In Sudan, rumors of a coup or the imminent downfall of the Islamic government come almost as often as the Muslim call to prayer that echoes through Khartoum's dusty streets five times a day.
But nine years after a coup brought to power the Arab world's only revolutionary Islamic government, Sudan's leaders appear to be as entrenched as ever. They say their revolution will outlast mounting American pressure, widespread discontent within the country and an opposition that offers few alternatives.It's an impressive record in a country, one of Africa's poorest, that has suffered six coups since independence in 1956.
"Wishful people in politics, even governments in Western Europe and the United States, they say, `Oh, it won't take more than a few months and this government will collapse,' " said Hassan Turabi, the parliament speaker and ideologue of the government.
"They don't understand history," he said.
Sudan's modern Islamic movement began in the 1960s.
It rose within the brown-brick buildings of Khartoum University along the Blue Nile in the 1960s, eventually playing a behind-the-scenes role in the coup in 1989.
Today, its top leaders serve as parliament speaker and vice president, run the expansive security services and key ministries, wield influence in the military and control banks and companies.
The opposition, most of it abroad, offers little alternative to many Sudanese, fractured as it is by trying to meld the agendas of southern rebels and the banned, traditional parties in the north.
"They know their opponents, they know the political parties and they know how to manipulate them and defuse their threats," said Abdallahi an-Naim, a Sudanese law professor at Emory University in Georgia.
At first glance, the government's staying power is surprising.
Charges that Sudan supports Islamic militants have alienated its neighbors and angered the United States, which attacked the country's largest pharmaceutical plant Thursday. Washington said the strike stopped the production of precursors of chemical weapons.
Already, the United States had added Sudan to its list of states supporting terrorism, withdrawn its diplomats from Khartoum and imposed sanctions that ban U.S. investments in the country.
At home, discontent runs as long as the Nile River that courses 1,860 miles through Sudan.
Riots over electricity - once available half the day but now for as little as two hours - erupted the night before the U.S. attack, capping weeks of protests in Khartoum and other cities.
Students at Khartoum University, which has long given birth to bouts of political upheaval, poured into the streets this month in anger over housing costs that more than doubled to about $25, the monthly salary of a civil servant.
A law student died in custody - according to students, his skull was crushed and his leg was broken - unleashing several more days of demonstrations in Khartoum and his hometown of Wad Madani.
"Not only students but most people are against the regime," said W.W. Ibrahim, a 25-year-old law student. "But I can refuse the government only with my tongue. It's the one with the weapons."
It's also the one with the organization, a vast and mobilized network of committed activists that leaves the opposition in awe.
On the night of the attack, the government organized a crowd of hundreds at the U.S. Embassy by 11 p.m. - about three hours after the strike - a time when Khartoum's streets are usually deserted and transportation is scarce. Its ministers flew that night to Sudanese cities, organizing protests from southern to northern Sudan.
Repression, too, is rife, and many Sudanese dissidents attrib-ute the government's success to the fear bred by a police state garbed in the legitimacy that Islam conveys among religious Sudanese.
"The government uses Islam like it uses a rifle, to protect its interests," said Ghazi Suleiman, a lawyer and leading dissident.
Sudanese are outspoken and cherish a long-standing tradition of tolerance and dissent. The fact that the government permits some opposition, however limited, may be its saving grace.
It seems reluctant or unable to step up the pressure further. Amputations under Islamic law are rare, and arrests are typically brief and less numerous than in past years, dissidents say.
Newspapers criticize a constitution the government devised in June, and state-run television organizes call-in shows in which officials are berated for electricity cuts and water shortages.