Sudan’s masses defiantly ramp up the resistance against intensifying military repression

Revolutionaries cut down the security forces, armoured trucks, c/o Sudanese Workers Association for the Restoration of Trade Unions

Monday 17th January turned out to be a bloody day in Sudan when seven innocent protestors were killed and about 100 injured during the March of Millions called by Resistance Committees and civil society organisations. 

The Central Committee of Sudan Doctors (CCSD) named the seven protestors who were killed.  Osman El Shareef (40) was shot in the pelvis and right thigh, Hasan Ibrahim (in his twenties) sustained bullet wounds to the pelvis and abdomen. Ishag Haroun (31), Seraj Abdallah (24) and Mohamed Nour (22) were hit in the pelvis, and El Haj Malik (21) and Mudawi Diaeldin (19). This indicates the use of snipers targeting protestors with intent to kill.

Looking at the photos of some of the revolutionaries killed, their smiling faces when alive, I felt deep anger that the generals had exacted their blood price from the Sudanese people to keep their control of the wealth of the country. For the Sudanese, these are the ‘martyrs’ of their revolution, each with a different story and all bound by the cause of Sudan’s freedom from military oppression. Hasan Ibrahim became politically active in 2013 and was a flag bearer for the South Khartoum Resistance Committee. He had a vision of an inclusive Sudan with a civilian democracy free of religious sectarianism, ethnic conflicts and tribalism.

These killings brought the death toll since the coup to 71. All were innocent people cut down by the military in their prime, shattering the lives of their families. Those injured which number nearly 2,000, will carry the handicaps for the rest of their life restricting their ability in every way to live a full life.

Immediately, the Khartoum State Resistance Coordination Committee which is composed of delegates from neighbourhood-based committees issued a call for mass civil disobedience and a general strike for Tuesday 18th and Wednesday 19th January.

There was an overwhelming response to the call. The Sudanese Workers Union for the Restoration of Trade Unions (SWAFRTU) listed 15 unions supporting the general strike.  The Sudan Rail Workers Unions also issued a call for workers to support the general strike. The Forces for Freedom and Change alliance of opposition parties, the Sudanese Professionals Association and more than 20 professionals’ associations in various sectors (health, education, banking, engineering, services, commerce and industry), affirmed their support for the nationwide strike.

On Tuesday, road blocks, protests and strikes spread across Sudan. Activists set up stone and brick barricades across the major roads in Khartoum and the adjoining cities of Khartoum North (Bahri) and Omdurman on Tuesday. Most of the public transport was suspended, leading to a near-complete paralysis of Khartoum.  Protestors set fire to car tyres in some places. Highways and roads from Khartoum connecting it to the periphery, to the east to El Obeid, to the South East to Madani, and to the north to the Egyptian border were all blocked by resistance committees.

In Khartoum, many shops and pharmacies were closed. The outlets in Khartoum’s sprawling El-Sajana market were all closed to mourn the shooting of merchant Osman El-Shareef.  Protestors took to the street in cities and towns across the country to condemn the 17th January massacre in defiance of the state of emergency. The demonstrators carried pictures of the seven “martyrs”. Secondary school students in Bahri also went out on demonstrations.

Lecturers in universities across the country suspended teaching and all activities for two days. In some universities, the administration suspended all studies. Legal advisors employed by the Ministry of Justice suspended all legal services to state agencies and demanded the immediate lifting of the State of Emergency and nullification of all measures implemented since the coup. 

Protests resumed after the two days of nationwide general strike and civil disobedience. On Friday 21st January, Resistance Committees called for a “day for the martyrs” to honour the 71 who have been killed since the coup on 25th October 2021. Thousands of people protested across Sudan, setting up barricades and blocking highways. Rallies were held calling for accountability for those who were killed and punishment for the perpetrators. After Friday Muslim prayers, in certain localities people marched to the homes of the bereaved families to pay their respects.

On Sunday 30th January, mass demonstrations erupted beyond Khartoum across 20 cities in Sudan from East, South to North in response to a call by Resistance Committees.  Barricades and road blocks were set up. Marches took place with the demand that full civilian rule must replace the military coup junta. The military did everything to impede the demonstrations, blocking bridges and the internet. Its tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, stun guns and bullets caused 180 serious injuries and killed Mohamed Yousef Ismail (27) who died after being wounded in the chest.  The death toll since the coup has now risen to 79.

Nearly 100 days have passed since the 25th October coup and the Sudanese people have fought back bravely against the military repression. The coup junta has used all kinds of tactics to suppress the protests and resistance. It continued its massive detention campaign against activists, members of Resistance Committees, lawyers and human rights defenders. Towards the end of January, activists recorded more than 65 detentions in Khartoum, most without due legal procedures.  Across Sudan people are disappearing and reports of torture are emerging. By 10th February, the number had risen to more than 88 (Twitter hash tag #88plus), and marches took place throughout Sudan to demanding the release of detainees. 

Women who have always been at the forefront of resistance have not escaped the claws of the Junta.  A leading veteran feminist  Amira Osman, who is partially paralysed, was arrested by 30 masked men, who raided her home and broke into her bathroom, and taken to an unknown destination.  Other women reportedly arrested include Eiman Mohamed and Dr Zeinab Alamin who was removed from the Royal Care hospital to the security forces’ investigations centre in North Khartoum.

Sudanese people confront a military with the elite generals holding the state captive. They command the technical means of violence and soldiers. On top of this they have built a commercial empire through coercion and plundering from which they derive a stream of wealth shared through clientelism and cronyism. Their corruption rivals anything of this kind managed elsewhere by military parasitism.

The generals are calculating that the people will be intimidated and exhausted after three years. But so far the resistance has not caved in.  They are deploying the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) against civilians fully through surveillance, arrests, interrogations and torture. They are also planning to use counter-terrorism tactics against activists with the intent to label any resistance fighter as “terrorist”.

Simultaneously, they are pursuing the diplomatic track do blunt the impetus of the democratic revolution. Here they have the support of the US, UK and their allies, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt who are no friends of democracy.  The US envoys have visited the generals and also talked to the civilian groups.

Another track of using the UN as a broker has opened up recently.  The hope of the generals is also to divide the civilian movement. The Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) are participating in the UN-mediated process whilst the SPA has rejected participation unless the perpetrators of the coup are excluded from the process. 

However, the chasm between the generals and the civilian organisations is wide. The generals want to ensure that they erect a democratic facade behind which they can supervise the government and wield executive power. The civilian organisations demand that the generals abandon political power to a civilian government, that the military be accountable to the civilian government and the military commercial empire be dismantled.

The emergence of the Resistance Committees as the drivers of democratic revolution is significant. They are a grassroots horizontal network of activists. Ann Alexander’s seminal investigation has identified 5000 or so Resistance Committees across Sudan.  Led by young organisers, they convene open meetings regularly – in tea shops, under trees, in dusty fields and squares. These meetings plan protests and rallies, discuss catering arrangements for their neighbourhoods for provisions, clean-ups, garbage collections, health and education issues, economic policy and draw up political manifestos.

Abdi Latif Dahir, the East African correspondent for the New York Times witnessed the Resistance Committee meeting in the north neighbourhood of Khartoum. In a bare dusty field, about a hundred people – grey-haired in white robes and turbans, mothers with their children, young women and women in jeans and T-shirts – debated for six hours over sweet milky tea and doughnuts how to dislodge the military junta and install democracy.

The Resistance Committees are a new form of social power which enjoy greater social legitimacy than the military state apparatus. They have the potential to be self-governing and coordinating organs which can ‘out-administer’ the state by meeting the needs of their neighbourhoods under the impact of the economic crisis. They have shown the courage to turn away from old formulas and invent a new future

The Resistance Committees are a harbinger for social revolution in Africa and perhaps the rest of the world. They bring to mind Sivanandan’s arguments for building ‘Communities of Resistance’ in Britain against coercive state power and neo-liberalism.  Some Sudanese are making connections with the developments in Rojava, South East Kurdistan, where communities have set up grassroots,  direct democracy with gender equality and ecology at their heart following the vision of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.

The military junta has tried persistently to isolate Sudanese resistance from the world by curtailing access to the press and interrupting internet services to break online communication and social media. To break this isolation, the Sudanese resistance is calling for worldwide solidarity for their struggle for democracy, freedom, peace and justice.

What you can do:

  • Follow independent news from Sudan from Radio Dabanga.
  • Join the MENA Solidarity Network for actions to support the resistance.
  • Follow twitter to get up to date information #KeepEyesonSudan; #SudanCoup
  • Send MENA Solidarity’s model letter calling for the detainees’ immediate release and for those responsible for disappearances, torture and abuse to face justice, to the Sudanese embassy. Copy and paste this text into the contact form or use your own wording: “Dear Ambassador, I am writing to urge the Sudanese authorities to immediately release Amira Osman, Eiman Mohamed, Dr Zeinab AlAmin, Ali Mohamed Adam, Mohamed al-Fateh and all other political detainees. I am deeply concerned to read reports that some of the detainees have been subject to forced disappearance and tortured while in custody. Those responsible must be brought to trial. Yours faithfully” [Please add details of your union branch or organisational affiliation]
  • Call on the British government to stop legitimising the military coup leaders 
  • Pass a resolution in your union branch. A model motion is here.
  • Invite a Sudanese activist to address your union branch meeting. Email with details of the meeting.

First published on the Labour Hub 14 February 2022