Political Turmoil in Sudan

By: Jadalyn Eagens

In December, riots broke out in Sudan as the price of bread went up by about 300 percent. People took to the streets to demand higher wages and lower prices for basic goods from the government. As the protests gained traction, they shifted from a request for individual reforms to an uprising against the dictatorial president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been in power for the past 30 years.

Omar al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague in 2009 for genocide and crimes against humanity. In 2003 and 2004, al-Bashir sanctioned government-backed militias to carry out ethnic cleansing in Sudan’s Darfur region. The conflict started in 2003 when two rebel groups—the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)—accused the government of oppressing the non-Arab population of Darfur by allowing the region to become underdeveloped and politically marginalized. As a response, the government sent in a primarily Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, to fight the rebel groups. The Janjaweed targeted the non-Arab population of Darfur which backed the rebel groups. This campaign killed an estimated 300,000 people and displaced 2 million more.

Now, protests against al-Bashir are being led by a group known as the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA)—consisting of doctors, lawyers, and engineers—who utilize technology to organize protests. On April 6, the SPA announced that a protest against al-Bashir was to take place in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. The date signifies the anniversary of the overthrow of Sudanese Dictator Gaafar Nimeiry in 1985, during Sudan’s previous democratic revolution. Tens of thousands of people took up the SPA’s call, becoming one of the largest demonstrations to take place since the protesting started. The demonstrators camped outside of the headquarters of the armed forces and outside al-Bashir’s personal residence, chanting “Just Fall, That’s All.” The president ordered the army to use tear gas and shotguns in an effort to quell the protests, but he also faced a fractured military. Rank-and-file soldiers turned to support the opposition, joining the protests and shielding and ensuring the safety of the protestors.  

Women have also become the face of the protests, standing on cars and stages, leading call and response chants. Their aim is to speak out for equality. Sudan is a relatively conservative country, where the women that hold 25 percent of the positions in the nation’s legislature are only there for “decorative purposes.” Most of the women who serve in the government are sitting in for their husbands. There have been women who are jailed or beaten for wearing pants outside. Many women also have been raped or taken as sex slaves in the wake of violence in Darfur. Protest leader Halima Ishaq demands that women be an “essential part of the government” and that restrictions on women be loosened.

On April 11, Omar Hassan al-Bashir was removed from power. Sudan’s defense minister, Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, announced al-Bashir’s arrest on television and took his place as head of the government. Ibn Auf only remained in power for a day but in his day as leader, he called for a three-month state of emergency, suspended the constitution, arrested some senior officials and enacted a curfew. Ibn Auf also stated that the military council, which took over the government, would rule for two years before any democratic elections could take place.

On April 12, Ibn Auf was replaced by Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the army. Burhan was more well-liked among the rank-and-file soldiers and in his address to the nation, recognized and commended the revolution. Burhan promised to repeal repressive laws and oversee a predominantly civilian administration, appeasing some of the demands of the protesters. Burhan became the head of the military council and appointed Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo—who goes by the nickname Hemedti—as his deputy leader.

Two days later, on April 13, the military council chose to replace Salah Abdallah Gosh, an intelligence chief and the second most powerful man in Sudan. Protestors disliked the intelligence agency and saw Gosh as the face of the agency’s many human rights violations. The military council promised to restructure the agency after Gosh was replaced. The next day, April 14, the military council arrested members of Bashir’s National Congress Party—which arose out of the Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. The military council stated that they would soon be seizing that party’s assets. The SPA is, however, not appeased and have called for a sit-in until the “deep state” has been fully dismantled and the government has been completely turned over to the civilians. The SPA also worries about Hemendti currently having a high position in government because of his ties to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates jointly gave $3 billion in aid to the transitional military government in Sudan on April 23. The Saudi’s have also offered $500 million to Sudan’s central bank to “ease economic strain.” Many protesters fear that Saudi Arabia and the UAE, powerful monarchies, are only giving aid because they want to suppress democracy. The head of the SPA, Mohamed Yusuf al-Mustafa, stated that the aid is “orchestrated…to keep their allies [, the military council, ] in power.” The idea is not far fetched. Saudi Arabia and the UAE provided money and military support to countries such as Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya which bolstered autocracy and stifling pro-democracy campaigns. Additionally, it is believed that Saudi Arabia and the UAE fear that if Sudan succeeds in switching to a democratic government, then it will produce some hope for a new Arab Spring, especially since the toppling of Bashir came so soon after the fall of Bouteflika in Algeria.  

Their concerns are exacerbated by the continued power of civilian protests in Sudan. Most recently, there was a protest on April 25 known as the “million man march.” The march was the largest gathering of protesters that Sudan has ever had. More and more people across Sudan show up at the protests looking for positive change in their government. The success of the movement is due to young people making their voice heard and inspiring the older generations to do the same. It can be seen as a lesson to the whole world.

Photo courtesy of Lawrence Ruiz of Wikimedia Commons.

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