Fees, student deaths spark Arab Spring-style protests

Arab Spring-style protest has been sparked in Sudan by the mysterious deaths of four students from the conflict-plagued Darfur region, in a police crackdown on a peaceful student sit-in supporting free education at Gezira University south of the capital Khartoum on 3 December.

The outbreak of protest is the largest since the June and July demonstrations, which began at the University of Khartoum over high inflation and then spread to protests across the country, with calls for the ending of the 23-year regime of President Omar al-Bashir.

The mid-year popular action petered out following a security clampdown, according to information provided by the official Sudan News Agency.

The current student protests began when Gezira University, reeling from economic hardship, asked all students – including Darfurians – to pay tuition fees starting with the current academic session, which began a month ago.

The decision was not in line with a 2011 peace deal between the government and an alliance of Darfur rebel splinter factions, which stated that the children of people displaced by Darfur's nine-year rebel conflict should get a five-year fee waiver at national universities.

The Darfur Students Association said the four Gezira University students had gone missing after taking part in the 3 December sit-in, which was disrupted by a pro-government student union. The four had died “fighting for their right to free education in the university”, the association said, blaming the authorities and their ‘militia’ for the deaths.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said it interviewed witnesses, who had reported that “government security forces pushed the protesters toward the canal, causing several students to fall in”.

However, the official Sudan News Agency said police intervened when students protesting against the fees began destroying university property and disrupting lectures. It did not link the student deaths by drowning with the intervention by the police, who have launched an investigation into the deaths.

In 1964, the death of student activist Ahmed al-Qureshi sparked the ‘October Revolution’, which ended the military regime then in power after tens of thousands of people protested.

In response to the protest, Gezira University announced the closure of all university colleges and institutions for an indefinite period.

Protesting against the death of the Darfur students, hundreds of Sudanese students marched out of Nilien University in the capital Khartoum’s west end and called for ‘revolution’.

There was also a protest outside an agricultural faculty in Khartoum north. Police responded with teargas, some protesters were beaten with batons and others were injured and arrested.

On 11 December, students gathered at Omdurman Islamic University in Khartoum for a further protest, and were met by pro-government students and police. Students were beaten and were dispersed using teargas. A fire broke out in the dormitories, leaving students homeless.