With an agreement announced on July 5 between the Sudanese military regime and the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces, an oppositional alliance of political parties and trades unions, and a transitional government set to be appointed, we look back at the upheaval in Sudan over the past few months.
Although the Darfur conflict was considered to be over and the UN has been withdrawing troops from Darfur since 2017, organisations such as Human Rights Watch based in the UK have urged the UN Security Council to halt the withdrawal of the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in view of political instability following the ruling junta's June 3 massacre of civilian protestors in Khartoum.
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Sudanese protesters crowd a train in Khartoum / AP
Why the Protests?
A pattern of internal unrest and conflict has continued in Sudan since Omar al-Bashir's rise to power following a bloodless coup in 1989. He named himself chairman of a fifteen-member Revolutionary Command Council and signed a decree suspending the Sudanese Constitution and dismissing the country's government.
Exacerbating ethnic and religious differences as president, al-Bashir implemented an Islamist agenda and passed oppressive laws including a penal code that allowed the public beating of women for violating strict dress codes.
Fast forward to 2003 and the onset of the Darfur conflict, when al-Bashir launched a military campaign against the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudanese Liberation Army with the help of the infamous Janjaweed militia. The Janjaweed are alleged to be responsible for numerous human rights violations including torture, murder and rape.
During the conflict, al-Bashir not only allowed the destruction of schools, houses and sources of food and water to starve the opposition in Darfur, but also suppressed public information regarding the government's attacks on citizens, arrests of local journalists, and expulsion of human rights investigators and persons affiliated with other non-governmental organisations.
In 2008, al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court which issued an arrest warrant on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. However, the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor has so far faced non-compliance by the government of Sudan, and other African governments too have declined to arrest al-Bashir.
Due to the lack of support from the international community, the UN Security Council, and the Sudanese government, al-Bashir went on to win his first term as an elected president in 2010.
In 2011, following a referendum, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan. The secession of South Sudan had significant financial repercussions on Sudan's economy as more than 70% of Sudan's oil reserves were located in the south while all the pipelines exist in the north.
This on top of sanctions imposed by the US government led the government of Sudan to impose austerity measures and cut subsidies, leading to a wave of protests put down by al-Bashir who forcibly dispersed protestors, arrested opposition leaders and censored the media.
In 2015 he was re-elected in a vote boycotted by the opposition, and while by late 2017 the US had lifted some of its sanctions the Sudanese economy continued to deteriorate, with inflation reaching almost 70% by the end of 2018. With a fall in the value of its currency in December 2018, the Sudanese government imposed emergency austerity measures and cut fuel and bread subsidies, triggering mass protests across the country.
These protests were initially focused on the increase in prices of basic necessities. Eventually, they evolved into a democracy movement demanding al-Bashir's exit and a change of regime. After Sudan's National Security and Intelligence Services stated that al-Bashir would step down, he declared a national state of emergency, dismissing the federal government and replacing civilian governors with military and security officers.
A mural showing a hand manipulating Sudan like a puppet - Kharotum, Sudan
Counter-revolutionary forces, the "hidden hand" of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt: Arab countries seen as backing the military / BBC
After a week of camping by protestors outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, on April 11 Omar al-Bashir was ousted and arrested by the military. It formed a Transitional Military Council which agreed to a three-year transition period to an entirely civilian government.
However, soon after the agreement was reached, the deputy president of the TMC, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as the 'Hemedti') met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman as-Saud on May 24, and pledged to stand with the Saudi kingdom against all threats.
Following his visit, the Rapid Support Forces which are believed to be the reincarnation of the infamous Janjaweed militia, withdrew the work permits of the Qatari state-owned TV network al-Jazeera without providing any reasons. On June 3, the TMC used the RSF to disperse protestors in Khartoum while they were having a peaceful sit-in protest, on the pretext that they were dealing with 'drug peddlers' and 'petty criminals'.
According to the Sudanese Health Ministry, 61 people were killed in the crackdown, while the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, which is part of the Sudan Professionals Association, said that more than a hundred protestors had died and several people had been thrown into the Nile Ã¢â‚¬â€œ some while they were still alive.
Doctors in Sudan believe that the RSF also raped more than 70 women.
Following the violent crackdown, the Transitional Military Council withdrew from the agreement with opposition leaders and changed the timeline for transition from three years to nine months, thereby leaving very little hope of democratic, free and fair elections with qualified members in contest.
This led to Sudan's suspension from the African Union, and a civil disobedience movement began that led to a two-day general strike. On June 13 this strike was suspended and negotiations began between the TMC and the Alliance for Freedom and Change in Sudan, the principal opposition network.
On July 5 an agreement was announced to set up a presidential council comprised of civilian and military members, none of whom were associated with al-Bashir's regime, and to investigate human rights abuses by the military.Characteristics of the Protest Movement
The principal opposition to the TMC is represented by the Alliance for Freedom and Change in Sudan. This is an umbrella name for several organisations including the Sudanese Professionals Association, the Liberal Party, the Republican Party, No to Women's Oppression Forces, the Forum of Sudanese Tweeters, and Sudan Change Now, which have spearheaded the protest movement and participated in negotiations with the TMC.
Their methods include peaceful sit-ins and marches with people chanting slogans like "Freedom, peace, and justice... the revolution is the choice of the people," "Peaceful, peaceful, [the revolution] against the thieves," and "Just fall, that is all!"
They have also made extensive use of murals and graffiti as a means of showing solidarity.
A mural of a man holding a stringed instrument in Khartoum, Sudan
In the mural above, on a university wall within the sit-in area, a man holds a rababah, which is a stringed instrument used by all Sudan's diverse groups / BBC
Their Declaration of Freedom and Change, published on January 1, lays out the demands and the vision of the protest movement to formulate a democratic Sudan, with institutions that respect human rights and freedoms. The declaration calls for continuing a nonviolent struggle until their demands are met.
The movement is not limited by class, gender or ethnicity. According to Mohammad Aamin, the spokesperson for Sudan Change Now and a student at the University of Khartoum, "the Sudanese revolution is not based on a specific demographic or ethnic group; instead it is represented by cultural decentralization. However, it was obvious since the beginning that younger generations are more involved...
"The December revolution was no exception as younger generations consisting of college and high school students had an essential role in making the masses move towards change. Thus, students and professionals like doctors and teachers have been integral for the success of the protest movement, the movement is not limited to a given cultural identity."
Women's participation in the movement has been extremely significant, which is unsurprising given the central role of women in the ancient Nubian kingdoms of present-day Sudan, where women were queens and queen mothers. Under the oppressive al-Bashir regime women have not only faced economic hardships but were also subjected to gender-based oppression.
They were arrested, detained, beaten or imprisoned for going out with their male friends, not covering their hair in public or wearing what the regime and its supporters perceived to be indecent clothes, such as trousers or short skirts. In conflict areas outside Khartoum, women were reportedly subjected to sexual violence perpetrated by government forces of the Janjaweed militia.
During the ongoing protests women were specifically targeted by the RSF, according to many accounts, with sexual violence taking place during the events of June 3. Yet the women of Sudan have continued to participate. Almost two-thirds of those who have participated in the protests have been women, and photos of women protestors have become emblems of the uprising.
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Sudanese women wave Sudanese flags during a demonstration in Khartoum on June 20 / Umit Bektas, Reuters
Protestors have been successful so far in forcing al-Bashir to step down and bringing the TMC back to the negotiating table after it reneged on their agreement and attacked peaceful protestors on June 3, evidently with no intention of meeting the protestors' demands.
However, several challenges still confront the movement for democracy in Sudan. Besides the violence undertaken by the RSF forces, the TMC has implemented a general internet shutdown throughout the country in an attempt to control the narrative, hamper coordination and prevent the outflow of information about the violence they have perpetrated.
The situation is further worsened by the deteriorating economy which has made undertaking methods like civil disobedience extremely hard for most people.
The Saudi Arabian government's support to the TMC, with a pledge to provide with $3 billion in aid and its heavy investments in Sudan, are another obstacle. The kingdom reportedly has deep ties with the TMC, which supports the ongoing US-Saudi war in Yemen and provides Sudanese troops for the same. These states have an interest in preventing a democratic transition in Sudan as it would set a precedent for an Arab democracy in the region thereby, paving way for the possibility of revolution in their own states.
While the US and other democratic states have urged the TMC to cede power to civilians and prepare for elections, there have been no substantial steps taken by the international community, especially by the NATO governments as Saudi Arabia is an important ally on several fronts.
Internal fissures are another challenge for the protest movement. It has been argued that al-Bashir was the glue holding together the different military factions in Sudan, and the division within the TMC is the proof of the same. The army, the RSF and the intelligence services have different priorities Ã¢â‚¬â€œ for instance, they once supported al-Bashir but during the protests many of them protected the protestors and supported them.
Further, the TMC itself is headed by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan but Deputy Chairman Dagalo, who is the head of the RSF, is the one thought to be responsible for the attack on protestors and the RSF's continued presence on the streets as they reportedly loot shops and rape both men and women, to intimidate the people into abandoning the movement towards democracy. On the other hand, officials of the regular army are not supportive of an ill-disciplined militia like the RSF.
The protest movement itself is facing internal divisions with respect to the methods adopted by its members. The vision of the movement is the demand of a change in regime to a democratic government consisting of civilians, and the withdrawal of military or army control from spaces like media houses and universities.
However, after the massacre of June 3, activists like Ahmad Mahmoud told the press that they are feeling betrayed by the DFC Forces with the recommencement of negotiations, as they believe the TMC is merely a continuation of the oppressive regime, and negotiations are only a way of stalling the revolution.
This view was prevalent among some fractions of the protest movement even before the June 3 massacre.
Despite several challenges the protest movement has continued to sustain itself. This has been possible due to the people's commitment to nonviolent resistance and intersectional politics. The success of the movement is depends on this methodology, and on support from the international community to put political pressure on the TMC to allow a peaceful transition to a civilian government in Sudan.
This may lead to the creation of an African, Arab, Muslim democracy with the potential of having a ripple effect in the region. On the other hand, if the protest movement abandons nonviolent resistance, and if the international community brings yet more pressure to bear, there is a possibility of Sudan becoming the next Libya or Yemen as it plunges into a civil war with foreign involvement.