Could Sudan soon carry the scent of jasmine?

So as the Tunisian scent of jasmine wafts its way across Egypt and Yemen, speculation is growing as to whether this pungent aroma could be heading south.

Many – including Amnesty – have speculated that the recent uprisings across northern Sudan are in direct correlation to its northern neighbour’s unrest, although an official from Sudan’s ruling party has attempted to dismiss any such hint of a presidential overthrow.

The question I suppose is – just how realistic an option is it for the people of Sudan? Could we really see successfully orchestrated marches and demonstrations across Khartoum as we’ve seen in Cairo and Tunis?  Can we expect exiled leaders to make a swooping return to assume the position of Sudan’s new leader-in-waiting?

Can we really expect to see President Bashir take flight as we saw with Ben Ali and may be about to see with Mubarak?

One of the elements critical to both Tunisia and Egypt’s uprisings has been a robust civil society helping to create the momentous groundswell of concerted action. While that’s been possible in Egypt and Tunisia, I would argue that the strength of civil society in Sudan isn’t as great as in Egypt – not yet anyway. Because of the repressive system within Sudan, most of the government’s opponents and critics live in a constant state of fear.

Although President Hosni Mubarak has regularly tempered the level of freedom of expression across Egypt, reining in media outlets and human rights activists when they became too outspoken has been a constant diet for the Sudanese government for several years.

Sudan’s security authorities can detain anyone who dares to criticise the government without charge or trial for months, and have subjected people to torture, mental and physical intimidation and even sexual assault.

Against this internal repression is the backdrop which surrounds Sudan in the form of other African states and the leaders who go to great lengths to protect the President. Despite there being an international arrest warrant out for President Bashir, no other African leader has made any attempt to have the president arrested, enabling Bashir to travel freely across African unfettered and unconcerned.

Of course ,having worked for Amnesty for a few years now, I know better than to compare countries’ human rights records and I am certainly not attempting to do so here.

But I do think it is possible to suggest that there are seasons and circumstances in place when  momentous events – such as the overthrow of a government – are more likely to occur.

And given the current climate of fear across Sudan, the African leaders’ ring of steel shielding President Bashir from any international charges and the level of repression throughout, I would be very surprised if the revolution wave gets past Egypt’s southern border. This time at least.    That said, I don’t suppose two months ago we thought thousands (or ‘millions’?) of people would take to the streets of Cairo…

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