Demanding a full transfer of state power from military to civilian authority, millions of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets in a show of force in cities and towns across Sudan on Thursday, October 21.
“The rallies and marches went on for kilometers long,” said Osman Saeed Abu Kumbal, a member of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) who took part in the protest in Omdurman, the twin city of capital Khartoum.
Some protesters in Omdurman were injured when the riot police intermittently fired rubber bullets and even live ammunition as the rally marched towards the parliament building, which has remained unused for years as there is no functioning legislature in the country.
Originally, a single demonstration had been planned for the entire Khartoum state – which consists of Khartoum, Khartoum North and Omdurman. “However, after rumors that the bridges between these cities may be closed by the army, the decision was made to hold separate protests in these cities. In Khartoum state alone, well over a million took to the streets,” Abu Kumbal told Peoples Dispatch.
Outside of Khartoum state, demonstrations were also witnessed in North Darfur, West Darfur, Kassala, White Nile and numerous other states across the length and breadth of the country.
The day commemorates the anniversary of the revolution in 1964 when the military dictatorship of General Ibrahim Abboud was brought down through civil disobedience. In the protests this year, people demonstrated their readiness to hold the streets in resistance, should the military attempt a takeover.
A looming military takeover
Lt. Gen. Abdelfattah El Burhan, army chief and president of the Sovereignty Council, the highest body in the transitional government, had told his officers and soldiers during an address on October 11 that it was necessary to dissolve the transitional government, ostensibly to make way for a more inclusive one.
His talk of inclusivity is in an ominous reference to the islamist forces, ousted with the deposition of the dictatorship of Omar al Bashir in mid-2019, by what has come to be known as the December Revolution which began at the close of 2018.
With evident backing of the army, these forces have joined hands with the former armed rebel groups, which, after the Juba peace agreement post-Bashir, have formed an alliance with the military to share power and sideline the civilian political parties in the transitional government.
This alliance has fronted a new coalition, which has effectively called for a coup, asking Burhan to dismantle the government, accusing the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) – the umbrella organization of the political parties sharing power with the military in the current government – of holding disproportionate power in it.
While Sudan Tribune reported on October 2 that this alliance is a splinter of FFC, consisting of 16 political parties and armed rebel groups, Abu Kumbal maintains that the so-called political parties in it only exist on paper, and have no existence on the ground.
He alleges that they have been fronted by the islamist National Congress Party (NCP) led by the former dictator. Banned after his ouster, the NCP is no longer in a position to contest for political power in its own name. Calling itself the FFC – Founding Platform (FFC-FP), this alliance has been holding a parallel sit-in demonstration outside the presidential palace, calling on Burhan to dissolve the government.
“The people participating in this are not really there for the demonstration. They are mostly tribals who have been paid for and ferried into Khartoum via organized transport to sit at this demonstration. The security and intelligence services have spent a lot of money on orchestrating this,” he explained. This orchestrated sit-in is widely regarded as an attempt to prepare the ground to legitimize a military takeover.
“The ‘march of millions’ is a message to the military that the era of coups is over and it will no longer be tolerated by the Sudanese people,” he said, adding that the action on Thursday offered a glimpse of what the military will be confronted with, should they dare such an attempt.
Revolutionary forces no longer backing the FFC?
Unlike the previous demonstrations, the slogans that most resonated in the protests on Thursday were not the ones calling for the defense of the civilian leadership representing the FFC in the joint transitional government.
Instead, accusing these centrist and right-wing political parties in the ruling coalition of having compromised too far and for too long, their slogans condemned these parties’ power-sharing arrangement with the military.
Protesters demanded their withdrawal from and the dismantling of the current government in which most power lies with the armed forces, which controls the country’s defense policy, foreign policy, and an estimated 80% of the economy.
In its place, they called for the formation of a new government in which the civilian forces hold full state power, as envisioned by the December Revolution. However, before the revolution could accomplish this, the centrist and right-leaning parties in the FFC compromised with the military after the massacre of protesters on June 3, 2019.
Originally, the FFC was a broad coalition of political parties and grassroots organizations formed in late 2018 to represent the December Revolution. However, after the Umma Party, Sudanese Congress Party, and the Arab Socialist Baath Party reached an agreement to share power with the military and formed the current transitional government, the radical forces withdrew from the coalition.
These forces included the SCP and its affiliated organizations like the trade union coalition, Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), and the Resistance Committees, which, organized at neighborhood levels, formed the backbone of the December Revolution.
Over the following two years, despite being critical of the FFC, the revolutionary forces continued to exert pressure on it from outside to strengthen its hand in the government. They have done this in order to reform the armed forces, bring about their subjugation to civilian authority and free the vast majority of the economy from their control.
Despite it being evident that without accomplishing this, the severe economic crisis, the wide-spread violence, and human-rights violations, which provoked the December Revolution in the first place, cannot be addressed, the parties sharing power have wavered in the task. Moreover, by signing the constitutional document which laid out the power sharing details, the FFC had already conceded to the military many powers the revolution intended to take away from it.
The generals accused of masterminding the June 3 massacre sit at the top positions in the sovereignty council, and enjoy immunity from prosecution. Over the last two years, many protests were held against the military, but also against the failure of the FFC in bringing the perpetrators of the massacre to trial.
Nevertheless, every time the FFC was at the risk of being disenfranchised of even the little power it has by the military, which has been seeking a return to a junta dictatorship, the revolutionary forces mobilized the masses in defense.
A clear example is on September 26 when, on Burhan’s order, the police and security forces guarding the office of a government committee were withdrawn. This committee is significant because it was appointed to dismantle the remnants of the former regime by purging them from the state structures and seizing their properties.
The removal of the security presence came less than a week after a failed coup, allegedly attempted by a section in the military that remains loyal to NCP. Resistance committees had immediately mobilized in thousands to stand guard at this office.
Even on Thursday, many slogans were raised for the completion of democratic transition and protection of the transitional government from the machinations of the military.
‘The future of Sudan is either a full civilian democracy or a military dictatorship’
“The slogan that has received the most enthusiastic response everywhere in the country is ‘down with the bloodshed partnership’,” Abu Kumbal said. The use of the term “bloodshed partnership” amounts to the serious accusation that by partnering with the military and failing to bring the generals to account for the massacre, the civilian forces in the government share responsibility for this bloodshed.
“The line of the communist party that compromising with the military and negotiating with the generals is no way forward towards a transition to democracy has now become the mass-line,” he said.
This marked shift in the mass-line, he argues, makes it clear that “the future of Sudan is either a full civilian democracy or a military dictatorship. The transitional government, with its balancing act halfway in between, is not tenable any longer.”
The masses will confront the military directly on the streets, and no longer trust the civilian forces in the transitional government to mediate this confrontation. And the ‘march of the millions’ on Thursday, he said, demonstrates the ability and willingness of the revolutionary forces to engage in such a confrontation.