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Contesting Narratives, Locating Power (Lund Conference)

The Emergence of North and South Sudan: Reinterpreting the Politics of the Nile Valley in the Context of the Arab Revolutionary Movements

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The recent protests in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have highlighted a number of issues that have been obscured by long standing orientalist and neo-liberal fallacies. Specifically, they have demonstrated the crucial importance of “bringing political economy back in” as a key framework of analysis. The conventional thesis privileging the idea of a “persistent authoritarianism” in the region has been undermined by a trans-regional civil society confronting the power of the combined forces of international capital, domestic commercial interests, and the formidable security apparatus of the state. These events have also helped to set the stage for a new pedagogical agenda in important ways. In the social sciences, scholarship that has long focused on informal institutions has often been relegated to the sidelines across the disciplines. What these protests have shown, however, is that informal networks are in fact the site of grand and revolutionary politics. More specifically, they have demonstrated that social networks and class based mobilization can indeed produce state-level outcomes of revolutionary potential.

These revolutionary movements have also reaffirmed that the locus of study and intellectual attention must be lodged at the global level. The notion that critics of neo-liberalism and economic globalization represent a small and elite centered ideological community rather than a broad based political alliance in the region has been discredited by the thousands who have taken to the streets articulating their own “lived” experience with decades of neoliberal austerity measures. In Tunisia, young men and women have rallied against an economic model that is geared exclusively to European markets and dependent on regionally based low-skilled labour in manufacturing; in Egypt, both service sector informal workers and formal labour have organized against excessive austerity measures; and in Yemen and Sudan protestors have revolted against the misuse of anti-terrorism campaigns that have been responsible for undermining the life chances and political aspirations of a cross section of social groups.

Far from a “marginal” case, the Sudan stands at the very center and not at the periphery of these historic protests. In the context of the upcoming partition of the country, and the unprecedented protests among its neighbours, the Sudanese government’s failure to reform its ruling party and talk with scores of opposition groups is aggravating division and alienating marginal areas like Darfur that threatens to fragment both north and south Sudan. The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of President Omar Beshir has not addressed the root causes of conflicts.  Instead they have stifled debate about the Sudan’s diversity and identity and tightened its grip on power. “Teaching Sudanese politics” must take into account these new regional and local realities. Political developments along the Nile Valley can only be understood in the context of the impact of global economic forces, the role of informal networks and the formation of identity-based politics, and the resurgence of cost of living protests ongoing in Darfur, Khartoum, al-Jizira, the Red Sea region in the north as well as in the southern provinces of the Blue Nile, Unity State, and Equatoria.

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