Government Violence in Sudan and a Headline That Drives Me Crazy
Sudan is experiencing a fresh outburst of protests and demonstrations, reportedly provoked by rising fuel prices and an offensive speech Bashir gave in which he chastised his people for being so ungrateful for his amazing leadership. Security forces have apparently killed dozens of people, detained hundreds of activists (including Dahlia Elroubi, an employee of the World Bank and member of the Sudan Change Now movement), temporarily shut down the internet, detained local media who have questioned the regime’s propaganda, and closed foreign broadcasting bureaus. Thousands continue to demonstrate.
A few interesting things:
- It’s notable that Bashir’s government actually shut down the internet for a time. This seems like a Mubarak-like mistake. In prior episodes of repression against protestors, Bashir’s government has used some pretty savvy tactics to “trap” activists using social media, as I discussed here. So why the shut-down this time? Maybe his government has drunk the “Twitter Revolution” Kool-Aid.
- Bashir appears to be scared of foreign journalists documenting what’s going on, given that he has shut down their offices. Considering the scale of previous atrocities in Sudan, this is somewhat curious. It may suggest that his government actually finds this new resurgence of demonstrations pretty threatening and doesn’t want to embolden activists by giving them foreign witnesses.
- Bashir blames foreign “foundations” for these events, accusing Sudanese protestors of acting as agents of a foreign conspiracy. This rhetoric is super typical. Assad used this card in Syria, Ergodan used it in Turkey, Iran used it during the Green Movement, Putin uses it constantly to delegitimize his domestic opponents. I’m wondering two things: (a) whether domestic supporters buy it; (b) if so, how many times a leader can use this rhetorical strategy before supporters start to doubt it. I mean, not everything can be a foreign conspiracy. How long will this accusation continue to work before people wise up to the fact that it’s just propaganda?
- Bashir’s government says that some of the protestors have engaged in extensive property damage, and that “rebels from Sudan’s borderlands” were involved. This is the other delegitimizing rhetoric many governments try to use to control the narrative – that they are under attack by terrorists, not peaceful protestors. Again, such typical propaganda – it’s like clockwork. Sometimes observers find this accusation credible, other times they don’t. It helps activists to have witnesses to debunk this claim — and maybe that’s a major reason why Bashir has kicked foreign journalists out.
- The government’s brutality seems to be backfiring, at least in the short-term. Lethal violence against protestors has seemed to provoke more popular participation, not less — often a sign that a movement has some real potential.
And then this headline, out of NBC News:
I cringe, for two reasons.
First, Sudan has had an ongoing movement since January 2011, when activists began a coordinated series of protests and demonstrations against Bashir’s government. Many of us have been watching events unfold all along — while also wondering why mainstream outlets weren’t paying attention.
Second, the headline makes it sound like the demonstrators themselves are violent. But most reports indicate that security forces are using lethal violence against demonstrators, with little or no counter-violence from protestors. The headline is therefore clearly misleading, as the article itself shows. Unfortunately this is an all-too-common tendency among mainstream media outlets.
Come on, NBC. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.