Why the Popular Resistance Must Break the Political Stalemate in Sudan

Image: March in Medani City, 31st May 2022. Source: Facebook Medani Resitance Committee

The Sudanese people marked the third anniversary of the horrific massacre during a peaceful sit-in on Friday 3rd June 2019. Hundreds of thousands came out to commemorate the lives lost. Parents of those young men who were slain joined protests with the intent of showing that their sons had not lost their lives in vain.

That tragic day was followed by a march of millions and a general strike on 30th June 2019. The general strike closed down all the economic sectors and put the army power elite on the defensive. It caved in to sign a transitional agreement with the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), an umbrella organisation of some 22 civil society groups on 17th July witnessed by the African Union, the UN, the US, the EU and League of Arab States. It was legally binding on all the parties.

A Sovereignty Council to rule Sudan was set up where power was equally shared between the Military Council (TMC) and the FFC for a period of 39 months with the military officer chairing for the first 21 months followed by a civilian for the remaining period. This was to be followed by national elections.

A constitutional charter was agreed, signed and sealed on 17th August 2019. This legally binding charter set out all aspects of the transitional to democracy asserting the primacy of law, respect for dignity, equality before the law, the powers of various bodies, the setting up of a legislative assembly, the setting up of commissions (judicial, electoral, etc) and provision for a bill of human rights amongst others. If adhered to, this would have led Sudan towards a liberal democracy peacefully.

A transitional government led by Abdullah Hamdok was installed in September 2019 with a civilian cabinet. The government immediately faced a persistent economic crisis. It turned to the US to lift sanctions. Trump did that in return for Sudan establishing relations with Israel.

The easing of sanctions and the opening up of a credit line through the IMF and World Bank came with the condition of imposing austerity. This aggravated endemic high inflation, further imposing hardship on the already impoverished population. The government has only 16 percent of the national budget under its control. The first attempt by the government to bring the massive commercial assets owned by the military under civilian control failed because of its failure to fully disclose the financial assets held by the military companies.

The continuing economic crisis also gave the military power elite to exploit the weaknesses in the transitional agreement. General Burhan acted as a de-facto Head of State. His deputy Hemeti controlled the economic committee. He also had a free hand in determining foreign policy by signing agreement with regional partners.

The coup by the military power elite on 25th October 2021, just before a civilian was supposed to take over the chairing of the Sovereignty Council, was a fatal blow to the transition to democracy. It annulled the constitutional charter and all agreements for a peaceful transition. The Prime Minister, ministers and civilian political leaders were arrested.

Massive resistance from below followed with millions coming out on the streets and marching. The military as usual responded with excessive violence. Even tear gas canisters for crowd control became lethal when fired directly at the protestors, leading to in some cases blindness. Since the coup there have been 101 deaths and over 4,500 injuries, with eight being paralysed and 35 losing limbs or organs. 

But the popular resistance is undeterred. Democracy has become a great cause, a collective ideal for the Sudanese. It is through this collective struggle that the Sudanese people are discovering who they are and who their enemies are. The trust, if there was any, between civil society and the military was irredeemably broken.

To allay public anger at the coup and the criticism from Western powers, the military released Hamdock on 21st November when both parties signed a 14 point agreement. There were widespread protest against this deal which was rejected by the civil society groups.

In view of the non-cooperation by civil society organisations, PM Hamdock failed to form a civilian government.  He resigned on 2nd January 2022, bringing the second attempt to form a civilian government facade for the military elite to an end.

General Burhan moved on to set up a new Sovereignty Council with self-selected military officers and civilians. He excluded leaders from the FFC, completely indicating his intention of not letting any radical civilian forces anywhere near power. He also set out to rule and divide the civilian opposition.

Of all the opposition forces, the Sudanese Professional Association was a leading force, both historically and in the first phase of the revolution. But the emergence of the Resistance Committees across Sudan since December 2018 has made them the leading force. They are unique neighbourhood grassroot organisations which co-ordinate a range of social activities besides co-ordinating protests in their local areas. They are democratic and non-hierarchical and decisions are arrived through consensus.  They combine together in larger units through representation across cities and states. The over 5,000 Resistance Committees across the whole state of Sudan have become a formidable political force.

The military power elite see the Resistance Committees as a major threat. Members of Resistance Committees across Sudan are being targeted by widespread surveillance. They are intimidated, their houses are raided, they are illegally detained and there have been reports of torture and disappearances. Up to now 1,600 resistance committee members have been locked up.

The United Nations and African Union missions are mediating between the civil society organisations and the military power elite to resolve the situation peacefully. But these missions fail to take into account the realities of power on the ground. The SPA and Resistance Committees have boycotted this mediation, fearful of betraying their revolutionary goals.

Given the betrayal of the military power elite, its use of excessive violence and the sacrifices made by the people, the popular resistance has taken a position that they will not share power with the military. The rallying cry from them is “No negotiations, No partnership, No compromise”. They want the military to be held accountable for the deaths, injuries and rapes. They want reparative justice and the military out of politics and confined to the barracks.

The regional powers Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt are backing the military power elite to the hilt without any reservations. These authoritarian regimes have no wish to see popular democracy in Sudan.

The United States as a hegemon in the region has immense financial leverage over Sudan. Although it pays lip service to democracy, its record of supporting democracy in Africa is abysmal. At best, it has supported managed democracies where parties which are subservient to it get into power. Together with European countries, the US wishes to see a peaceful resolution through the UN mission.

Thus we have a political stalemate in Sudan. The deeply entrenched, parasitic military power elite which stands above society, ruling through clientelist patronage and its monopoly of violence, is faced a popular resistance which wants the military elite to be removed from political power and its wealth being taken into public hands.

The military power elite’s counter-revolution has failed thus far. But it is not inactive politically in seeking ways in which to retain power. It has recently released the bureaucrats of the al-Bashir era who have returned to their posts in key ministries, the judiciary and the media.

It had also started to rehabilitate al-Bashir’s banned National Congress Party (NCP) which had been the Islamic front for the dictatorship and had political committees controlling localities over 30 years. There is talk of it building a ‘broad Islamic front’ rooted in the Arab Islamic identity that has been politically fought for over decades. NCP supporters especially women were allowed to demonstrate during the emergency without hindrance.

The apparent calculation seems to be that the military power elite would call and manage the next election around July 2023. Can there be any doubt that the military, with its control of the media and ballot boxes, will not ensure that its cronies win legislative power? Such an outcome would be a disaster for the popular resistance forces.

Recently, the Resistance Committees have put forward proposals for the formation of a ‘People’s Authority’ which are out for consultation for a final agreement. This agreement seeks to address all the issues about how Sudan will be governed and managed democratically.

However, it not clear how the ‘People’s Authority’ will be formed and through what mechanism.  There seems little doubt in my mind that the popular resistance needs to call a nationwide Constituenty Assembly which will be represent all the civil society organisations.

The aim would be to elect such a ‘People’s Authority’ and to set up commissions for the constitution, elections, transitional justice, etc. Such a Constituent Assembly would unite Sudan politically.

Furthermore, the independent electoral commission the Constituent Assembly sets up should request funding and support from the UN, AU, US and EU for the conduct of free and fair elections. It would decisively put to the test their resolve to support democracy in Sudan beyond diplomatic manoeuvres. 

The ball would then be in the court of the military power elite. If it moves to block the convening of such a democratic Constituent Assembly, it would further lose its moral legitimacy for suppressing a democratic process and open up the possibility of an indefinite general strike from trade unions and resistance forces.

The popular resistance forces will be strengthened by this legitimate democratic move to break the stalemate.  It is time for the popular resistance to act without delay.

First published in Labour Hub on June 18 2022 https://labourhub.org.uk/2022/06/18/why-the-popular-resistance-must-break-the-political-stalemate-in-sudan/