Sudan's popular resistance
The revolution will succeed

The struggle for civilian rule in Sudan is ongoing. Neighbourhood "resistance committees" are the driving force behind ongoing protests against the now-ruling military junta. Operating at a local, decentralised level, they have begun bundling their forces and coordinating nationally, with the aim of playing a role at the political level. Eduard Cousin reports for Qantara.de from Khartoum

Sudan’s popular uprising began over three years ago. In April 2019, the 30-year long rule of President Omar al-Bashir, who headed an Islamist-military dictatorship, came to an end after months of demonstrations. A transitional government headed by Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok was instated to execute reforms and pave the path towards elections.

The so-called Sovereign Council was established to oversee the government, consisting of both military leaders and representatives from the civilian forces. Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan heads the council. Tensions between the military and civilian factions remained high, which came to a head in a military coup staged by al-Burhan in October 2021.

Ever since demonstrations have returned full force. A new power-sharing deal signed on 21 November between Hamdok and the army was welcomed by the international community, but strongly rejected by the protest movement, which resulted in the resignation of Hamdok on 3 January. Protesters are demanding the army completely withdraw from the political scene.

Demonstrations in the capital Khartoum and various other cities across the country take place at least twice a week and are met with violence by the security forces. Seventy-two protesters (as of 19 January 2022) have been killed since the coup in October, as counted by the Sudanese central doctors' committee; some hit in the head by tear-gas canisters, others shot by live rounds.

Protesting to remove the regime

Qantara.de witnessed two of these demonstrations in Khartoum, where protesters typically march towards the presidential palace. Before the protest commences barricades made of burning tyres and street cobbles are erected along the route of the march, to protect the crowd as much as possible from advancing security forces. People from different neighbourhoods flock to a central meeting point, where the march starts.

Locals prepare to protest in Khartoum against Sudan's ruling military junta, January 2022 (photo: Eduard Cousin)
The stakes are high: ever since the military coup staged by al-Burhan in October 2021, demonstrations have returned full force. A new power-sharing deal signed on 21 November between PM Abdalla Hamdok and the army was welcomed by the international community but strongly rejected by the protest movement, which resulted in the resignation of Hamdok on 3 January. Protesters are demanding the army completely withdraw from the political scene

At the protest, a young man named Coman Said talked about his motivations for demonstrating. For him, the current military leadership is an extension of the regime of former president Al-Bashir. “We are protesting to remove this regime, which has caused a lot of wars since it came to power in 1989, because we are trying to build our nation as a democratic state. Which includes the right of speaking, of expressing and religion.”

A wide variety of flags are held aloft during the march: Sudanese flags, flags bearing the images of protesters killed on earlier marches, as well as flags for each of the different resistance committees participating. These committees emerged organically from the 2019 protest movement against al-Bashir. Like-minded youth began organising meetings in their neighbourhoods to discuss their participation in protests and their political orientation. Ultimately they even began organising certain community services, such as distributing assistance to the poor and cleaning the streets.

"No negotiation, no partnership, no compromise"

The highly decentralised resistance committees operate at a very local level. Khartoum itself already has over 10 resistance committees, plus multiple others in its twin city Omdurman and in other cities in the country. Most of the Khartoum committees have Twitter accounts on which they announce their participation in the protests, the gathering points and march routes. They also direct specific orders: relating, for instance, to barricading streets, leaving lanes within the protest open for motorcycles to transport the injured towards field hospitals and – importantly – refraining from violence.

Protesters in Khartoum march on the presidential palace to demand civilian rule, January 2022 (photo: Eduard Cousin)
"The army is not trustworthy anymore. They violated agreements, shed blood of the Sudanese people, staged a coup d’etat against a civilian government and refused to hand over power. We can negotiate with them today – and tomorrow they will overturn us. How can we negotiate with them?” asks Faisal al-Saeed, spokesperson of the resistance committee of Salha, a neighbourhood in Omdurman

One of the slogans of the protest movement is "no negotiation, no partnership, no compromise". These refer to the military. The protesters reject any negotiation or power-sharing deal with the army leadership. For them, the military coup in October, in which the generals overthrew a government that they themselves had agreed to support, showed that the army is not a trustworthy partner and has no intention of actually committing itself to a democratic transition

"You do not negotiate with someone to remove them from power,” said Faisal al-Saeed (25), spokesperson of the resistance committee of Salha, a neighbourhood in Omdurman, in interview with Qantara.de. “The army is not trustworthy anymore. They violated agreements, shed blood of the Sudanese people, staged a coup d’etat against a civilian government and refused to hand over power. We can negotiate with them today – and tomorrow they will overturn us. How can we negotiate with them?”

A political charter?

The question is: can the resistance committees organise themselves in a way to provide an alternative to the current regime? To this end, discussions are ongoing between the separate committees and several other opposition groups, such as the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), to formulate a joint political declaration that would provide the framework for creating a new technocratic government to take over from the military. “The aim of the political charter is to collect all the civil forces that want to limit the role of the military and form a civil government that will represent the Sudanese people,” al-Saeed said. The charter is meant to be finalised by the end of January.

Meanwhile, the UN mission for democratic transition in Sudan, UNITAMS, has started talks with the military and several civil groups to mediate a way out of the political crisis. The civil forces are sceptical about the role of the UN, however.

Samahir El-Mubarak (31), spokesperson for the SPA, told Qantara.de that they reject the UN initiative because in their view it "equates the military with the civilians" as political actors. “We find this very appalling. Since when does the UN treat armies as political stakeholders?” For her, there is no ‘"political crisis" as the UN terms it, but there is a revolution against a military regime. Even so, the SPA is scheduled to take part in the UN talks. “Our message [to the UN] is clear: the military should be out.”

It is also clear that the military will not give up power easily, if ever. The army leaders have important economic interests to protect, for instance in gold mining, while fearing that they could be tried for the killing of protesters were they to step down. They are showing increasing willingness to use force to quell protests, apparently betting that sooner or later the public will grow tired of the protests and the ability to mobilise people will gradually dwindle. Nevertheless, Faisal al-Saeed remains determined and convinced.

“We know it is not easy to overthrow the current military power,” he said. “But this generation is ready to make all the sacrifices to succeed. The success of this revolution is inevitable.”

Eduard Cousin

© Qantara.de 2022

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