LEILA FADEL, HOST:
It's been more than two weeks, and protesters continue to fill the streets in Sudan. They were spurred by the government's announcement that it was ending food subsidies. Prices for things like bread and fuel skyrocketed. Now demonstrators who've been met with live bullets and tear gas say they want President Omar al-Bashir's nearly 30-year reign to end. He says he's not going anywhere. Isma'il Kushkush is a Sudanese-American journalist based in D.C. He joins us now.
Thank you so much for being here.
ISMA'IL KUSHKUSH: Thank you.
FADEL: So why don't you just break down for us what these protests are about and why they're happening?
KUSHKUSH: So these protests started on December 19 in the northern city of Atbara, mostly by high school students who went to school, found that the price of bread had tripled for their breakfast and just started to protest. And the same thing happened in other towns outside of Khartoum and then moved to Khartoum. It was ignited, basically, by the high prices of bread. But there's been political discontent in the country for a long time. So a number of issues altogether have just piled up, and people are protesting both economic and political issues - issues of freedoms, issues of conflict in civil parts of the country, dissatisfaction with the idea that supporters of the president might amend the constitution to allow him to run again in 2020. I think all of these issues have contributed to a great deal of frustration and anger in the Sudanese streets.
FADEL: And what's been the president's reaction so far to these demonstrations?
KUSHKUSH: Like protests before in 2011, 2012 and 2013, the reaction has been quite violent. The government also acknowledges - says that it does realize that the cost of living has become very high for most Sudanese. And it says that it will try to increase - will increase the minimum wage and take measures to improve the economic situation.
FADEL: What does that mean? - that they're doing those things, making those...
KUSHKUSH: Well, it's - you know, it's a kind of a carrot and stick approach. The government officially says that it is not against peaceful protests.
KUSHKUSH: But it alleges that there are elements of military and militant rebel groups that have caused destruction and that it is using force against that. That's what the government says.
FADEL: Is that true?
KUSHKUSH: Not from what we know - not from activists that we've spoken to.
FADEL: How much of the country is with these protesters? So I'm seeing a lot of reporting on the actual demonstrations. But is this - do they have the support of most of the country?
KUSHKUSH: Well, that's a good question. And it's hard to assess. I think it's relevant that it started outside of Khartoum, outside of the capital, and especially in a town like Atbara that is in a state but it - which is considered a stronghold for the ruling party. Sudanese professionals have started organizing, as well as political parties who have withdrawn from the official coalition government and have supported the protesters. So it does seem that there is widespread support throughout the country among activists and politicians.
FADEL: So what's different than 2012 and 2013? What makes these protests different in 2018, 2019?
KUSHKUSH: 2018 was especially a very difficult year for many Sudanese. Many had hoped that the lifting of U.S. sanctions in October 2017 would bring in foreign investment, would make the economy better. It did not for a number of reasons. When I was in Sudan - I left Sudan in 2015 - one dollar was equal to about 10 Sudanese pounds in the black market. Mid-December 2018, the Sudanese pound was 80 pounds to a dollar.
FADEL: Oh, wow.
KUSHKUSH: So the price of goods have just skyrocketed. It was just a very difficult year. So again, it's just this deep sense of frustration that people have reached rock bottom.
FADEL: Journalist Isma'il Kushkush, thank you for being with us.
KUSHKUSH: Thank you.
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