revolution in sudan: on the verge of civilian rule?

July 12, 2019
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In Sudan, the popular uprising that brought an end to Omar al-Bashir’s thirty-year despotic reign in April finds itself still fighting against the military junta that took his place. But after a turbulent three months, an agreement may have finally been reached. Much debate surrounds the still-budding accord, and with internet connectivity restored to the country, the Sudanese people’s revolution seems to be at a crossroads. 

Talks between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) have been underway since late April, mired by disagreements between the two parties and repeated violence inflicted by TMC forces on peaceful protesters. But continued pressure brought on by popular outrage and international condemnation — especially following the harrowing events of June 3, when TMC forces violently dispersed the Khartoum sit-in, killing over 100 people and injuring many more — seems to have compelled the TMC to return to the negotiation table. 

The deal was brokered by a joint mediation team from Ethiopia and the African Union, and supported by a host of world players including the United States, and is currently still under revision by the signatory parties. It outlines a three-year transitional period, as well as the structure of the transitional government, led by a sovereign council made up of five civilian and five military members, and a sixth civilian member to be agreed upon by both parties. The agreement also calls for an independent investigation by a national committee into the deaths of protesters since ex-president Bashir was ousted in April. 

Though still unsigned, the people’s representatives, Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) has already pivoted its position to reflect its commitment to the deal. A schedule of resistance activities that was released early last week — and was to include a mass protest on Saturday, July 13 and an accompanying day civil disobedience on Sunday the 14th — has been amended. All mention of civil disobedience has been removed by the FFC organizers, and the language around the mass protest has been changed: it is now scheduled as a memorial march commemorating 40 days since the June 3 massacre. 

In the court of public opinion, the agreement between the people and the military has Sudanese on the ground and across the diaspora divided. Many admit the terms are a departure from the original demand of madaniya (a fully civilian government)  which had become a rallying cry over the recent period. Nonetheless, citizens of Khartoum and other cities across the country celebrated the news in the streets, welcoming the compromise. To many, the agreement meant an end to the bloodshed and intimidation through which the Sudanese people have been living under the TMC’s exclusive rule. It felt like a chance to begin rebuilding the country in the image they had envisioned and fought for. 

Others believe that the agreement proved the movement had “lost”, with the FFC making more concessions than the military. They cited the large discrepancies between the agreement and the FFC’s demands, including the make-up of the proposed ruling sovereign council, which would barely give civilians a majority. Many felt that the deal was a betrayal, an insult to the memory of all those who had given their lives on June 3rd and throughout the seven months of the revolution. At a public forum held by the FFC in Omdurman on the evening of July 5, a group of citizens stood with their backs to the panel in silent protest, holding signs that expressed their disapproval, one of which read, “No to sharing power with murderers.”

Despite the differing outlooks, the people seem to be in agreement about one essential point: the Transitional Military Council cannot be trusted. 

Statements made and actions taken by the TMC since they assumed the position as the nation’s de-facto leaders in April, have shown a complete unwillingness to hand over power. The Council has repeatedly stalled on negotiations with the FFC, citing anything from national security to “slander of the military” as reasons to halt negotiations, shut down the internet and attack protesters. 

In reality, the TMC has made it this far in large part due to the political and financial support it has received from regional powers, such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as the inadvertent legitimacy given to it by the West. However, in the aftermath of the June 3rd massacre, the council began to lose its allies, who distanced themselves, partly in response to the livestreamed horrors the TMC had inflicted, and partly compelled by more powerful, western governments who had started to take stauncher positions against the military council’s actions. The Sudanese revolution had gone viral worldwide, and could no longer be ignored.  

The unbridled violence unleashed by the TMC on citizens on June 3rd, and the subsequent internet shutdown, was meant to silence and terrorize, to be the nail in the coffin of the nonviolent movement. It proved to be the opposite. The Sudanese people responded by taking the initiative and orchestrating nationwide protests on June 30th, bringing millions to the streets in mass dissent against the Council. 

KHARTOUM, SUDAN – June 30: Protesters calling for a civilian government held large protests in Khartoum to commemorate those who were killed June 30, 2019 in Khartoum, Sudan. The protesters stopped in the main airport road facing off with armed forces.(Photo by David Degner/Getty Images).

The ‘Millions March’ of June 30, which was called for and organized by neighborhood resistance committees across the country, was not only responsible for creating the pressure necessary to compel the military council to re-enter negotiations with the FFC, it also returned ownership of the revolution to the streets, where it began. Its success — despite imminent security risk, massive communication and coordination obstacles brought on by the internet shutdown, and without the FFC’s direct involvement — injected a much-needed dose of confidence in the people, and a sense of independence. 

On July 9th, four days after the agreement was reached with the FFC, the Transitional Military Council removed the blindfold from Sudan, and brought the country back online. The restored connectivity allowed for a surge of new footage documenting the atrocities committed by TMC forces on June 3rd and after. It also gave people inside Sudan more insight into the terms of the agreement, and perspectives on it that were not shared on state-controlled media. More importantly, it provided them once again with a platform to exercise their right to free expression.

But the road ahead remains rocky. On the evening of July 11th, the TMC held an emergency press conference, declaring that it had thwarted an attempted military coup by a group of retired and active military officers and security agents. Since April, the TMC has made this claim on four separate occasions, providing little to no proof. So though the perpetrators this time are said to be in custody, the people remain skeptical, with many believing this to be another stall tactic by the TMC, meant to hinder the finalization of the agreement. 

In the early hours of July 12th, another press conference was held, announcing that negotiations — which had never been concluded, contrary to what was previously announced and reported globally — would continue, in order to finalize the remainder of the agreement. 

The final round is scheduled for Saturday, coinciding with the FFC’s “memorial march,” an action that has now been co-opted by the streets, again under the leadership of local neighborhood resistance committees nationwide, and re-labeled the July 13 Millions March. In an interesting twist, the FFC released a statement on its Twitter page mere hours after the press conference, calling for the July 13 protest to demand “justice first” for the martyrs of the revolution. 

It remains to be seen what this Saturday will bring, and whether the TMC and FFC will come to a final agreement. But one thing is for sure: the streets are preparing to speak, and to remind all the political players that they have the final say on the future of this revolution. That they are willing to protect it from anyone, to ensure a bright future for Sudan.