Sudan's leader has avoided major public unrest for years -- but that could be about to change

Anti-government protestors in Kordofan, Sudan on December 23.

Nima Elbagir is a senior international correspondent for CNN. The opinions in this article belong to the author.

(CNN)A camera phone captures the scene, filming from behind a makeshift shelter. Shots ring out in to the street. In the mayhem, a body drops and you hear shouts in Arabic, "he's dead, he's dead," as a body lies on the ground motionless.

This was one of the first videos to circulate on social media in Sudan in the first days of the demonstrations that began more than a week ago over fuel shortages and a spike in food prices. The footage originates from El Gadarif state in the east of the Sudan where protestors have been demonstrating against the rising cost of living.
It's hard to believe but after the initial first years of entrenchment of rule, the Islamist regime of President Omar al-Bashir has avoided these kinds of public confrontations in urban centers.
The far regions like Darfur and the contested border areas are regularly prey to a miasma of militia and army violence. Much of it still led by the Janjaweed, the dreaded tribal militias accused of perpetrating atrocities to put down an armed rebellion in Darfur. It's now long since absorbed into the government as a formalized paramilitary group -- under the new name of the Rapid Support Forces.
    In the cities and towns though, the interrogations, the regime "ghost houses" and disappearances, which we who grew up in the shadow of this regime remember all too well, are much invoked but not widely utilized.
    Sudanese government officials are still quoted as saying: "You don't want us to return to how we were." But it was usually seen as a vaguely idle threat. Between the sporadic co-opting of opposition forces into periodic national unity coalitions, and genuine geopolitical influence and security cooperation with the United States, the almost three-decade rule of the Islamist regime manages to survive.
    Until now they have rarely faced a genuine existential threat.
    That long-term survival meant that in theory they were safer than ever. The Trump Administration lifted two-decade long financial sanctions in their first year and Sudanese government officials confidently told me they expected to be off the US's state sponsors of terror list very soon.
    Then the economic free fall became unmanageable; overnight, bread more than doubled in price and people took to the streets. Almost three decades of repression and humiliation spilling over.
    Anti-government protestors eject a teargas canister lobbed to disperse them as they march along the street during anti-government protests in Khartoum, Sudan on Tuesday.
    In my life I've only known five years of democracy in Sudan, so when I moved back home after graduating from university in London I didn't really know what to expect.
    My journalist father's exile by Bashir's government had ended after the first of the artificial "Unity government" pretenses. My father believed that he belonged at home in Sudan, that home is where his work and life mattered. I graduated and followed him.
    I arrived to work in his newspaper's newsroom to find that unity government didn't mean any real freedoms. I was going to have to learn to be a journalist in a newsroom with a state censor sitting in our midst. My father's casual courage and epic screaming matches with the security operatives weren't much practical use in helping me find my way but I was lucky that two extraordinary journalists - Khalid Abdelaziz and Yasir Abdullah - agreed to mentor me.
    Both came of age under Bashir's dictatorship and yet because of, or in spite of it, they were both utterly fearless. The first demonstration I reported on was with them, the first time I was tear gassed, the first time riot police detained me and the first time I jumped off the back of a security service pick-up truck and ran.
    They taught me when you should walk away because that particular argument with the government is unwinnable and when to stand your ground and argue back. They laughed at my (still appalling) Arabic grammar and explained which regime officials were true fanatics and which were good for an off the record briefing.
    Last year, Khalid, who now works for the Reuters News Agency in Sudan, got a call from the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) asking if he was planning to cover the called for demonstration against the rise of cost of living.
    The phone call ended without vocalizing the implied threat. Khalid told me he went anyway because it's his job. He was arrested and held incommunicado, his wife and friends frenetic with worry. Just as arbitrarily he was released, but a message had been sent. What small arena of freedoms journalists had been tolerated within had just shrunk. Journalists were once more "the enemy within."
    Yasir now works at a local newspaper - Al Sudani. Yesterday he was standing outside the entrance to the newspaper when a pick-up truck carrying plain clothes security operatives screeched to a stop in front of him.
    Video circulating on social media showed how they tried to force a colleague of his to come with them and Yasir fought back. He also tried to stop the security officers from forcing their way in to the newspaper. He was viciously beaten by five of the men until one of them hit him with the butt of a rifle and he began to lose consciousness, after which shots rang out in Al Sudani's newsroom in an attempt at intimidation.
    He's at home now resting but both Yasir and Khalid will continue reporting because that's what they do. It's their job.
    Anti-government protestors faced teargas at the demonstrations in Khartoum on Tuesday.
    I eventually left Sudan to move back to England, mainly because my father asked me to.
    I'd been reporting on government committed atrocities in Darfur and threats by the government had started accumulating and my father was told by the then-Information Minister that I needed to stop reporting or leave.
    Ultimately, I left because I was lucky enough that I could.
    Out of the three of us, Yasir and Khalid are the better, the braver journalists.
    Theirs is not the kind of story we usually think about often in the West -- "journalists doing their jobs"- but we should.
    It's, thankfully, not the story of some great horror that shakes us and forces us to call for justice. Rather, it is the story of a quiet and resistant bravery. An intrinsic and continuing belief that what we as journalists do does matter, held on to in the face of humiliation and daily aggressions.
    A belief that if people chant for freedom, fairness and justice then their voices deserve to be amplified and heard.
    The kind that wears you down and causes you to doubt your choices, even as you persevere.
    My friends Yasir and Khalid may have been lucky but too many others in Sudan were not.
    This week activists and citizen journalists in Sudan -- at huge risk -- documented the deaths and names of the 37 protestors killed so far.
      They, along with Khalid and Yasir, deserve to have the stories they tell heard.
      They deserve for the risks they take to matter. They deserve for justice to be served.