Wednesday August 17, 2022

Democracy in Sudan

January 02, 2022

Sudan has witnessed another wave of street protests since October 25, 2021 when the military removed the interim civilian Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and seized power. The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD) has reported that more than 54 protesters have been killed and hundreds injured by the security forces so far. The sexual assaults that took place during the December 19 street protests in capital Khartoum further intensified the protests. More than a dozen women activists are reported to have been raped during the protests, with some even subjected to gang rape.

The situation is tense as the protest movement is growing and the political and military leadership stands divided. December 25 saw massive crowds at protests across the country. The popular mass movement of Sudanese people wants to see an end to military rule and its dominance. However, Sudan’s military wants to keep its dominance at any cost and is ready to go to any extent to stop the transition towards democracy and civilian rule. The military regime is using every repressive measure on its disposal to crush the revolutionary spirit and resistance of the people. But repressive measures have so far failed to pacify the revolutionary aspirations of the people.

Although PM Hamdok has been reinstated and the military top brass and civilian leadership signed a power-sharing agreement in November, the street protests continue to press the military leadership to transfer full power to the civilian leadership and to stop its interference in politics.

Many people see the reinstatement of PM Hamdok as an attempt by Sudan’s military regime to hide behind a civilian face and continue to call the shots. Prime Minister Hamdok had been held under effective house arrest for weeks before he was reinstated to his post under the November deal, which promised elections in July 2023. People see this new power-sharing deal as continued acceptance of military domination and rule. The pro-democracy movement considers this deal as a betrayal of the ideals of democracy and civilian rule. They also accuse PM Hamdok of betraying the movement and collaborating with the military establishment. They can see the reluctance of the military to hand over power. That is why the protesters continue to come out on the streets to sustain pressure. They are not ready to call off the street protests before the military concedes the powers taken through the October 25 coup.

It seems that hopes of a peaceful and smooth transition to democracy and full civilian rule in Sudan have been dashed. The October 25 military coup has created doubts about the intentions and commitment of the military leadership to complete the transition to democracy and to organise transparent, free and fair general elections as promised by the military. The coup deepened the already existing mistrust between political leaders and the military establishment on the one hand and between the protest movement and political leaders on the other.

Sudan stands bitterly divided. The divide has widened between those who want to keep the status-quo and those who want to complete the transition from military dominated rule to a democratic one. The protest movement expressing the popular desire and aspirations of the working masses has become disillusioned and frustrated at the slow pace of transition. The vast majority of the population wants to see an end to poverty, rising inflation, unemployment, rampant corruption and repression. They want to see a decisive break from the past economic policies.

Many people feel that the civilian leaders in the transitional government are not listening to their demands and are, instead, following the IMF’s dictates and implementing a neoliberal agenda. Under IMF conditions, the government is liberalising the economy and cutting back on food and other subsidies. The military leadership underestimated the willingness, courage and revolutionary spirit of the protest movement to take on the powerful military to defend the gains made by the revolutionary movement since the ouster of longtime authoritarian president Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

The mass protests forced the military top brass to retreat under pressure and restore PM Hamdok to end the protests. The military was hoping that this would be enough to satisfy the angry protesters. Muzan Alneel, Sudanese writer and co-founder of the Innovation, Science and Technology Think-Tank for People-Centred Development in Sudan, brilliantly summed up the mood of big sections of Sudanese society towards the November power-sharing deal in her article ‘Why the Burhan-Hamdok deal will not stabilise Sudan’ published by Aljazeera on December 20, 2021: “On December 19, people across Sudan took to the streets to mark the anniversary of the revolution that toppled longtime President Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and once again reaffirm their rejection of the army’s insistence to stay in power.

“The demonstration was part of a series of protest actions held regularly since October 25, when the Transitional Military Council (TMC) carried out a coup against the civilian government. They have persisted even after the military, headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, struck a deal with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on November 21 to reinstate him and task him with forming a new ‘technocratic cabinet’. This is because this arrangement allows the military to continue interfering in the affairs of the government.

“The Sudanese people see in this deal the same flaws that plagued the 2019 Constitutional Declaration, which was signed between the Sudanese military and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the umbrella coalition of civilian forces that led the uprising against al-Bashir. The problem with the 2019 agreement is that – just like the present one – it allowed the military leadership to actively undermine the transition to civilian rule....Unfortunately, important players within the international community are making the mistake of supporting this new al-Burhan-Hamdok deal. What they need to understand is that this agreement will derail Sudanese democratic transition just as the 2019 one did.”

The writer is a freelance journalist.