KHARTOUM - Protests which began more than a month ago in Sudan are ridiculously small, linked to opposition political parties and amount to nothing, a senior ruling party official said on Monday.
In an interview, Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid of the ruling National Congress Party denied the demonstrations have been peaceful and he defended freedom of expression in the country despite concerns raised by Western governments and rights groups over a clampdown on demonstrators and journalists.
"I don't think that these protests have a weight in public opinion. A few people here and there... and coming in one mosque... What is this? Ridiculous!" Ebaid said, laughing.
"We cannot compare what happened here, from (a) few people, like what happened in Egypt or Tunisia or Libya," said Ebaid, referring to the Arab Spring revolts that began in December 2010 against authoritarian rulers in North Africa and the Middle East.
Protests in Sudan started on June 16 when University of Khartoum students voiced their opposition to high food prices.
After President Omar al-Bashir announced austerity measures, including tax hikes and an end to cheap fuel, scattered protests spread to include a cross-section of people, often in groups of 100 or 200, around the capital and in other parts of Sudan.
Public protests have in recent weeks focused on Fridays at a mosque linked to the opposition Umma party in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman.
More than 30 people were arrested there on July 13 when police fired tear gas and beat people, a senior opposition figure said.
"Actually this is propaganda, political propaganda more than actual protests," said Ebaid, who is also an adviser to the minister of information.
"If we look to the numbers of people who led these protests and if we look to the leaders, we can come to the conclusion that this is nothing," he said, laughing again.
During their rallies the activists have repeated a call made by crowds at Arab Spring protests around the region: "The people want the fall of the regime."
Although lasting for an unprecedented month, the demonstrations have not attracted the mass following, in which students played a key role, which toppled military regimes in 1964 and 1985.
Sudanese proudly point to this history which occurred long before the Arab Spring revolts.
While those uprisings led to the election of an Islamist president in Egypt and an Islamist-dominated government in Tunisia, Sudanese protesters are seeking the ouster of the Islamist Bashir who seized power 23 years ago.