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Spring in Sudan?

There’s tear gas in the air and violence in the streets. Could those be the first signs of spring in Khartoum?

That might be good news. Combining economic stagnation, authoritarian oppression, and a history of genocide, Sudan is one of those rare places where a revolution could hardly make things worse.

Sudan wasn’t exactly a bedrock of stability when it was a single state, and in the wake of the South’s secession, both countries are struggling. The split separated the North from three quarters of its oil production, throwing it into an economic free-fall. Meanwhile, the landlocked South suffers outrageous transport fees from Khartoum to move the crude.

Now, budget cuts proposed by Khartoum have sparked serious unrest across the capital city, and the protest movement is growing more organized by the day. No one has missed the flavor of the Arab Spring in the slogans and chants of the protestors. The NYT reports:

The protesters chanted anti-regime slogans, including “The people want to bring down the regime,” a mantra of Arab Spring protests across the Mideast.

“This 23-year-old regime must change. It has corrupted, humiliated, robbed and divided the country. They must pay,” [opposition leader Siddique Tawer] said.

But the state-run media claims to have revealed the insidious truth about these “austerity protests,” as Reuters reports:

“Zionist institutions inside the United States and elsewhere… are exploiting the latest economic decisions to destabilize the security and political situation,” the state-linked Sudanese Media Centre quoted presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie as saying.

Nafie said the government had evidence of collusion between rebel groups in Darfur, politicians in arch-foe South Sudan and Zionist institutions in the United States to sabotage Sudan. He did not present the evidence.

This sounds a lot like when Qaddafi declared the Libyan uprising a coup by al-Qaeda acid heads. That theory didn’t pan out.

No one knows whether the unrest in Sudan will escalate to revolution, but crackpot, state-sponsored conspiracy theories are hardly signs that the government has a handle on the situation.

On the other hand, if there is one government in the Islamic world that has revealed an iron determination to stop at absolutely nothing to enforce its will, it is the government of slave-raiding, genocidal Sudan. We don’t expect the police there to consult Human Rights Watch to get the latest guides on how to treat peaceful protests.

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