To understand the current Sudanese reality and the incumbent regime (the transitional government), one must understand its components and makeup.
As mentioned, the Sudanese took to the streets in various Sudanese cities under the slogan ‘Just fall’ – a total rejection of any form of compromise with the existing regime. In July 2018, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) was established as a trade union, being composed of parallel unions (mostly in white-collar sectors), proclaiming its opposition to the regime-controlled official unions. In August 2018, this assembly called for a march towards the parliament, planned to take place on 25 December 2018, to demand an increase in the minimum wage. As protests broke out in early December, and then intensified, the SPA changed the destination of its march to the presidential palace, and adopted the call for overthrowing the regime. In January 2019, in the Declaration of Freedom and Change, the SPA set out its demands, and urged the Sudanese people to adopt and employ various methods of peaceful struggle to achieve them. The demands included the immediate resignation of al-Bashir and his regime, along with the formation of a transitional government, to be charged with nine tasks encompassing economic, political, and legal reforms. The declaration was signed by the SPA and four other bodies representing major Sudanese opposition alliances. They then published the declaration, and invited others to sign it too.
While the SPA was widely accepted among the protesters, who were eager for a new leadership, some of the other signatories to the declaration, including existing political parties, were less popular. The Sudanese people’s hostility towards the existing political parties was both logical and justified: throughout the country’s history, these parties have repeatedly compromised and allied themselves with the autocratic regimes they claimed to oppose, and they have repeatedly failed to realize any of their goals, despite justifying their compromises as the road to achieving them. At the same time, Sudan’s centralized and disproportionate development path has created a terrible gap between the country’s wealth-administration centres and the regions, in terms of education, political participation, and political power. The Sudanese parties thus represent the elites created by such a reality: they are agri-capital and commercial parties, alongside educated effendi4 parties. Although some parties, like the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), have theoretically proposed approaches promoting the interests of the working classes, their effect has barely differed from that the capitalist parties and their elite political ways.
In this context it is clear why the protesters preferred other forms of organization, from neighbourhood resistance committees to professional organizations. The popularity of such organizations is the result of alienation from ideological organization, in favour of geographic or professional organization. This discourse naturally led to calls for the formation of a ‘technocratic’ government, distanced from politics (which the people now perceive as corrupt). The lack of a revolutionary vision among the protesters was the result of the absence of any revolutionary party capable of revolutionary theorization and of introducing a counter discourse.
Upon its publication, more than 20 trade union and factional bodies signed the Declaration of Freedom and Change, on 1 January 2019. More signatures were gathered over the following weeks, reaching more than 100 bodies. Nonetheless, the FFC’s decision-making remained tied to the votes of the first four bodies (the SPA and the major opposition party coalitions).5 The SPA thus failed to play its expected revolutionary role of liberating political decision-making from the hands of the elite. Its composition and approach, being made up of white-collar individuals, and pursuing their dominant interests and class choices, were to blame for this fact. Again, this was the result of the absence of an organized revolutionary party that could deliver sound analysis to the public.
In the months following January 2019, protest marches continued in Sudanese cities and villages, demanding the fall of the regime, with a prevalent presence of Sudanese women and girls. This presence indicated, yet again, the essential role the economic factor played in instigating the uprising, as austerity measures had compounded women’s already difficult conditions, whether due to dwindling job opportunities or the negative consequences of the state’s disengagement from service provision.
The SPA called for the forming of neighbourhood resistance committees, drawing on the earlier experience of the grassroots committees that had been formed during the 2013 protests. The committees became the chief heroes of the uprising, conducting impressive work organizing protests on the ground. Just before announcing the one-day strike in March 2019, the SPA had called for the formation of strike committees, or resistance committees, within specific institutions. However, the scope of these committees’ actions remained limited to on-the-ground resistance: an implicit public consensus had been reached that committees should work at the street level to overthrow the regime, while the political leadership should devote itself to preparing a new government and arrangements for the aftermath of the fall of the al-Bashir regime.
On 6 April 2019 people across Sudan marched to the respective compounds of the Army General Command, where they announced the beginning of the General Command sit-ins, which led to al-Bashir’s fall on 13 April 2019. This signalled a new phase in the uprising. Meetings then took place between the FFC and al-Bashir’s security committee, which had deposed the former president in a coup and was now ruling the country, calling itself the Military Council. These meetings were supposed to discuss the handover of power by the Military Council, but in the days that followed, they quickly shifted into ‘negotiations’ meetings. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) supported the Military Council government through their media coverage, and sought to whitewash the image of Council members. The Council brought into its camp Bashir’s leaders of the armed forces, security service chiefs, and minister of the interior, as well as the Rapid Support Forces (the new name given to the Janjaweed).
Unsurprisingly, the protesters rejected the Military Council’s rule, but negotiations continued between the FFC and the Military Council, with Gulf governments supporting the Military Council through grants and media coverage. Ambassadors from Western countries backed a ‘peaceful transition by negotiation’, which was promoted by European and American advisory centres. In parallel, the protesters attributed the power held by the FFC negotiators to their own commitment to the sit-ins and other forms of resistance and protest. They led marches within and through cities, and shut down the streets any time the Military Council was slow to negotiate or insisted on conditions that they refused. However, during the period of the negotiations, the sit-ins faced repeated crackdowns by the security forces. On 13 May 2019, the eighth day of Ramadan, security forces attacked the General Command sit-in in Khartoum, in what would come to be known as the first massacre of the revolution.
The eighth of Ramadan massacre unleashed a wave of anger on the streets, and kindled the protesters’ all-out rejection of the Military Council. Chants of ‘100% civil’ rose against negotiation proposals at the time that offered joint rule between the military and civil leaders. There were also calls for a general political strike, to force the military to hand over power. The political leadership of the FFC was slow to heed the calls for a strike, with some even publicly opposing the call. The street’s fear that the elitist parties would give in once more to their addiction to compromise and fear of radical change was thus borne out. This coincided with meetings between the leadership of the FFC parties and EU and US government representatives, and repeated visits to the UAE. The protesters’ refusal of these shady international manoeuvrings was reflected in their chants and songs, and their efforts to ensure accountability of the representatives of the political leadership through the sit-in squares and their platforms. At the time, thanks to its anti-negotiations position, the SCP managed to garner considerable public trust, at least in comparison with the rest of the FFC. However, the SCP could not escape its elitist essence and unrevolutionary policies, ultimately preferring to preserve the opposition alliance rather than side with the revolution and protect it from compromise.
The SPA call for a political strike was officially made following weeks during which grassroots organizations had been pushing for a strike. Once the strike was announced by the SPA, these organizations published statements of their readiness to strike,6 and they publicized the planned strike in their speeches in the sit-in squares. The political strike represented an intensified confrontation between the protesters and the Military Council. The Council arrested strikers and threatened to fire and replace them, as Gulf financial and media backing for the Council increased. The strike ultimately took place on 28 and 29 May 2019, completely paralysing the country, including its airports, sea ports, institutions, and markets.
The strike on 28–29 May 2019 – Revolutionaries in the street lift strike signs before Rapid Support Forces cars in Khartoum, text on paper: “Are you on strike or are you Ummah #CivilianRule” (Ummah Party, one of the biggest parties, which announced its refusal to strike)
A week later, in June 2019, the Military Council responded to the strike with a series of massacres. The security services simultaneously attacked the sit-ins across 14 Sudanese cities. Survivors’ testimonies document brutal scenes of rape, torture, and murder. In some cases the bodies of the dead as well as the living were tied up, weighted down with stones, and thrown into the Nile. The massacres resulted in more than 100 martyrs and hundreds of wounded and rape victims, while the search for the disappeared is still ongoing. The Military Council then announced its withdrawal from all negotiations, stating that it would hold elections in six months; it also shut down the internet throughout the country, to ensure a media blackout (though the Sudanese in the diaspora helped report the massacre). This did not stop the neighbourhood resistance committees, however; they organized a march in rejection of military rule. More than 7 million Sudanese women and men took to the streets in displacement camps, cities, and villages on 30 June 2019, demanding civil rule. Thanks to the 30 June march and international popular support for the Sudanese revolution, the military retreated from its previously announced positions on holding elections and rejecting negotiations.
Nonetheless, the military continued to receive generous international backing. The Emirati and Saudi governments announced grants and loans to support the Military Council. Likewise, the African Union sent its own mediators to call for dialogue between the opposition leadership and the Military Council, which had led the massacre. Inter-state coordination of investments and interests emerged through the so-called ‘Friends of Sudan’ meetings, which began in Washington in May 2019. The attendees comprised the United States, Germany, the EU, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Ethiopia.7 This group supported a power-sharing approach between the civil leadership and the Military Council. Their aim was to ensure a regime that preserved their ongoing investments and to use the moment of change to open up investment opportunities that had previously been closed either due to the US economic embargo on Sudan or as a result of al-Bashir’s failure to embark on full liberalization. In essence, these states’ positions on Sudan were no different from the similar positions they held on other movements for change in the region, whether in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, or others. They can be called the counterrevolutionary states.
Official external pressure, then, was brought to bear to reinforce the very political and economic approaches against which the Sudanese had revolted. But without a revolutionary party, the guiding discourse on the street was reduced to justifying partnership with the military to spare blood and stop the violence. Likewise, public access to the details of negotiations and agreements was limited to occasional leaks, instead of official public statements, and the political leadership (the FFC) met with foreign ambassadors, delegates and mediators more than they addressed the public. The absence of a revolutionary leadership, then, resulted in wasting the fruit of the revolutionaries’ resilience in the face of the Military Council, and their defiance of the post-massacre oppression. Calls for forming a qualified technocratic government circulated, side-lining the treacherous political parties. Opportunistic actors among the parties making up the FFC promoted such discourses to obstruct analysis of their compromised positions or their international allies’ interests.
Unsurprisingly, this climate produced the current government, which is a military and civil partnership sponsored by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, internationally financed, and staffed by former employees of developmental organizations. This government is therefore an expression of both the economic and political counterrevolutions. In one of his first public speeches,8 the first transitional Minister of Finance mentioned that the economic objective of the Sudanese revolution was to bring Sudan out of its debt crisis. This represents a complete shift and distortion of the objectives of the revolution, which were to provide economic justice for the impoverished majority of the Sudanese, and to overturn austerity measures. Debt repayment thus became the main justification for plans to further lift subsidies, float the currency, and introduce foreign investments, in a manner no different than al-Bashir’s policies in his later years. The only difference between the former and the latter is the international support given to the current government. The transitional government claimed that a return to the international market and the imagined material wellbeing this would bring were dependent upon such decisions.
One part of this counterrevolutionary development is the transitional government’s normalization with the Zionist Occupation, under US-Emirati pressure, which has confused the Sudanese public. This confusion stems from the al-Bashir government’s use of the Palestinian cause to mobilize the masses around a jihadist discourse, and the fact that the Sudanese left failed to progressively articulate its position on the Palestinian cause, considering it a matter concerning only Islamists. Although the SCP rejected normalization, it has not tended to promote the Palestinian cause. For example, its statement condemning the meeting between Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of the Transitional Council, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the Occupying Israeli State, in February 2020, chose to focus on al-Burhan’s authority, the illegality of the meeting, and its violation of the constitution, rather than presenting a revolutionary perspective on the Palestinian cause.
The implications of the absence of a revolutionary party are again clear here: it has produced a vacuum as regards progressive discourse on internal and external political questions. It has also enabled the transitional government to present development grants and debt exemptions as revolutionary economic victories – despite the impact of their crushing neoliberal conditions on most Sudanese lives. While the SCP attempts to offer a discourse that rejects liberalization, it is incapable of influencing the masses. The latter have lost trust in the party as a result of its fluctuating positions and its insistence on coalescing with reactionary parties, whose positions the SCP simultaneously critiques in its statements. In the public imagination, this kind of strategy has rendered the party a disrupter that speaks much and resolves little, and lacks seriousness. In the meantime, through their coordinating committees and different alliances, neighbourhood resistance committees have released statements and views against liberalization, but they lack political experience and have prioritized the preservation of the transitional government. Slogans like ‘Yes to reforming the revolutionary path, no to overthrowing the civilian government’ have been voices by the resistance committees, which seek to ensure the military does not seek to ride the wave of protest – as happened in the Egyptian scenario. Nevertheless, as a result of its counterrevolutionary decisions in economic and other domains, support for the civilian government has been steadily declining.
This, then, is the current situation of the transitional government. Former employees of international institutions and the leadership of the political elite, from the entire civil and armed spectrums, under the leadership of the Military Council, have been implementing investment interests and resource transfers that benefit Gulf and global capital. Like its predecessor, the transitional government’s priorities are biased towards Sudanese and foreign capitalist investors and it has withdrawn from protecting the Sudanese working class and the impoverished majority of the Sudanese people. Realizing the objectives of economic justice for which the Sudanese revolution strove is thus clearly impossible through this transitional government, as it represents counterrevolutionary tendencies. Or, as the Sudanese masses have put it, ‘it has not fallen yet!’