A brutal military crackdown has upended countless lives, but has not broken the spirit of the pro-democracy movement.
Six months ago, Sudan’s military staged a coup that put an end to Sudan’s frail democratic transition that had begun with the removal of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir three years ago.
Since the October 25 power grab, security forces have killed dozens of anti-coup protesters and arrested hundreds more, with rights groups accusing them of forcefully disappearing, raping, and torturing demonstrators.
list of 3 items
list 1 of 3
list 2 of 3
list 3 of 3
end of list
But while the crackdown has upended countless lives, it has not broken the spirit of the pro-democracy movement.
Members of the resistance committees – neighbourhood groups driving the protests through coordinating nationwide marches – say the brutal repression has only hardened their opposition to military rule and pledge to to step up demonstrations after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan concludes next week.
“We know the security forces are trying to put us through all sorts of pain … to make us wonder whether our cause is worth suffering for,” Dania Atabani, 22, told Al Jazeera.
“But we have reached the point of no return.”
Return of the old guard
Since the coup, members from the National Congress Party (NCP), which al-Bashir founded in 1998, have been released from prison and reappointed to senior positions in the intelligence service and state bureaucracy. Others have also retrieved millions of dollars’ worth of assets which were confiscated during the democratic transition.
Kholood Khair, a Sudanese expert who heads Insight Strategy Partners, a think-tank in the capital, Khartoum, told Al Jazeera that coup leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is relying on the NCP to whip up a constituency ahead of a possible election next year.
However, the NCP’s anti-Israel rhetoric could become a thorny issue for al-Burhan since the military has a budding security partnership with the Israeli government. The NCP’s ties with the Muslim Brotherhood could also unsettle Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, both of which ideologically detest the movement.
“The [NCP] are useful for Burhan, but he knows that he can’t rely on them solely because it will make Cairo and Abu Dhabi very antsy,” said Khair.
Ibrahim Ghandour, the former foreign minister under al-Bashir, is the highest profile NCP figure to resurface after he was acquitted on April 8 of undermining the democratic transition and financing “terrorism”. Following his release, he told Al Jazeera the situation in Sudan has improved since the military consolidated power.
Ghandour’s statement has convinced people like Zuhair al-Dalee, a member of the East Nile resistance committee in Khartoum, that the ongoing protests are a continuation of the mass uprising that toppled al-Bashir in April 2019.
“It’s the same struggle,” he told Al Jazeera. “But as time has passed, protesters have made new demands due to the political developments on the Sudanese streets,” he said.
Those demands were laid out in a joint political charter that the resistance committees released in February. The document called for a two-year transition period under a prime minister appointed by the resistance committees, as well as a new army commander to replace al-Burhan. It also demanded justice for murdered protesters.
“We have a new slogan on the streets: ‘Either we claim our rights, or we’ll die like [our martyrs],’” said Atabani.
Protests could also mushroom in the coming weeks due to wide-spread food insecurity. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), about half of Sudan’s population – 20 million people – could go hungry this year.
The food crisis is a direct result of the military coup, which prompted Western donors to pause billions of dollars in debt relief and development aid, making it difficult for the government to afford wheat imports.
WFP also attributed the dire forecast to a poor annual harvest and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – two countries that supplied Sudan with 35 percent of its wheat imports in 2021.
Khair told Al Jazeera the military should be very concerned about bread shortages since high wheat prices were the catalyst for mass protests that brought down al-Bashir.
“Judging by history, [the wheat issue] could trigger much wider protests,” she said. “But the one thing that is very clear … is that the regime has no plan to rescue the economy. Their only plan is to bring about some civilian coalition to restart international funding.”
Jihad Mashamoun, a UK-based Sudanese political analyst, said the global community should not endorse a civilian coalition that the military musters together. He says that the protest movement would outright reject such a government, thereby amplifying unrest.
“The US should work with the resistance committees to bring about a civilian government, rather than support just any civilian government,” he told Al Jazeera.
For Atabani, the resistance committee member, the stance of the global community is irrelevant since she believes that protesters have the power to shape Sudan’s future, as long as they remain committed to non-violence.
“The security agencies are trying to drag our revolution down a violent path, but our revolution always was – and will forever be – peaceful,” she said.