Sudan's pro-democracy civil resistance continues

Muhammad Zamir | Published: June 16, 2019 20:20:39 | Updated: July 11, 2019 15:54:09

We have been witnessing civil resistance movements taking place all over the world for the past year. Venezuela, Spain, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen and Thailand have been in the headlines. Now Sudan is featuring in the forefront of this evolving paradigm. World attention has been drawn once again to pro-democracy civil resistance demonstrators being subjected to military force in Sudan. Law enforcement authorities opened fire on demonstrators on  June 03 in Khartoum killing nearly 60 demonstrators and serious injuring more than 100 persons. 

It would be useful at this point to recall how the pro-democracy movement has evolved in this country - almost ten times the size of Bangladesh with about 19 per cent of its population.

Demonstrations began in December of last year, initially focusing on the deteriorating economic situation, but soon escalated to demand that the authoritarian President Omar al-Bashir-who had ruled the country for nearly three decades-step down and that democracy be restored. By January, the protests had spread to the capital of Khartoum, gaining support from youth and women's movements as well as a number of opposition parties. During the third week in February, the government declared a state of emergency, increasing their arrests of oppositionists and censorship of media coverage of the movement. Despite the growing repression, as well as a cabinet shakeup and other measures to appease the opposition, protests continued.

Protests erupted in Khartoum, Sudan on December 19, 2018 after fuel and bread price rises were announced. Continuous demonstrations till  February 22, 2019 led the former President Bashir to dissolve the government. However protests continued with security forces randomly responding by firing live bullets. On April 06 activists began their sit-in at military headquarters, vowing not to move until Mr Bashir stepped down. On April 06, the Association of Sudanese Professionals led a march of hundreds of thousands onto the Army headquarters in Khartoum and began a sit-in, demanding resignation of al-Bashir and the return of democratic civilian governance. Despite scores of protesters being killed over the previous months, the movement was clearly growing. Less than a week later, on April 11, the military removed al-Bashir from office and subsequently placed him under arrest. General Awad Ibn Auf, who had served as al-Bashir's Defence Minister became head of the Transitional Military Council in Sudan. He declared himself interim President, announced the release of some political prisoners, declared a state of emergency (including a dusk to dawn curfew), and promised elections in two years.

The protesters however rejected continued military rule and the long delay in democratic elections. They defied the curfew and demanded an immediate transition to civilian rule and early elections. Less than 30 hours later, Ibn Auf resigned and was succeeded by Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah Abdulrahman Burhan, who-unlike Ibn Auf-was neither implicated in war crimes nor was as closely associated with al-Bashir's repressive rule. The curfew was lifted, additional political prisoners were freed, and some of the more notorious military, police, and intelligence leaders, as well as leading prosecutors, were dismissed. A half-hearted attempt by the army on April 15 to disperse the ongoing sit-in failed.

Talks between pro-democracy leaders and the interim government continued with a number of important concessions regarding banning members of al-Bashir's party and the inclusion of pro-democracy leaders in the interim government.

On  May 14 military authorities and civilians announced another deal for a three-year transition period. There was some relief but the process came to a halt when talks were postponed once again as military demanded the removal of some barricades from in front of their Headquarters.

After the latest round of violence on  June 03, activists announced the suspension of talks with the military, accusing them of using force to disperse their sit-in. 

However, BBC has reported that the Transitional Military Council head, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has stated that they had decided to "stop negotiating with the Alliance for Freedom and Change and cancel what had been agreed on". An election will now take place in nine months time under "regional and international supervision", he added.

BBC reports on June 13: "In the wake of killings, the leaders of the pro-democracy movement said they were cutting all contact with the TMC and called for "total civil disobedience" and a general strike.

"When talks broke down, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed flew to Sudan to try to broker a new agreement between the two sides.

"After days of talks, his special envoy, Mahmoud Dirir, announced on June 11 that protest leaders had agreed to suspend widespread strikes and return to the negotiating table.

"Mr Dirir said that, in return, the military had agreed to release political prisoners.

"No firm date for the resumption of talks was given.

"The privately-owned Baj News website reported that the opposition was insisting on an independent investigation into the violent crackdown before direct talks restart."

TAKEAWAYS ON SUDAN'S CURRENT CIVILIAN PROTESTS: Analysts have provided some interesting takeaways on Sudan's current civilian protests. They have pointed out the following:

 (a) Non-violent tactics normally do not work when undertaken against highly repressive regimes. Sudan, in this context has generally been ranked among the most bloody, violent, totalitarian regimes in the world. Former President Al- Bashir along with some other top military leaders was indicted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court on multiple counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. It has also been pointed out in this context that unlike the 2011 uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in which the largely nonviolent movements also included rioting, arson, and violent confrontations with security forces, protesters in the Sudanese capital have made a conscious choice to remain nonviolent; (b) Civil resistance has difficulty in succeeding in impoverished countries with high illiteracy, little Internet access, and poor infrastructure; (c) Successful nonviolent struggle is difficult to achieve  in countries with serious ethnic divisions or ongoing violent conflicts. Sudan, it may be recalled, has suffered from violent internal conflict and civil war for most of the period since its independence in 1956. In fact, war waged by separatists in the south led to that region's independence in 2011, but fighting still continues on both sides of the new border.

The Sudanese have remained steadfast in demanding civilian leadership and a minimal political role for the country's armed forces. Refusing to be placated by concessions that the transitional government is offering, they are still demanding that they also step down as a high-risk/high-reward strategy.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.



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