries, tripled the price of electricity, and doubled the price of gas, although this is bound to change after the Sudanese and South Sudanese governments' recent agreement on oil revenues re-open their energy trade. Before the deal with the South, Bashir's government was frantically building its gold reserves in the hope of finding something other than oil to anchor the struggling Sudanese pound. And the oil deal hardly rescues the Khartoum government. It could reportedly take up to a year for South Sudan's oil production to reach its pre-shutoff rates, while the agreement entitles Khartoum to only about a third of the $30-a-barrel transit fees it sought after the South seceded in mid-2011.

Although protests continue, prospects for the regime's near-term collapse are slim. The Sudanese regime is comprised of three main interest groups, Kodouda wrote in a column for Al Jazeera: Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP), the Islamists, and the military. "If the military were to topple the government, it would be kicking the two other entities out from power," he elaborated to me. "That will never happen unless the protests escalate and we see masses and masses of people on the streets. I don't think the protest movement as it's constituted can do that."

And even if it could, the Nyala massacre is a violent reminder that the regime, whose president and defense minister have been indicted by the International Criminal Court, would go quietly. "The NCP is a party grounded on ethnic and religious ideology," Nur wrote in an email. "It will never, ever go on a cheap cost."

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Armin Rosen is a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Global channel.

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