WIDE AN­GLE / People vs. power

Pop­u­lar protests and a strate­gic shift amongst the security chiefs turned the tide against Pres­i­dent Bashir’s 30-year-old regime in April. The mil­i­tary regime that re­placed him opened fire on protesters de­mand­ing civil­ian rule

The Africa Report - - EDITORIAL - By PA­TRICK SMITH in Khar­toum

Su­dan’s pop­u­lar protests and a strate­gic shift amongst the security chiefs turned the tide against Pres­i­dent Bashir’s 30-year-old regime. The se­curo­crats do not want to hand over power and have turned their guns on peace­ful protesters

Thirty years al­most to the day af­ter Chi­nese pro-democ­racy protesters met tanks and gun­fire in Tianan­men Square, Su­dan’s mil­i­tary men were plan­ning a crack­down of their own. At dawn on on 3 June, the junta’s Rapid Sup­port Forces (RSF) raided the camp near the mil­i­tary head­quar­ters in Khar­toum where a con­tin­u­ous sit-in had been go­ing on since the fall of Pres­i­dent Omar al-bashir. As sol­diers shot at the protesters, re­port­edly killing more than 100 civil­ians and in­jur­ing hun­dreds more in the worst vi­o­lence since Bashir’s de­par­ture, video and au­dio flashed around the world, prompt­ing rapid and cat­e­gor­i­cal con­dem­na­tion.

Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Ab­del Fat­tah al-burhan, the leader of the Tran­si­tional Mil­i­tary Coun­cil

(TMC), an­nounced that all deals were off the ta­ble with the op­po­si­tion coali­tion. For him, the sit-in was over; elec­tions would be held within nine months. He blamed the protesters for the fail­ure of the tran­si­tion process.

Despite the out­cry from civil rights groups and con­dem­na­tion by UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res and the United States, ac­tivists have no great ex­pec­ta­tions of out­side forces com­ing to their aid. “We have met the guns and the tear­gas with our bare hands,” said Omer al-di­gair, leader of the Su­danese Congress Party, which is part of the Dec­la­ra­tion for Free­dom and Change Forces (DFCF) coali­tion.

A pro­fes­sional coali­tion

Di­gair, as part of the DFCF, had been ne­go­ti­at­ing with the mil­i­tary over the divi­sion of power on a supreme coun­cil that was meant to over­see the tran­si­tion to civil rule. The com­po­si­tion of the DFCF of­fers some clues as to the con­flu­ence of fac­tors that led the coun­try to revo­lu­tion. Unit­ing pro­fes­sion­als, trade union­ists and stu­dents, it also has the back­ing of those cam­paign­ing against Is­lamist groups such as the for­mer rul­ing National Congress Party. Re­pres­sive of women and po­lit­i­cal free­doms, these are seen as part of Su­dan’s en­trenched ‘deep security state’.

“The num­ber of young people and the women who form the back­bone of this revo­lu­tion, that’s a very no­table thing,” says Di­gair. Ac­tivists in Khar­toum say the so­cial gains this year, em­pow­er­ing women and youth, can­not be rolled back even if the mil­i­tary ob­structs a civil­ian-led tran­si­tion. Now there are plans for a sus­tained civil dis­obe­di­ence cam­paign, seen as a way of spread­ing the revo­lu­tion.

For Di­gair, who was pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of Khar­toum Stu­dents Union in 1985, when an in­tifada top­pled the Jaa­far Nimeiri junta, this year’s demon­stra­tions have his­tor­i­cal res­o­nance. The over­throw of that mil­i­tary leader paved the way for cred­i­ble elec­tions and a civil­ian gov­ern­ment, al­though it only lasted for four years.

When the Su­dan Pro­fes­sion­als’ As­so­ci­a­tion, the co­or­di­na­tors of na­tion­wide protests, called for a mass sit-in out­side the mil­i­tary head­quar­ters in Khar­toum on 6 April to mark the an­niver­sary of the over­throw of Nimeiri, Muham­mad Os­man, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant, thought that maybe a few, per­haps ten, thou­sand would turn up. “I went there my­self to take a look. It was stag­ger­ing. There were hun­dreds of thou­sands of people qui­etly sit­ting out­side Alqiyada al Amaah, the mil­i­tary head­quar­ters and de­fence min­istry [...] the top security zones in the cap­i­tal. By the end of the day, there were over 600,000 people there […]. There was this feel­ing of safety in num­bers.”

The protests, how­ever, had their source 350km from Khar­toum in the eastern city of At­bara, and in Bashir’s cat­a­strophic mis­man­age­ment of his coun­try’s econ­omy. Debt, mil­i­tary spend­ing, the loss of oil rev­enue from the sec­ces­sion of South Su­dan and US sanc­tions caused the gov­ern­ment to make dif­fi­cult choices. It in­creased the price of bread, which lit the spark in De­cem­ber 2018. This is why the sight of a train bring­ing protesters from At­bara, the cra­dle of the revo­lu­tion, to Khar­toum will re­main one of the most en­dur­ing images of Su­dan’s re­cent his­tory.

Ac­tivists from war zones across the coun­try – Dar­fur, Nuba Moun­tain and Blue Nile – also ar­rived to tell the Khar­toum ac­tivists about con­di­tions in the hin­ter­land. Nahid Gabralla of the Seema Cen­ter had been work­ing with vic­tims of the Dar­fur war. She said that she had gone un­der­ground at the be­gin­ning of the year, know­ing she was likely to be a tar­get for the security forces. “We have or­gan­ised this revo­lu­tion at the level of neigh­bour­hood com­mit­tees which pro­vide ser­vices,” she says.

The or­gan­is­ers set up road blocks with check­points. They also set up com­mit­tees to or­gan­ise street clean­ing oper­a­tions. Doc­tors and a lo­cal phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany of­fered free med­i­cal treat­ment.

Bat­tle-hard­ened mili­tias

At the same time, the myr­iad forces os­ten­si­bly un­der the com­mand of Pres­i­dent Omar alBashir started mak­ing their own calculatio­ns. For much of his 30 years in power, Bashir had fos­tered com­pet­ing mil­i­tary fac­tions to stop a ri­val mount­ing a putsch against him in the cap­i­tal. That strat­egy was un­rav­el­ling fast. There are three big groups: the Su­dan Armed Forces, home to Bashir’s orig­i­nal base in the

Protesters from At­bara, where Su­dan’s protest move­ment be­gan, travel by train and on foot to a sit-in at the mil­i­tary head­quar­ters in Khar­toum

(Top photo) Demon­stra­tors carry plac­ards with photos of mar­tyrs of the revo­lu­tion – protesters who were killed dur­ing the sit-in out­side the mil­i­tary head­quar­ters in Khar­toum. Mean­while, ef­fi­gies of the regime’s hard­lin­ers are hung from a bridge (bot­tom right). The protests were marked by a wide range of people from all parts of the coun­try

Mo­hamed Naji al-as­sam, a protest leader, speaks at a press con­fer­ence

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