- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 8, 2012

CAIRO — “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 Bashir.

Mr. 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.

Mr. Mohamad is one of many dissidents detained recently in a crackdown by the Sudanese government. At least 2,000 have been arrested, activists say.

The crackdown aims to crush a new attempt at a protest movement calling for the ouster of Lt. Gen. 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.

A ripe target

Anti-government activists see Gen. Bashir’s 23-year-old regime as the most ripe in the region to topple. 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 revenue from the south’s oil, sending inflation up to nearly 40 percent this month. Gen. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in the western Darfur region, where a rebellion continues to bleed the country.

“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.”

Those troubles could also prolong the life of the regime. Gen. 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.

At an inauguration of a factory in central Sudan on July 11, Gen. Bashir ridiculed prospects for an uprising.

“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,” he said, waving his cane threateningly.

So far, his prediction has proved 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.

“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.

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