Category Archives: Sudan

Sudan’s democratic revolution stands at a critical juncture

Image: Revolution in Sudan. Author: Esam Idris, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The resignation of Prime Minister Hamdock on Sunday 2nd January has removed the proverbial fig leaf of the military behind which it could control the democratic transition.  At last, we have two forces now contending for power, the unarmed people and the armed generals.

The 14 point agreement signed by Hamdock and the generals on 21st November 2021 after his release from house arrest received a firm rejection by the political parties and the civil society organisations, the doctors committee and Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Resistance Committees. Such was the angry civic opposition that Hamdock could not form a civilian cabinet. 

The transitional framework since 2020 under Hamdock was favoured by all the foreign powers – the US, United Kingdom, European Union, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. It was also supported by the United Nations Secretary General, the African Union, the IMF and the World Bank.

But the transitional agreement, the constitutional declaration and the Hamdock agreement were all deeply flawed because they did not address the issue of executive control by the military, its control of key ministerial posts and foreign policy, the accountability of the generals to civilian government for the violence unleashed and the military control of the economy.

There have been daily mass demonstrations and the last march of the millions on Thursday 6th January was one of the more than ten major nationwide protests since the coup on 25th October 2021. The message from the demonstrations could not be clearer. They want the generals out of political power and returned to the barracks. They want no compromise and no negotiations with the military. They want a civilian government.

The military response is fairly standard now. Swamp the protestors with tear gas. Often fire the projectiles directly at protestors deliberately causing death and injuries. Use live fire when under pressure. Shut all the bridges across the Nile connecting Khartoum with other cities. Shut down the internet and social media. But this has not stopped the protests.

But that is not all. In many neighbourhoods, the generals are using “more than excessive force” by deploying the entire security apparatus to suppress the protests: the army, security forces, police, anti-riot police, paramilitaries of Rapid Support Forces, the Central Reserve Police and the General Intelligences Services.

Under the state of emergency, the plain clothes General Intelligence Services has been raiding homes, arresting activists of the resistance committees to prevent them from organising. We still have no idea about how many arrested, at what locations they have been detained, under what conditions people are kept – whether they are kept in solitary confinement or being tortured.

Joint security forces are also reported to have raided hospitals, pursued injured people to detain them and hence prevent them from getting medical care. On 6th January they stormed into Al Arbaeen Hospital the second time assaulting patients and staff. The Emergency Department of Khartoum Teaching Hospital was also raided and gas canisters thrown into the building. 

It is quite common in the media to have a death count after the coup of 25th October. This stands at 62 on Sunday 9th January. But that is to ignore the nearly 700 injuries recoded within a month after the coup. This figure would be much higher after nearly three months.  Also forgotten are casualties of at least 246 deaths and more than 1,350 injuries by mid-July 2019. This incomplete record is unprecedented in Sudan’s history of uprisings since independence, with a handful of casualties in 1985 and around a score in 1964’s uprisings. 

Women have been at the forefront of the Sudanese democratic revolution. At any protest you can see them in groups raising the victory sign. So ‘patriotic’ soldiers of Sudan sexually abused women to drive them away from the protests. On Sunday 19th December, 13 girls and women were alleged to have been raped.   This aroused memories of 70 women who were raped during the 3rd June sit in which resulted in the Khartoum massacre by the Rapid Support Forces. Women have come out publicly protesting against sexual violence. No soldiers have been held to account for these infamies. 

The violence that was perpetrated in Darfur has now come home to Khartoum and Omdurman. The Sudanese people are not prepared to forget and forgive these atrocities. They want the army to be held to account.

Strikes have been a weapon to defy the military since the inception of the December Revolution in 2018.  Recently, important struggles have developed in some workplaces. Thousands of court workers went on strike between 2nd and 6th January, demanding a rise in their bonuses to cope with the escalating cost of living. Workers in the Bank of Khartoum have been demanding pay rises for the same reason. The bank was privatised in 2010 with 70 percent of its shares held by the UAE Bank of Abu Dhabi, with money flowing into the pockets of privateers. To clamp down on the mobilisations of bank workers, the management has sacked 200 workers and 500 more are at risk. These struggles have sparked off solidarity campaigns to bring together the strikers and the activists of Resistance Committees. The Sudanese Workers Association for the Restoration of Trade Unions (SWAFRTU) is reviving a united independent working class movement away from the grips of the establishment.

The Sovereignty Council formula was adopted for the transition after the fall of al-Bashir following the tradition established after the October 1964 revolution, which brought down the government of Major-General Abboud, and the 1985 military coup against President Nimeiry. Given the failure of all the transitions after the overthrow of a military dictator, this approach is flawed because it leaves with the generals the executive control of the Sudanese state.

Since 2019, this executive power of the generals has been on display. When it was on the defensive just after 2019, they were ready to sign a power sharing agreement to give them time. When a civilian was to assume the chairmanship of the Sovereignty Council, then the Prime Minister and ministers were arrested and the civilian government dissolved. Then the Prime Minister was reinstated with a new agreement. Al-Burhan and behind him the military council had total executive power.

The generals are continuing a long tradition of 52 years of military rule during which they have captured the state power.  They are a military capitalist stratum with a monopoly over the economy as well as of violence. Their declamations are ‘security’  ‘no chaos’, ‘stability’ ‘public order’, all uttered to preserve the existing order. The rich Sudanese with landed property, real estate, businesses would support the generals. The elite officer class has deep links with the oligarchy.

They want a government of technocrats which they can supervise.  Now the generals want a caretaker civilian government which can take decisions during the transition to the elections to be held sometime in 2023. Until then they do not want to transfer all executive power to a civilian government.

The generals are making calculations as to how to resolve the crisis. They could play long with the mediation efforts till the civil society gets tired of coming out on the streets. If all this fails, they​could unleash terror on civil society.  The government that emerged under al-Bashir after the 1985 uprising used brutal measures against civic society. When the Doctors Union went on their second strike, Mamoun Mohamed Hussein, its president, was executed. Meanwhile, all professional unions were dissolved and government-controlled replacements created. Activists were sent to infamous ‘ghost houses’ to be tortured, and over 70,000 government employees were dismissed.  He silenced civil society for three decades using the National Congress Party and the Islamic movement.

Here is the dilemma for civil society. How is the civilian government to be formed? Through what political mechanism? Who will assure that such a government would represent the people? How would political and economic power be wrested from the generals?

Hamdock when departing, suggested a round table conference bringing all the parties together to resolve the disputes and find a solution. Recently a committee of several university directors are integrating eight proposals from civil society organisations to end the political stalemate.  The UN has just launched a mediation process to bring all the parties to the table.

There are legitimate concerns that such mediations are there to undermine the democratic revolution.  There is an option not yet on the agenda: the election of a constituent assembly to represent the people of Sudan. Such an assembly would take power on behalf of the people. It would elect a representative civilian government, set up committees to formulate a new constitution, budgetary control, other issues such as accountability of the army and the economic control exercised by the army.  The demand for a constituent assembly would be revolutionary. It could galvanise Sudan and address the crisis of representation.

Such is the challenge faced by civil society against the military’s state capture. Political agitation and mobilisation should relentlessly highlight the corruption by the military, the economic strangulation of the nation, the economic stagnation of the country, on how developmental needs of the people in terms of health, education and jobs have been sacrificed to feed the bloated military.

The opposition needs to ensure that the military loses its moral legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the Sudanese workers and peasants and lower middle classes. The urban movement has to connect with rural movement. All sectarian tendencies will need to be eschewed. The lessons from the previous uprisings in 1965 and 1985 need to be learnt to avoid the pitfalls. If they unite, organise and fight, the people of Sudan will win their fight for democracy.

Take action now:

First published on Labour Hub 12 January 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2022/01/12/sudans-democratic-revolution-stands-at-a-critical-juncture/

Three years on, the Sudanese people are determined to fight for democracy

Why we must oppose the subversion of the Sudanese democratic revolution by the military and foreign powers.

Sudanese women protest against President Omer Al Bashi in 2019. Author: Ola A .Alsheikh, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

On Sunday 19th December, the Sudanese people marked the third anniversary of their revolution for democracy by tens of thousands coming out on the streets in cities across the country.  The revolution shook Sudan politically, drawing in millions to fight to change the stultified political and economic order dominated by the Sudanese military.

As usual, the police and the military blocked bridges to prevent free movement of the protestors, especially in Khartoum, so that protestors in north Khartoum and Omdurman could not join the march to the presidential palace. Nonetheless many protestors from Omdurman forced their way across one of the bridges and others bussed in from the countryside. Needless to say, the internet and social media were blocked to stop people from organising.

As they moved to the presidential palace to occupy it, the protestors were met with a relentless barrage of tear gas canisters and grenades and beaten back. It is easy to assume that such non-lethal weapons are safe for the civilians. Unfortunately this is not the case.

Robust field reports with verification from the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors reveal that from the 25th October coup to 30th November, there have been 698 injuries. While there were 186 injuries caused by live fire resulting in 42 deaths, the largest number of injuries (330) were caused by tear gas. A significant number of these (193) caused trauma due to direct impact of blunt projectiles on protestors. Of these, 33 impacted on victims’ heads and four caused injuries to the eyes, one of which led to the loss of an eye. This indicates that the Sudanese security forces have often fired tear gas canisters and grenades directly at protestors to cause injuries.

The report by Sunday’s Observer highlighted the case of Amani Galal who lost her right eye to a canister fired by the security forces as they tried to break up a demonstration in 2019.  In spite of the life-changing injury, she has never missed a demonstration or a single protest over the last three years. After having fitted a prosthetic eye in Russia, she started an NGO with the aim of getting treatment for the injured overseas. There are 457 people on her list just from Khartoum with injuries from live bullets.

Such determination from activists is admirable and reflects their courage. They are not prepared to forget the deaths, injuries, rapes, imprisonments and trauma inflicted by the army on innocent unarmed civilians. Their sufferings and struggle are a testimony to their long struggle to wrest power from the military and to hold it to account for the terrible violence over decades.

Over the three years, the Sudanese people have taken to the streets in protests continually. Workers, doctors, teachers, university students, school students, and women have become politically active.  There has been a massive resistance from below organised by the Resistance Committees which has been met by bloody repression.

On one side is the unarmed power of the people whose demand is that the military should be removed from political power and a civilian government take over. On the other are the generals of the Sudanese military who want keep the status quo in whatever guise. How is this contradiction to be resolved? This resolution will decide the future of Sudan for decades to come.

A review of the developments following the December Revolution in 2018 which toppled the 30 year dictatorship of al-Bashir attests that the generals had pulled all the tricks available to them to undermine the transition to democracy. When on the defensive in 2019, the generals signed up to the transitional agreement and the draft constitutional document paving the way to a democracy. But just when a civilian chair was take over the Sovereignty Council they carried out the coup in October 2015.

General al-Burhan dissolved the Transitional Council and appointed self-selected persons and organisations excluding the civil society organisations represented by the Forces for Freedom and Change. This move was clearly to sideline social forces that were fighting for change and wanted to hold the military to account. His deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka -Hemeti) openly stated that the coup was the best way forward. With his violent militia Rapid Support Forces now integrated in the army, he is the greatest threat to Sudanese democracy.

The Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdock who took over in September 2019 was arrested with all the cabinet members and political activists. After successive massive public protests, he was reinstalled as the Prime Minister on 21st November with a brief to lead a technocratic government which will, no doubt, be supervised by the military. What is the aim here? To take politics out of government, to neuter it. It will not be a government which will have a broad representation of different social forces of Sudanese society.

The UN secretary-general has urged the Sudanese people to support reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok so the country can have “a peaceful transition towards a true democracy.” The African Union which has mediated the power-sharing agreement has also backed the deal. The regional powers Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt have backed the military during the crisis and are fountainheads of counter-revolution in the region.

The US has developed considerable leverage on Sudan since the December Revolution. With the World Bank and IMF, it has suspended all aid to Sudan following the coup. Hamdock, a technocrat, has been the centrepiece of the US policy in Sudan with whom an austerity reform programme was agreed, tied to aid. It has yet to make a decision to fully back Hamdock now that he has been reinstated. Given its record of supporting the military dictatorship in Egypt and anti-democratic palace power system in Saudi Arabia and the  UAE, one has to be wary.

This does not bode well for the democratic revolution in Sudan. All calls for stability and security of Sudan lead to the status quo, with the facade of a technocratic government behind which the generals will maintain their stranglehold. The military has been entrenched in power for 52 years since Sudan’s independence in 1956. It has a vast economic empire. It drains most of the wealth of the nation at the expense of the welfare of the people. It is deeply corrupt. Its rule has been a disaster for the people of Sudan politically, socially and economically.

The Resistance Committees consider the position of the international community a betrayal of their democratic revolution. They have urged the US to withhold financial aid which could end up in the pockets of the military. They reject the deal agreed between the generals and Hamdock. Through their suffering and struggle, their vision for a democratic Sudan has solidified.

We must say no this subversion of the Sudanese democratic revolution and offer international solidarity for the resistance movement.

What you can do:

  • Join the hundreds of participants at the recent conference in solidarity with the Sudanese Revolution by adding your name to a statement condemning the military coup and supporting the revolution. Add your name here: https://forms.gle/p5SWbyBmKsvidBJq6
  • Invite a Sudanese speaker to your union branch meeting – contact action@menasolidaritynetwork.net for details.
  • Pass a resolution in solidarity with the Sudanese uprising in your trade union branch, calling on the British government to end all forms of cooperation with the Sudanese military and to work towards bringing those responsible for the killing of protesters to justice.

First published on The Labour Hub on December 27 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/12/27/three-years-on-the-sudanese-people-are-determined-to-fight-for-democracy/

The Sudanese Revolution continues

Yet again, the military in Sudan is attempting to crush a transition to democracy

The coup

On Monday 25th October, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) shredded the transitional agreement signed on 17th July 2019 which was to usher Sudan towards a democracy led by a civilian government over a period of 39 months. It swept away the Constitutional Charter signed by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the TMC agreed in August.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the TMC dissolved the power-sharing Sovereignty Council, dismissed the transitional government and the regional governors and declared a state of emergency.

The December revolution

From the beginning in 2018 and through 2019, the military was on the defensive. Waves of protest erupted across the country in January 2018 against the rise in bread and fuel prices. They continued to grow and peaked in December, demanding an end to poverty, corruption and unemployment. In this December Revolution, calls for President al-Bashir, who ruled for 30 years, to step down became louder.

In February 2019, al-Bashir declared a state of emergency and sacked the cabinet and regional governors in a bid to end weeks of protests against his rule, in which up to 80 people died.

Talks between the generals and protest leaders broke down. Sudan’s military removed al-Bashir from power, suspended the country’s constitution and closed its borders and airspace.

The TMC took over but thousands of protesters camped in front of the army headquarters, demanding civilian rule.  A three-month state of emergency was also imposed.  The Military Council began talks with opposition on the transition to democracy.

On May 28th and 29th 2019, workers launched a countrywide political strike against the military regime, with the strikers and protesters demanding civilian rule, undeterred by military threats.

Bloody repression

But the military crackdown continued unabated. It reached its high point with the massacre in Khartoum when the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) launched an assault on the sit-in in front of the military HQ using tear gas and heavy live fire on 3rd June.

An estimated 120 were killed and hundreds of unarmed civilians were injured, with hundreds of unarmed citizens arrested and many families terrorised in their homes across Sudan.

By mid-July 2019 there were at least 246 deaths and more than 1,350 injuries, an unprecedented historical record compared to other similar uprisings in the country.

On 30th June thousands of people protested across Sudan in a day of mass marches and protests in response to the call by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA)  and the FFC for a “miliyoniya” – a millions-strong protest to demand the handover of power to a civilian authority.

Power-sharing

The military caved in under internal and international pressure to agree to the power-sharing structure by signing the transitional agreement and the draft Constitutional Charter setting a road map whereby the new government would ostensibly bring Sudan’s economy back from the brink of collapse, achieve peace, build new institutions capable of combatting corruption and delivering justice, and pave the way for a new, permanent constitution and credible elections.

The transitional government under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok took power in September 2019.His cabinet inherited the economic crisis. The economy had been battered by years of US sanctions, after the US designation of Sudan as a supporter of terrorism in 1993, and was heavily indebted. It was also dominated by a small class of al-Bashir’s cronies. The spread of COVID-19 compounded the difficulties.

In December 2020, President Trump removed Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list in return for Sudan normalising its relationship with Israel.  The United States further enabled $50 bn debt relief and $ 2.4 bn funding by June 2021 through the IMF and World Bank.

In return theHamdok administration implemented the agreed economic austerity reforms which included cutting back on subsidies and balancing the budget. Inflation went through the roof and by July 2021 stood at over 400%, increasing the hardship in the living conditions of many Sudanese, which were already dire.

These problems gave the military an opportunity to stir public discontent. It tried its utmost to stall economic reforms since it controlled the key sectors. Hamdok expressed his frustration that only 18% of the state’s resources were in the hands of the government. The generals publicly decried the ineptitude of the civilian administration.

During the 20 months with al-Burhan as the chair of the Sovereignty Council, the TMC took full advantage of the weaknesses in the transitional agreement.  Al-Burhan began acting as de facto head of state. His deputy, Hemeti, headed the civilian government’s Economic Committee, and also became chief peace negotiator with rebel factions. The generals even ventured into foreign policymaking, including involvement in foreign wars and pacts, and, most controversially, agreeing to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, without the knowledge of the civilian cabinet.

Planning for the coup

By July 2021, the generals were emboldened. When al-Burhan was just about to hand over the chairmanship of the Sovereignty council to civilian leadership, he went on the offensive. The generals had used this period to prepare a restoration.

Its allies mobilised the Beja tribe in eastern Sudan to blockade the main highway linking the main commercial seaport Port Sudan on the Red Sea and the rest of the nation. This caused severe bread shortages. The military refused to dismantle the blockade when the civilian government asked it do so.

On 21st September the authorities announced that there had been a coup attempt which had been averted. Shrewd political analysts thought that this seemed to be a ‘trial balloon’ set up by the military to gauge the public response to the ratcheting of tensions between the military and the civilian transitional government.

On 16th October security forces allowed several thousand demonstrators to be bused into Khartoum, as far as the gates of the presidential palace, where they openly called for a military takeover and the overthrow of the Hamdok administration.

In response to this, pro-democracy forces organised a mass protest on 21st October. Thousands of supporters of Sudan’s transitional government took to the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and other cities.

Arrests of civilian government officials

The security forces arrested Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and members of the transitional government, officials and political leaders. 

Al-Burhan, announced that he had taken this action because he wanted to avoid a civil war because of civilian factionalism. He promised to hold elections in July 2023 and hand over power to an elected civilian government then. He alter went on to claim that there was no coup and that the Sudanese army had not killed any protestors.

Behind him stands his deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemeti). He has been at the head of the Rapid Support Group (RSG), the Janjaweed tribal militia that carried out massacres in Darfur during Bashir’s reign. His group has been integrated into the army as a militia within the military. The RSG was responsible for the massacre at the sit-in on 3rdJune.  He has a close alliance with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He projects himself in a high-profile foreign policy role and is regarded by some in Sudan as the country’s strongman.

Resistance from below

The announcement of the coup brought thousands of people out onto the streets of Khartoum spontaneously to demand the release of the political leaders.  Protestors opposed to the military takeover carried the national flag and burned tyres across the city. Youths barricaded streets. Soldiers stationed on the streets of the city to restrict movement clashed with protestors. A large number of protestors were arrested.   By the next day, at least seven anti-coup protesters were killed and 140 injured due to excessive force used by the country’s security forces.  The main opposition coalition, Forces of Freedom and Change, called for peaceful actions in the streets to overthrow the military takeover

Massive organised resistance from below was to follow. The call for a million to march on 30th October saw around four million people protest in nearly 30 cities across Sudan. Workers went on strike to shut down transport, oil fields, banking and most public institutions. Many women joined the street demonstrations. Teachers, university and school students also walked out.

The real drivers of the resistance are the Sudanese Professional Association which unites workers’ professional associations and unions and the neighbourhood Resistance Committees

The SPA emerged by stages during the 2010s from the struggles of professional groups: in turn, doctors, journalists, lawyers, veterinary surgeons, engineers, and school and university teachers. 

Neighbourhood Resistance Committees emerged as a leading force in 2018, mobilising millions of young people using this network-based form of self-organisation independent of political parties. They have been formed in major cities and rural communities, bringing together a broad coalition of activists drawing in the previously unorganised.  For example, Bahri (North Khartoum) is thought to have nearly 80 resistance committees, each with several hundred members. These grassroots committees have established local coordination committees; they reject any kind of centralisation and are keen to preserve their autonomy. They not only organise street protests but also provided food distribution, medical services and much more in some areas.

As usual the main bridges in Khartoum were closed by the military and there was an internet blackout to prevent the opposition from organising. Meanwhile the military used the state TV and social media to control the narrative.

For months, al-Burhan has been advocating the need for a technocratic government. Hamdok is a technocrat who has worked for many years for the UN, most recently as deputy executive secretary of its Economic Commission for Africa. Many are advocating he should serve as a neutral figure and lead such a government.

Sabotaging civilian rule

However, the real intention of the generals is to ensure that there is compliant neutral government that does its bidding and avoids accountability. They want to take politics out of policy decisions especially financial matters. They want to de-radicalise the new resistance forces, to divide and sideline them.

This is what they exactly did on 11thNovember, by appointing a new Sovereign Council with self-selected members of the military and civilians including ex-rebel leaders. Al-Burhan would lead the council with Hemeti as his deputy. The FFC representatives were totally excluded.

Divisions have also appeared in the FFC about strategy, tactics and inclusion of different political currents. It came under criticism for delaying the creation of a Transitional Legislative Council by more than two years.

Protests broke out across the country and on Saturday 13th November, another ‘million-people march’ saw huge protests across the country despite the military using live fire which resulted in fatalities. Protestors have been undeterred by this repression and have continued to make demands by being on the streets. The rallying cry now is “No negotiation, no partnership, no compromise.”

On 21st November, Hamdok was released and he signed a 14 point agreement with al-Burhan restoring him as the Prime Minister to lead a technocratic government. The calculation the generals are making is making that they would still be in control of the transition Sovereignty Council behind the facade of the technocratic government.

On the face of it, this may seem a retreat but is more likely a tactic to allay the street protests, influence public opinion and relieve international pressures.  The agreement has been angrily rejected by major networks of Resistance Committees, who have stated, “This agreement means nothing, we continue to hold to our position: no negotiations, no participation, no settlement.”  The Resistance Committees stand by the radical demands agreed by their gathering on 22nd October.  The SPA has also stuck by similar demands agreed on 30th October.  Both are in no mood to compromise – they want the overthrow of the military regime, full power to a civilian government and accountability of the military for killings and war crimes.

On Thursday 25th November, thousands of protestors were out on the streets across Sudan to pay tribute to the 42 people killed, according to medics, in the crackdown against anti-coup demonstrators. Demonstrators in Khartoum chanted slogans such as, “The people want the downfall of the regime”, while in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman others shouted, “Power to the people, a civilian government is the people’s choice.”

On 26th November, in an exclusive interview with Al-Jazeera, Hemeti said that Hamdok was aware of last month’s military takeover before it happened and was “completely agreeable” to it. This suggests that all the orchestrated manoeuvres to arrest Hamdok and then to release him, reappoint him as the Prime Minister were to give him legitimacy for independence.

Many Sudanese activists foresaw this as a part of process to “manufacturing consent”  to secure public opinion in favour of a return to peace and stability from the turmoil of the last two years.

The deep military state

If there is a secret ‘deep state’ in Sudan then the army is at its heart.  The military, trained by British colonial authorities, has ruled Sudan for 52 of the 64 years since independence from the British in 1956. The military generals have ruled the country intermittently for significant periods – Abboud (six years) Nimeiry (16 years), al-Bashir (30 years), each time overthrowing transient civilian governments. 

Besides having the technical armed power, the military stratum exerts immense political influence on national life in Sudan. Over a long time, this stratum is politically and organisationally centralised. Despite the factions within this stratum, the army has become the fundamental institution, just as in Egypt and Algeria.  Military supervision of government is the keystone of the ‘system’ that ‘the people want to bring down’ (a common slogan of popular uprisings in the region). As a part of the ruling class, it could not have done this without a compact with the landowners, business classes, industrialists, bureaucrats, etc.

The military economic empire

At stake is the military’s control of the economy beyond its massive call on public spending at the expense of public spending. Over 60% of state spending goes on military and security spending, according to IMF and World Bank estimates. Official budgetary allocations put security spending at five times the level of health spending and 35 times the budget for education.

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) amassed extensive commercial holdings under al-Bashir. The crown jewel of the military’s commercial empire is the Defence Industrial System (DIS). It was launched as the Military Industrial Corporation in 1993, to safeguard against potential disruptions of weapons supplies from Western governments by developing arms manufacturing capabilities.  Over the past several decades it diversified and expanded significantly without any transparency about its holdings, operations and revenues.

Today military and security services are running a network of companies with billions of dollars in assets. These military enterprises are involved in the production and sale of gold and other minerals – marble, leather, cattle, and gum arabic. They control 60% of the wheat market.

This commercial empire stretches across key sectors such as construction, real estate development, contracting, water supply, banking, transportation, aviation, tourist facilities telecommunications and the manufacture of household appliances, pipes, pharmaceuticals, detergents and textiles.

Even the RSF with Hemeti at the helm have built up secret independent sources of wealth. They have captured a large part of the country’s gold industry through a linked company, but the leaked bank data and corporate documents show their use of front companies and banks based in Sudan and the UAE. It has also earned significant sums from hiring out troops to fight alongside Emirati- and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen (as has the SAF) and Libya. Its contribution of just over $1 billion to the Central Bank of Sudan to support essential imports in 2019 gave a sense of the volume of the RSF’s reserves.

Besides all this, all the companies held by the SAF and RSF are exempt from paying tax and operate without transparency about their holdings and revenues.

Moves towards military divestment

It was at this time critical that the U.S. Sudan Democratic Transition, Accountability, and Fiscal Transparency Act (SDTAFTA) came into force on 1stJanuary 2021. This required that the Sudanese authorities establish civilian control over the finances and assets of the security (encompassing the military) and intelligence agencies.

An agreement was reached in March 2021 between the government and the armed forces for a gradual divestment of the army from the economic field and transfer of military companies to civilian state authorities.  The stumbling block has been full financial disclosure and civilian capacity to take over. No steps in this direction have taken place in the face of the army’s refusal.

In April 2020,  a committee, established under the transitional charter to recover ill-gotten gains from former senior officials with close ties with al-Bashir, secured into public hands 20 million square meters of residential land, more than one million acres of agricultural land and dozens of businesses.  All of this is very limited compared to the massive resources of the country’s military, security services, and militias. This example rattled those in the military with vested interests.

Disasters of Military rule

Military rule has been a disaster for the Sudanese people. The economy stagnated for three decades since 1970 with a GDP mostly around $10 bn and saw growth after the discovery of oil, leading petroleum exports after 2000, to peak between 2010 and 2017 at around $60 bn. Since then it has seen a steep decline particularly after the secession of South Sudan where most of the oil reserves are. 

Sudan’s poverty rate in 2021 stands around 46%. Hunger is a serious issue particularly affecting children with a high proportion of undernourishment and stunting. It has one of the lowest human development rates taking in account life expectancy, education and per capita income.

The stakes for the country’s public finances and economy are equally high. Sudan is deemed to be “in debt distress,” with a foreign debt of $60 billion and total public debt reaching 202 percent of GDP in 2019. This makes it one of the IMF’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC).

Neither has military rule brought peace and stability to Sudan. Like most Muslim-majority countries across the Middle East and North Africa in the 1980s, the turn towards Islamist politics engrossed Sudan. The historical memory of the nationalist revolt led by the Mahdi in 1885 against British colonisation to create an Islamic polity has been carried forward in the al-Ansar movement. Today the National Umma Party claims to be the descendant of this movement.

In September 1983, Nimeiry issued several decrees, known as the September Laws, which made Islamicsharia the law of the land.  Secular Muslims and the predominantly non-Muslim Southerners strongly opposed the imposition of Islamic law.  John Garang, the leader of the Sudan People’s_Liberation_Movement (SPLM) defected from the government and begun to organize Southern opposition.  A civil war between the North and South followed which extended to the control of oil resources in the South. Strict sharia law was imposed under President Omar al-Bashir, during which time Islam became the religion of the state.

Osama bin Laden was in Sudan from 1991 to 1996 before he became America’s arch-enemy. As the originator of Al-Qaeda with its drive towards establishing an Islamic State through Jihad (Holy War), it is inconceivable that he would not have had influence on the Islamist currents in Sudan.

The second civil war was internationalised and lasted about 21 years and ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005, laying the basis for an autonomous South which seceded through a referendum in 2011.

The short sightedness of the military elite and politicians imposing Islamic laws in a multi-faith, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country, and its failure to establish a secular, pluralistic and united society based on consensus and sharing of resources broke up Sudan with dire consequences for both South Sudan and Sudan. Sudan still faces an economic crisis due to the loss of two-thirds of its oil revenues with the secession of South Sudan which erupted into a destructive civil war.

The Darfur conflict in western Sudan has been costly. Rebels launched an insurrection in 2003 to protest against the disregard for the needs of the non-Arab population. The government responded by setting up and equipping Janjaweed Arab militias which terrorised the civilian population.  The conflict resulted in a humanitarian crisis that left hundreds of thousands dead and two million displaced. In July 2008 an International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor alleged that al-Bashir, as president of Sudan, bore criminal responsibility for the crisis in Darfur.

Since independence, Sudan had faced other insurgencies on the periphery because many communities have grievances to do with identity, marginalization, the relationship between religion and state, governance, resource-sharing, land issues, social justice, and equality at the national level. The military had failed to address these issues for decades and used military force to resolve them unsuccessfully.

Within a matter of months, the transitional government led by Prime Minister Hamdok was able to negotiate the Juba Peace Agreement. This was signed on 31st August 2020, in Juba, with the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, which includes the five main Sudanese rebel groups, and at the head the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Movement, both from the Darfur region in the west, and the Sudan People’s_Liberation_Movement-North , which is leading a rebellion against the Sudanese government in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.  Some groups such as Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North and the Sudan Liberation Movement have not joined the agreement.

Geopolitics at play

Sudan is in a strategic location straddling North Africa, the Sahel and Ethiopia and sharing borders with nine other states. Its geopolitical importance is growing with its long coast line along the Red Sea where rival powers are jostling for control. Islamic militancy across the Sahel, the escalating war in Ethiopia and the strife within its border put it at the centre of regional stability.

Sudan has always been a locus of competition between regional powers and subject to the pressures of realignments in regional politics. Patronage and financial leverage often determined who would retain power in the country.

Al-Bashir with links to the Muslim Brotherhood enjoyed a privileged relationship with Qatar and Turkey, two backers of the Muslim Brotherhood. He also maintained an alliance with Iran.

The revolutionary uprising in 2018-19 provided UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt an opportunity to bring Sudan into their axis. In December 2018, Qatar reportedly cut off fuel shipments. Facing crushing debt, a crippling deficit and an acute foreign exchange shortage, al-Bashir cut subsidies for bread and fuel, triggering the first demonstrations which would grow into the December Revolution. In the coming months the crisis left al-Bashir with no allies or foreign backers, precipitating his downfall.

The Arab troika backed the TMC to the hilt, enabling it to launch the bloody repression, stalling revolutionary demands for civilian rule and enabling the emergence of a power-sharing agreement in which the generals would retain substantial executive powers. In the guise of ‘national stability’ they supported military and paramilitary figures and co-opted elements of the FFC to forestall any radical moves.

Closer links between Saudi Arabia and UAE were forged when Sudan deployed 30,000 infantry troops to fight in the Arab coalition against the Houthis in Yemen. Sudan received the payment of soldiers’ salaries, direct deposits to the Sudanese state’s coffers, and subsidies on basic commodities. By 2018, UAE officials estimated that they had injected about $7 billion into Sudan’s economy.

As an imperial hegemon in the entire region and indeed Africa as a whole, the US has kept Sudan on its radar for decades. It designated Sudan as a state supporter of terrorism in 1993 and imposed sanctions which strangled the Sudanese economically, cutting of financial support from international institutions.

President Clinton ordered the bombing of the Al-Shifa factory in Khartoum which was reduced to a heap of twisted metal by fourteen cruise missiles. It produced 90% of the major pharmaceutical products and was the sole producer of TB drugs for nearly 100,000 patients. The human costs were far greater than the damage to property.

The December Revolution provided the US with a new opportunity to bring Sudan within its fold in coordination with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. As mentioned earlier, as soon as the US removed Sudan from its state supporter of terrorism list, both the IMF and the World Bank provided debt relief. The US also offered a credit line of $700 million. This provided the US with significant leverage over Sudanese state.

The US has been disappointed with the coup. Its envoy Jeffery Feltman  had frantic meetings with al-Burhan to stop the coup and to reverse it once it took place. The Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in touch with Hamdok during his arrest, further indicating the US engagement in Sudan at the highest level. All major donors and financial institutions have suspended economic support, including the US, World Bank, IMF, France, Germany, and the UK.

The question is what is the calculation the US is making in wanting a democratic transition in Sudan? Can it be trusted to safeguard democracy in Sudan? The way in which the counter-revolution was engineered in Egypt after the 2011 Arab Spring, with the election of Morsi after the first ever democratic vote being swiftly reversed, ushering in the military dictatorship of Sisi points to the contrary.

Historically the US has undermined the independence of African governments and overthrown governments that it considered against its interests by the CIA engineering coups, for example in Congo in 1961 and Ghana 1966.

From the 1950s to 1970s the US installed many neo-fascist military dictatorships across three continents. After the Iranian revolution its policy shifted to installing controlled electoral democracies generally in the global south.

Distorted politics of Sudan

Sudan’s current impasse cannot be fully understood without grasping the underlying politics over decades. Politics has never been absent whether it took a religious, secular or nationalistic form.

Sudan had experienced two historic and much celebrated political uprisings – the October Revolution of 1964, which overthrew the first military regime of General Abboud and ushered in a four year period of parliamentary democracy and the 1985 April Intifada which overthrew the country’s second military overlord, General Nimeiry. 

During both these upheavals, the urban professional activists, the Doctor’s Union, Bar Association, Khartoum University Teacher and Student Unions were the engines behind the call for strikes and the overthrow of the military dictatorship.

After 1964, there followed government by unstable parliamentary coalitions, hardly lasting a year. The Islamic Umma party and the Democratic Union Party were coalition partners. There were tensions between the secular “modern forces” and the Umma Party. When the Umma-dominated parliamentary regime outlawed the Sudanese Communist Party, a section of the ‘modern forces’ retaliated by facilitating Nimeiry’s military coup in 1969.

In 1989, Hassan-al-Turabi, the ideologue of the National Islamic Front (NIF) collaborated with Umar al-Bashir, to overthrow the Umma Party government led by Sadiq-al-Mahdi since 1985, thus ending the third parliamentary democracy. The NIF was fretting about the potential failure of its project of restoring sharia law. 

Through the different phases of Sudan’s history, the competition for dominance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Movement in various guises, both in Parliament and the military was decisive.

Instead of tethering it, the politicians rode the military tiger, only to be thrown off and sidelined. They failed to fulfil the primary requirement of democratic politics -keeping the military stratum under control. Their unprincipled opportunism, their horse-trading and their lack of vision for the future of the Sudanese people made them use the army generals to achieve their short term partisan aims -only to entrench military rule in Sudan for decades.

Once any military strongman took power, politics was repressed, civil society was demoralised, corruption prevailed, internal wars continued, and a vast amount of funds were wasted, inevitably distorting Sudanese society and its future development.

The struggle for self-determination

The military has become a parasitic stratum feeding on the national wealth in Sudan. It has a monopoly of violence. Revolutions can have many meanings. Any change that can shake up Sudanese society from the stranglehold of the military would be revolutionary and open up new possibilities.

The situation remains extremely fluid.  The generals have made well planned moves to solidify the coup.  The neighbourhood Resistance Committees can provide a basis for a decentralised federalist democratic power structure. But as new organisations and alternatives continue to emerge through the struggles, there is an urgent need to build their capacity to link up, build unity amongst the different classes and ethnic groups and present a radically egalitarian vision of governance in Sudan.

Although the revolutionary movement is confident, it needs to solidify fairly quickly to present an alternative to the Sudanese people. It must expose the failures and the corruption of the military relentlessly. Constant vigilance and change of tactics by the revolutionary forces to win over the majority of Sudanese to the necessity of change for further social advancement will be vital.

This is the third time in Sudanese history since independence that the explosive contradiction between the military stratum and civil society has come to the fore. Repeating the feats of the previous revolutions, activists need to be aware that by overthrowing an autocratic regime will not guarantee the emergence of a more democratic system. The revolutionaries will need to reconcile the centre and the periphery, and religion and secularism that previous uprising failed to do.

International Solidarity

The coverage about Sudan in the corporate media is cursory, superficial and ahistorical.  Sudan is a country far off whose fate matters little and garners interest only when Western interests are threatened or if terrorism in the form of an Islamic State insurgency shows up.

To support the civil society resistance in Sudan and the struggle for democracy, subscribe to MENA Solidarity Network which has up to date information on news, demonstrations, petitions and motions for trade union branches which can also be adapted for party branches.

The calls for international solidarity matters and should be heeded. The most important thing that we can do for the Sudanese revolution is hold the British government to account for its intervention with the US and the Arab Troika to push back the revolutionary tide. After all, the British government ruled Sudan for nearly seven decades after invasion, trained its army and supported conservative political forces in Sudan.

Secondly, activists need to put in real effort to track and shut down the sources of RSF and military revenues which are funding the counter-revolution.  This can only be done at multinational level, given that the commercial enterprises of the military are integrated with western capitalist economies dominated by banks and corporations.

Thirdly, international solidarity should focus on exerting pressure on the military to release detainees, compensate for death and injuries, hold all those responsible for these to account, refrain from using deadly force at protesting civilians, respect the rights to protest, restore telecommunications and the internet and to lift bans on trade unions and other associations.

Image: Sudanese soldeirs stand guard around armoured military vehicles as demonstrators continue their protest against the regime near the army headquarters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, April 11th 2019. Source: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/military-coup-ousts-sudans-bashir-protesters-demand-civilian-government. Author: Agence France-Presse, made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

First published on the Labour Hub 29 November 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/11/29/the-sudanese-revolution-continues/