Sudanese protesters at an anti-government demonstration in the capital Khartoum on Jan. 6. Photo: AFP/Getty

In recent weeks, thousands of young people across Sudan have taken to the streets in protest against strongman Omar al-Bashir, the leader of one of the world’s most repressive governments.

Why it matters: While the protests were initially sparked by economic issues — inflation in Sudan is currently running around 70% — a brutal crackdown has helped stoke broader popular demands for Bashir’s resignation. 

Bashir, a former paratrooper, is a wily and brutal survivor. He first took power 29 years ago in a coup backed by Islamic fundamentalists, and he immediately dialed up the Arab-dominated government’s long-running war against black and predominantly Christian separatists in the country’s oil rich south.

  • By the time that war fully ended with the south’s internationally brokered secession in 2011, more than 2 million people had been killed. 
  • Even as that war was winding down, Bashir crushed a rebellion in the western Sudanese region of Darfur with such brutality that he became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide.
  • Tight U.S. sanctions imposed in 1997 over human rights abuses and support for terrorism (Osama bin Laden briefly called Sudan home) helped him burnish his image as a populist defender of his people against a neo-colonial West. 

Flashback: In 2013, he crushed a street movement in the capital that was inspired by the Arab Spring.

  • This time around, however, protests appear more sustained and widespread, even if they lack coherent leadership and structure. And stripped of the cash that South Sudan’s oil fields once pumped into Khartoum, Bashir has much less room to prop up a badly mismanaged economy, even with the help of Gulf Arab allies. 
  • In addition, the removal of long-standing U.S. sanctions in 2017 exposed the deeper rot of Sudan’s economy while stripping the wily populist of one of his go-to excuses for economic hardship. 

The bottom line: The future of this turbulent African country may be about to take another historic turn. 

Sign up for Signal, a thrice-weekly newsletter from GZERO Media, a Eurasia Group company, and follow @saosasha on Twitter.

Go deeper

Two officers shot in Louisville amid Breonna Taylor protests

Police officers stand guard during a protest in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo: Ben Hendren/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Louisville Metro Police Department said two officers were shot downtown in the Kentucky city late Wednesday, just hours after a grand jury announced an indictment in the Breonna Taylor case.

Driving the news: Metrosafe, the city's emergency services, said it received reports of a shooting at South Brook St. and Broadway Ave., near the area where protests were taking place. A police spokesperson told a press briefing the injuries of both officers were not life-threatening. One officer was "alert and stable" and the other was undergoing surgery, he said.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 31,778,331 — Total deaths: 974,436 — Total recoveries: 21,876,025Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 6,943,078 — Total deaths: 201,930 — Total recoveries: 2,670,256 — Total tests: 97,459,742Map.
  3. Health: CDC director says over 90% of Americans have not yet been exposed to coronavirus — Supply shortages continue to plague testing.
  4. Politics: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson tests positive for coronavirus — Poll says 51% of Republicans trust Trump on coronavirus more than the CDC.
  5. Technology: The tech solutions of 2020 may be sapping our resolve to beat the coronavirus
  6. Vaccines: Johnson & Johnson begins large phase 3 trial — The FDA plans to toughen standards.
  7. Sports: Less travel is causing the NBA to see better basketball.
  8. Future: America's halfway coronavirus response

Biden: Breonna Taylor indictment "does not answer" call for justice

Former Vice President Joe Biden. Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday condemned the grand jury indictment of a Louisville police officer who entered Breonna Taylor's home in March in a botched drug raid that led to her death, saying in a statement the decision "does not answer" for equal justice.

The big picture: Biden called for reforms to address police use of force and no-knock warrants, while demanding a ban on chokeholds. He added that people "have a right to peacefully protest, but violence is never acceptable."

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!