Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech to the nation, Feb. 22, 2019, at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech to the nation, Feb. 22, 2019, at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum.

WASHINGTON - Sudan President Omar al-Bashir declared a national emergency for one year, and dissolved local and national governments amid widespread demonstrations in Sudan.

“I call on the parliament to delay looking into the constitutional amendments to open the door for enriching the political life through constructive dialogue and candid patriotic initiatives,” Bashir said in a speech late Friday.

The decision comes after two months of protests have rocked Sudan, triggered by a dire economy and rising commodities prices, that have evolved into demands the country’s 75-year-old president step down.

FILE - Sudanese protesters take part in an anti-go
Sudanese protesters take part in an anti-government demonstration in Khartoum, Feb. 14, 2019. Deadly protests that erupted in Sudan Dec. 19 over the tripling of the price of bread have spread across the country and escalated into calls for President Omar al-Bashir to step down.

Omer Ismail, senior adviser at the Washington-based Enough Project, said Bashir is imposing a national emergency to enforce martial law, giving the president power to unilaterally make decisions.

“There is no parliament, there is no Cabinet. He has all the powers in his hands. He can order the army to be in the streets, the tanks, any unit of the army,” Ismail said. “The security forces have free hands to arrests people, to detain them, to get in their homes, to stop and search anybody at any given time of the day.”

Opposition arrests

On Thursday, the Sudanese Congress Party (SCP), an opposition party in Sudan, said security forces arrested Mokhtar al-Khatib, the Communist Party leader; Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi, the deputy head of the Umma Party, and party Secretary-General Sara Nugdallah.

SCP said the move was to prevent planned protests.

Activists say at least 56 people have died during the protests, a figure the government challenges.

Speaking Friday to advisers outgoing ministers, according to media reports, Bashir said, “Our country is suffering from a difficult and complicated situation, the most difficult in its history. ...”

“The economic issue needs to be tackled by qualified people and for this I will form a government made of people of quality,” he said, without saying when the new government would be announced, according to a French news agency report.

Anti-government protesters rally in Khartoum, Suda
Anti-government protesters rally in Khartoum, Sudan, Jan. 13, 2019.

?Sudan diaspora

The Sudanese diaspora has paid close attention to developments in their home country, staging a handful of protests across the United States.

A week ago, more than 1,000 members of the diaspora protested in Washington, demanding change in Sudan’s leadership.

“I think this revolution is belonging to the youth,” Virginia-based Sudan activist Remaz Abdelgader said.

“We have waited for 30 years and unfortunately nothing has happened. So this is our future. So we are the ones who are carrying this revolution and we are the ones who are making it our responsibility because this is for our children’s generation, this is for our generation,” she said.

Speaking during a protest at the Sudanese embassy in Washington in January, Sudanese native Rowa Kodi said this round of protests, now the longest since Sudan gained independence in 1956, feels different.

During the protests in Sudan in late 2013, Kodi said, “People used to push us out of their houses, not to welcome us in their houses, but what I see this time in the streets, people are welcoming us.”

“This time in the streets people are giving us water, people are providing food, people even providing first aid. They prepare themselves the night before so that they will be ready for injured people,” Kodi said.

She said there is a strong sense of solidarity among Sudanese that has helped energize demonstrators seeking change.