The Sudanese must reject a return to civilian-military power sharing. Instead, it's time to renew the revolution
Sudan has been mired in a deep crisis since army general and Chairman of the Sovereign Council General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan staged a military coup late last month, ending two years of partnership between the military and civilian political representatives.
The coup marks a dramatic development in Sudan’s politics following a period of heightening tension between the parties involved in the partnership that was supposed to steer a transitional period before moving to full civilian rule.
Despite Prime Minister Hamdok recently claiming the parties to the power sharing agreement were working in harmony, government ministers were detained and the PM himself was placed under house arrest, amidst a media and a telecommunications blackout.
"It was a classic coup, but it was no surprise: the people of Sudan have been expecting it."
At the time of writing, more than 14 protestors have been killed and more than 181 injured according to the Sudan Doctors' Committee. Leaders of unions and resistance committees have been arrested; the latter representing the strongest mobilising force on Sudan's streets in recent times.
General Burhan also declared a state of emergency and suspended the parts of the constitution that govern the relationship between the civil and military authorities. It was a classic coup, but it was no surprise: the people of Sudan have been expecting this since the inception of the partnership, because they had long seen it the equivalent of sleeping with the enemy.
The Sudanese were on the streets even before the General had publicly announced his coup. The protests swelled on 30 October, a day of huge demonstrations all over the country, as hundreds of thousands stood against the military coup, and against returning to the pre-revolution status quo: "Al-Ridda Mustahila, or Regression (From the Revolution) Is Impossible" has been the most popular slogan of the demonstrations.
From political coup to military coup
The rocky transition period has been characterised by continuous state violence before the coup: all protests since 17 August 2019 - when the transitional government was formed - have been met with brutality from the security forces, undermining freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
These two years have also seen continuing structural state violence: worsening living standards, deteriorating health services and a healthcare crisis that began several months ago.
These issues threw doubt on the reality of the transition process and whether genuine change took place after the removal of the former regime. Indeed, the partnership government clearly adopted the same economic policy as before: the imposition of austerity measures in order to receive aid from international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the IMF.
"The transitional government ignored the reasons behind the 2019 revolution: lack of social justice and impoverishment of society"
The transitional government ignored the reasons behind the 2019 revolution: lack of social justice and impoverishment of society, both of these direct results of austerity policies and the state's decision to remove subsidies for the public sector.
Meanwhile, the military controls extensive assets which it is fighting to keep, while the Sudanese people know that part of the solution to Sudan’s economic woes lies in empowering the Ministry of Finance over the public purse while downsizing military-owned investments and companies.
The transitional government used the same methods as the former regime, constantly attacking the most vulnerable groups, such as informal sector workers. The police state continued its savage pushback against those demanding a genuine transition. New laws introduced round-the-clock surveillance of critics. The status quo in Darfur continued, a region that has faced the brunt of state violence and racism for over 17 years.
Sudan's ruling General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan reportedly told US envoy Jeffrey Feltman on Sunday that the military might move against Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok's government, one day before the coup happened. 👇https://t.co/QGIeHtKjZk— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) October 26, 2021
Instead of dismantling the authoritarian structure of the former regime, that structure has been used against protestors. The police, Rapid Support Forces and army have been committing violations ceaselessly, amid silence from the civilian partners in the transitional government.
From the beginning, many rejected the partnership, suspicious of the military council's intentions, while the revolutionary demands remained clear: an immediate handover of power to a full civilian government and dismantling of the security state.
But a shift occurred after 11 April 2019 from demanding that authority be transferred to exclusive civilian rule to negotiations with the military council, a shift that marked a political coup that ignored the aims of the revolution. The military coup of last month is the consequence.
"Instead of dismantling the authoritarian structure of the former regime, that structure has been used against protestors"
The transitional government never considered the Sudanese masses who brought about the revolution as partners. Instead, it has ignored them and kept them in the dark with a lack of transparency and media blackouts, leaving the cybersphere and traditional media vulnerable to rumours, disinformation, and fake news.
The complicity of the international community
Until now, the international community has pushed for a return to the situation before the coup. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, America and Britain, recently repeated demands for a return to dialogue.
But the pre-coup regime that the international community welcomed was weak. It failed to act in the interest of its citizens and was open to bribery and racketeering. Normalisation with Israel was an example - a deal orchestrated by military commanders for their own benefit. In exchange for cancelling the Israel Boycott Law, they could open negotiations with their Israeli counterparts in search of lucrative opportunities.
The Americans and Russians both seek a location for a military base in East Africa, while the UAE has its eye fixed firmly on Port Sudan. The transitional government allowed them to continue as with the previous regime which sold off the country’s land and its youth to futile foreign wars.
In a misguided attempt to regain leverage, many are promoting a return to the partnership, including the Forces for Freedom and Change whose members are suffering a wave of arrests. They argue this allows dismantling the security state from within, but the past two years have shown this is wishful thinking. Arguments for stability must be challenged with questions about how realistic this is.
No one is thinking "outside the box" of the partnership. All proposed initiatives take the civil-military partnership as a foundation for a political resolution, the partnership which has been tried for the last two years, and proved its inability to listen to the people.
"These initiatives ignore the reality of the current situation: the people of Sudan have been and still are enduring tyranny, killings and abuses perpetrated by their own state"
These initiatives ignore the reality of the current situation: the people of Sudan have been and still are enduring tyranny, killings and abuses perpetrated by their own state.
The Sudanese people have made clear demands at every demonstration and in the statements of the resistance committees: the complete handover to civilian rule. Once again, the political elite is ignoring these demands and pushing for a power-sharing settlement – repeating mistakes, the lessons of which it has clearly failed to learn.
The emptiness of partnership with the military has been exposed, a myth long promoted by Sudanese political parties as necessary to avoid bloodshed and to "ensure the survival of everyone". The reality has been increasing violence, widening conflict, and continuous clashes with the security services at every peaceful demonstration in Sudan.
Meanwhile the political parties have become wracked by internal arguments over the division of appointments. The only people to thrive have been the military and security elite, who have strengthened their positions, building regional and international relationships.
The negotiations behind closed doors, "politics without participation", evokes the first settlement which led to this toxic partnership, when secretive dialogue (encouraged by international mediators) between politicians, professional bodies and the military went on for weeks.
The Sudanese have returned to resistance, the barricades have been re-erected, young people block the main roads across Sudan. Mass civil disobedience has been declared, and the unions have called strikes: tried and tested weapons in previous Sudanese revolutions.
"The Sudanese streets are working to form the political leadership which will enable them to express themselves, not only in protests but also in the political arena"
The people of Sudan appear determined to resist the coup and restore civilian power. "No negotiation and no settlements with the military": the resistance committees demand this, though international mediators are determined to ignore it, exactly as the demands for civil rule were ignored before.
The Sudanese streets are working to form a political leadership that will enable them to express themselves, not only in protests but also in the political arena. They need to become an active political force, to make heard those voices which have always been silenced, and to change how politics in Sudan are conducted: consultations in closed rooms, with wealthy businessmen entering into political life which they direct in their own interests.
The Sudanese people need to build a more comprehensive political process, that breaks the patriarchal domination of politics and its continued exclusion of women, rural people, workers and all who have a stake in building new political horizons which serve everyone. A settlement manufactured otherwise will not bring this about.
Wini Omer is a Sudanese journalist and feminist activist who focuses on Sudanese civil society, social justice and women's rights and protections.
Follow her on Twitter here.
Article translated from Arabic by Rose Chacko
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