Image: Anti-government protests in Khartoum
Anonymous  /  AP
Anti-government protesters burn tires in Khartoum, Sudan, on June 22.
updated 7/27/2012 9:18:32 AM ET 2012-07-27T13:18:32

"I think my country Sudan has really hit rock bottom." Those were the last public words uttered by Usamah Mohamad, a 32-year-old Sudanese web developer-turned-citizen journalist, in a video announcing he would join protests against President Omar al-Bashir.

Mohamad, popular under his Twitter handle "simsimt," was arrested the same day his video was aired. For the next month, his family had no idea where he was. Finally they learned he was in Khartoum's high security prison and were allowed to visit him last week.

He was skinnier and darker, a sign he had been left to bake in the scorching Khartoum sun, people close to his case say. The family itself is saying nothing.

Mohamad and hundreds of others — no less than 2,000, activists say — have been detained the past month in a campaign unleashed by the Sudanese government. The crackdown aims to crush a new attempt to launch a protest movement calling for the ouster of al-Bashir, inspired by the Middle East's uprisings that toppled the leaders of Sudan's neighbors Egypt and Libya as well as Tunisia and Yemen.

Ripe to fall?
Anti-government activists see al-Bashir's 23-year-old regime as the ripest in the region to fall. He has been weakened by the loss of oil-rich South Sudan, which became independent last year after two decades of Africa's bloodiest civil war. His regime has had to impose painful economic austerity measures to make up for the loss of revenues from the south's oil, sending inflation up to nearly 40 percent this month.

South Sudanese runner to compete under Olympic flag

The years-old rebellion in the western Darfur region continues to bleed the country. Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in that region.

"We have more reasons than any other Arab country for an uprising," said Siddique Tawer, of an opposition umbrella group. "No other country was split. Sudan was. No other country has a civil war ongoing in Darfur and (fighting along the border with the South)."

"These are enough reasons to topple a regime, aside from the corruption, oppression and the rising cost of living," he said. "The continuation of this regime is dangerous for the rest of the Sudan."

But those troubles could also prolong the life of al-Bashir's regime. Al-Bashir has showed a survivor's talent for using external threats to keep key parts of the public behind him. He is backed by a brutal security machine and a network of interests built on Islamist ideology, economic ties and tribal politics.

'A burning hot summer that burns its enemies'
At an inauguration of a factory in central Sudan on July 11, al-Bashir ridiculed prospects for an uprising.

PhotoBlog: North Sudanese refugees moved due to flooding

"They talk of an Arab Spring. Let me tell them that in Sudan we have a hot summer, a burning hot summer that burns its enemies," al-Bashir said, waving his cane threateningly.

So far, his prediction has borne true. Some activists fled the country, others are lying low amid the crackdown after protests by thousands raged for more than a week in June, the biggest since the Arab Spring began in late 2010. Under censorship, newspapers are not reporting on the protests.

Under a blanket of fear instilled by security agencies, several activists spoke to The Associated Press on condition anonymity to avoid detention or refused to talk at all.

"I think a popular uprising to topple the regime is not an attractive option to the Sudanese right now," said Hassan Haj Ali, a Khartoum University political science professor.

Video: Border clashes in Sudan (on this page)

Many are wary of new turmoil after the long civil war and are bracing for a worsening economy. Sudanese also remember how unrest against al-Bashir's predecessors led to military coups, bringing Sudanese "back to square one," he said.

Sudanese and the region worry of further fragmentation, with separatist movements not only in Darfur but also in the east and in the south.

PhotoBlog: 120 doctors for 8 million people in south Sudan

"What remains of Sudan may not hold as one bloc and may become so unstable it reflects on neighboring countries," including South Sudan, said Haj Ali. As a result, regional powers — and the United States, he said — may prefer "to deal with the regime in its current condition and not be embroiled in further crises."

Khartoum came close to war with South Sudan early this year. With the two sides in torturous negotiations over oil sharing and borders, al-Bashir's regime can drum up public support with anti-South rhetoric.

Galvanizing the public
Sudan's crushing economic crisis has given youth groups a tool to galvanize the public behind their protest movement.

Checkbook diplomacy? China pledges $20 billion in credit to Africa

After years of a boom fueled by southern oil, Sudan has reeled since the south's independence. The crisis is threatening to worsen under austerity measures recommended by the International Monetary Fund to deal with shrinking resources.

Inflation is expected to rise further, electricity bills are going up, and consumer groups are urging a boycott of meat and poultry because of rocketing prices. The currency lost nearly half its value the past year, reaching 4.4 pounds to the dollar officially and six on the black market, according to media reports.

NYT: 'Lost Boys' peril returns in Sudan war, famine

The youth groups, some of them working since 2009, put together a movement through social media and university activism, linking with disgruntled communities of Darfuris and others who live in Khartoum.

On June 16, protests erupted. Female students marched in Khartoum University, were joined by male students, and together they moved into the streets of the capital. Over the next six days, protests broke out at universities in Khartoum and other cities. On the Friday of that week, the strongest day of protests, regular citizens in Khartoum joined, coming out from mosques in marches that numbered several thousand.

Video: Sudanese refugee camps face overcrowding, flooding (on this page)

"The people demand the downfall of the regime," some chanted, a refrain heard in other Arab uprisings.

Throughout the week, police struck back with tear gas and rubber bullets and — in at least one case — live ammunition, according to the London-based Sudanese rights group the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies. Several students were seriously injured. Student militias helped security agents in seizing protesters, according to ACJPS. Finally, Khartoum University's vacation was moved up to prevent more protests.

PhotoBlog: Blood and oil tinge South Sudan's first birthday

The movement planned nationwide protests on June 30, coinciding with regime celebrations for the anniversary of al-Bashir's coming to power. Under a security clampdown, protesters managed only a small turnout. But with so many troops in the streets, anniversary parades were not held.

Information seen as a threat
Mohamad, the web developer, was seized at the Friday protest as he tweeted about arrests by agents of the notorious National Security Services in Khartoum's Burri district.

But friends say he may have been targeted because of his video aired the same day on Al-Jazeera English TV. "After 23 years of oppression and injustice, poverty and crime that are all committed under the current regime, change now is an inevitable must," he said in the video.

PhotoBlog: Sudanese refugees face growing health crisis

His detention without charge, while others have been freed, shows how the regime sees information about the protests as the biggest threat, said a friend of Mohammed who was held twice in custody, including once for 11 hours without water.

"He is detained for a month, a treatment reserved usually for a ringleader," the friend said.

Activists report arbitrary arrests of protesters and bloggers and their families in the middle of the night, beatings and humiliation in detention. Two Egyptian female journalists reporting for foreign media amid the unrest were deported.

Full international news coverage on NBCNews.com

Some detainees were forced to call fellow activists to arrange meetings that were really sting operations to arrest them. Interrogators threatened to release pictures of women activists wearing revealing clothes to scandalize them in Sudan's conservative society.

One student told ACJPS that an officer threatened to snap his neck while another scraped off his eyebrows, moustache and hair with a blade. "Now we've marked you and if we catch you again protesting we will cut other parts of your body," they told him.

Activist faces possible death sentence
Two activists face serious criminal charges including inciting violence against the regime. One of them, Rudwan Dawoud, who is married to an American and holds U.S. residency, was labeled a spy and could face the death sentence.

More Africa coverage from NBCNews.com

Nagui Moussa — a 26-year old activist from the protest group Girifna, or "We are fed up" — left to Cairo after being detained twice, deciding he was of more use outside spreading information about the protests.

He says protests may have waned — because of both the crackdown and the fasting month of Ramadan — but "people have changed. Why? Because they are seeing the continuous lies of the regime."

Protests in Khartoum make those in the core of Sudan realize that "the injustice is all over, in the center as in the periphery."

"People will see that the one who strikes and tortures in the south, or in Darfur, is the same as the one who strikes and tortures in the north," he said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Border clashes in Sudan

  1. Closed captioning of: Border clashes in Sudan

    >>> earlier this month, the world's youngest nation , south sudan , celebrated its first year of independence, after decades of civil war which cost the lives of 1.5 million people and displaced hundreds of thousands, south sudan became an independent nation . more than 300,000 south sudanese have returned home since the official end of the war , refugees continue to seek shelter in the country today as border disputes persist. the economy of both nations relies heavily on oil production , much of the disagreement centers around the contested oil field , 3/4 which lie in the south sudanese territory. but south sudan is lan locked. so leaders of both nations were going to sign an agreement before the august 2nd deadline. however, south sudan announced yesterday they are canceling direct talks with sudan , accuse accusing them of carrying out new air strikes , while the sudd scarceity continues. one is south sudanese supermodel alec wek who traveled on behalf of the u.n. relief agency . she is here with me. thank you for being here.

    >> thank you for having me.

    >> i wasn't sure if folks could see on that map, the south sudanese, where you were born, it's it's own independent nation , one year old, but in order to get the oil, that -- that resides there, out for trade or anything else, it's got to move through sudan , which means moving through north sudanese pipes and this is really where the dispute is, correct?

    >> no, absolutely. i mean, the situation is just become much more not just complex, but like i said, i mean, growing up in south sudan , getting born and raised and well just like any child, i enjoyed having friends from different tribes and so forth and then the war broke out and it became really terrible, we lost our father. there were nine of us, but then it divided us. all of a sudden, are you looking at each other, this your enemy, this not? literally, we are the same people. i think it's like the oil it's -- it's a blessing, but also it's a curse. and i'm not into politics, but i think in order to do anything, there needs to be peace and going back for the one-year anniversary of the independence, i never thought that would come growing up in the civil war . you know, running with thousands of people towards the bush looking for refuge. it was really, really profound. going back, i realize i was like the only way we coreally conquer this as a nation , i mean, the u.s. took 200 or so to have independence in a really profound way and have become a part of that. but i think just for one year, how much sudan , south sudan has gone so far, how much it's evolved.

    >> right. there's been a bit of a conversation on one hand. one year of independence, you talk about -- i've read a bit about your own personal very harrowing story of escape in the context of civil war .

    >> right.

    >> but if you go back today, you are just back, still jet lagged just back, that the need to seek refuge, some of that human suffering is just as real, particularly around the border disputes, as it was previously, before independence?

    >> no. absolutely. like i said, you know, it's a new country which means new nation , new government, new everything. you have to consider there is going to be challenges. and i think when muslims get too overwhelmed50% of the nation , the youth, i always believed in education, my father worked, board of education . my mother worked. they say what did your mother do? she worked, not just full time when she clocks out. she took care of nine of us. five girls and four boys.

    >> we were chatting just before we came on air, your mother is living now in london, but actually now you have an independent nation in south sudan is interested in going home , heading back. what does it mean to have been sent a certain way for exiled, who did flee? a home to go home to?

    >> it's very overwhelming, you can't just -- i met with a governor when i went back with ohcr. i went to the fields and seen the returnees, i've seen the refugees, you know, coming back to safety, and like having water up to here and they have to carry their children up. if not, they would drown. it was so touching, watching an 83-year-old woman when she should be enjoying her fruits, but, yet, her sons have died and she has to take care of her grandchildren, and she didn't have any hate. like i wish you could grow up like the age i am and even more. that was so profound for me. it really moved me. so i think the future is to have the infrastructure to have children educated. you can't make any decisions and you can't get along with anybody if you --

    >> well you make that move. you're talking about sort of what's possible in the future. we'll talk more about that when we come back, more with model and activist alec wek in a moment and more on africa and america and the continental divide . why

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments