Last week, Sudanese military stormed a peaceful sit-in in the capital city of Khartoum, killing hundreds of protesters and crippling the uprising that stood inches from victory and escalating the Sudan crisis.
On June 3, soldiers raided and opened fire on protesters who were demanding a democratically elected government, to succeed the decades-old dictatorial regime that ended with the ouster of Omar-Hassan al-Bashir in April.
Sudan Tribune reported that this came after the suspension of talks with the opposition; after this, the military council members launched verbal attacks on the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and then raided the sit-in area, killing over 100 civilians on June 3, followed by systematic attacks on civilians.
On Monday, the second day of a general workers’ strike, demonstrators returned to stage civil disobedience outside the military headquarters in the Sudanese capital to protest the recent atrocities and continue their quest for democracy.
Thousands of men and women joined civil society group Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has spearheaded the Sudan Revolution since December 2018, in striking — together, they brought life to a standstill to force the pseudo-transitional military regime to hand over power to the people.
Here’s what happened
This comes two months after mass anti-government demonstrations in Sudan led to a mostly peaceful political transition. Military coup-aided large-scale protests had succeeded in ousting Bashir, Sudanese president who had come to power in a coup de’tat and dictated over the Sudanese people for 30 years.
Playing a key role were the women of Sudan, who became the voice and symbol of resistance. They were on the front lines, chanting slogans, leading demonstrators, and cooking for hordes of protesters. They also voiced their anger and demanded a new Sudan where women get an equal share of seats and the Sharia law Bashir instituted is done away with.
Under his rule, Sudan’s economy deteriorated; the country split in two after a civil war in the south; the International Criminal Court had indicted him for genocide in Darfur. Bashir’s closeness to Islamists and terrorists also drew sanctions from the United Nations, making Sudan a pariah in western eyes.
A Military Council was established on April 17 after his arrest, to exercise power for two years, after which elections would be held. Political prisoners were to be released immediately and a state of emergency was to be imposed, said a statement issued by Sudanese Defence Minister and Army Chief General Ahmed Awad ibn Auf. He was subsequently removed as resentment grew over his controversial past, and protests for democracy continued.
But the ongoing situation marks a radical shift in Sudan’s uprising, possibly aided by regional powers who want the army to consolidate its power well beyond two years and stand to benefit for it.
Human rights violations
Reports of rapes during the sit-in and dozens of bloated bodies in the Nile further underscore the role Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE play in escalating the crisis.
The country’s Rapid Security Forces (RSF) has killed at least four democracy demonstrators this week; earlier, 100 died and 700 sustained injuries after the RSF opened fire on them in Khartoum. Hospitals in Khartoum recorded more than 70 cases of rape in the aftermath of last week’s attack, The Guardian reported.
The army has instituted a complete internet and media blackout, while landline connections across Khartoum and sensitive parts of Sudan have been cut. Shops were closed and streets were empty throughout Khartoum and in the neighbouring city of Omdurman, though there was visibly more traffic on the streets than on Sunday, when the strike began.
On Monday, rebel leaders, belonging to the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, were deported after talks collapsed, as the military stepped up street patrols.
Sanna Arman, the daughter of one of the deported rebels, told RFI news agency, “The revolution is not just my dad. There are a lot of other people who are still being detained. A lot of people who have been killed remain unaccounted for. A lot of people have been raped in broad daylight. Sudan is still being held captive.”
The SPA has not relented—it has called upon the Sudanese people to continue the demonstration; it cherishes a hope that the ongoing strike will relaunch an opposition movement severely battered after last week’s brutal crackdown.
The political deadlock, revolution TBC
After Monday’s events, the military council cancelled all prior agreements with the opposition on a democratic transition and announced plans to hold elections within nine months. Protesters rejected that proposal too.
The Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces opposition alliance said it was not ready for more dialogue and demanded that the military hand over power. “The coup council and anyone involved in its crimes since April 11 must be held accountable,” it added in a statement, also demanding dissolution of the RSF.
There are signs of fissures among the opposition too. Sudan has considerable ethnic and religious diversity—the uprising against Bashir included rebel groups from Darfur and South Kordofan, which are more sceptical of the military and have taken a harder line in negotiations, demanding justice for atrocities committed during military campaigns in their regions.
On the other side, the relatively conservative National Umma Party, which ruled Sudan during its last democratic interlude from 1985 to 1989 and endorsed the anti-Bashir protests in January, has been reluctant to push the generals too far. Recently, its leader Sadiq al-Mahdi came out against the Sudanese Professional Association’s call for a general strike, Foreign Affairs writes.
Although Lt Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is the acting head of the transitional council, the real power, experts argue, lies with disreputable RSF commander and frightening figure, Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, aka “Hemeti”.
He is aided by Saudi Arabia, which has sent $3bn in aid to help the troops suppress calls for democracy.
Hemeti’s RSF militias comprise men, some of whom are guilty of war crimes in Darfur. But more importantly, about a 10,000 Sudanese men (and even teenagers) have been sent packing to Yemen, to fight against the Houthis on behalf of the Saudis.
Hemeti, according to Al Jazeera, even met the Saudi crown prince early May and promised to support the kingdom against “all threats and attacks from Iran and Houthi militias”. He allegedly promised to continue sending Sudanese forces to help Saudi Arabia in Yemen.
The Independent asks, “If the Saudis helped Sisi in Egypt with their immense wealth, why not Burhan? What was the $3bn for, other than to prop up Burhan’s own regime, brought to power by national protests over Sudan’s bankrupt economy.”
For Saudi Arabia, anything would be better than parliamentary democracy in Sudan, especially of the Muslim Brotherhood kind that ruled Egypt for a year after dictator Hosni Mubarak’s ouster following a similar revolution in 2011.
There, too, a high ranking military official (Abdul Fattah al-Sisi) came to power on the backs of a military coup, restored dictatorship, and received vast economic assistance from powerful Persian Gulf states. He has been in power since 2014.
US and UN’s meek response
Sisi now chairs the African Union, which suspended Sudan from the regional cooperative alliance last week, purportedly demanding an end to military rule and threatening to sanction the transitional council if it fails to hand over power to a civilian-led authority. The decision opens the door for more regional and international pressures on the military junta, Sudan Tribune claimed last Thursday.
The US, accused of inaction, has finally appointed Assistant Secretary for Africa, Tibor Nagy, as an advisor to facilitate talks between the Sudanese opposition and transitional government.
But there has been no serious policy statement on the massive upheaval in the country, and with President Donald Trump’s close alliance with Salman and Sisi, Sudan does not hold out much hope for decisive American intervention.
No peace-keeping missions have managed to reach yet and very little foreign assistance has arrived to help the injured demonstrators in Sudan, most of whom are women.
Many victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the paramilitaries have not sought medical treatment, either because of fear of reprisals, insecurity in the city, or because care has been limited, The Guardian reported.
Rights group Amnesty International released a statement saying, “The RSF, the special military force which killed, raped and tortured thousands in Darfur, brings its murderous rampage to the capital.”
“Reports that bodies have been dumped in the river demonstrate the utter depravity of these so-called security forces,” it said.
But the United Nations has refrained from condemning the crackdown, save for a brief call to halt handover to abusive forces. Reports claim that Russia and China blocked a bid to condemn the killing of civilians and issue an urgent call from world powers for an immediate halt to the violence, according to diplomats.
The global pressure and attention to Sudan must intensify to prevent the Saudi-UAE axis of autocracy from ruining the country’s chance at democracy.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.