Sudan’s streets resound with call for complete civilian control

Following the coup in Sudan, various international bodies and western powers have called for the restoration of the transitional government in which the military and political parties shared power. However, protesters on the streets are demanding a full-fledged civilian government

October 27, 2021 by Pavan Kulkarni
Photo: Special Arrangement

As strikes, street occupations and barricading of neighborhoods against the military coup continued across Sudan, deposed prime minister Abdalla Hamdok was permitted by the army to return to his residence on Tuesday, October 26.

Hamdok was arrested by soldiers from his house when the military coup began at dawn on Monday. He and his wife were held at the residence of the coup leader, Lt. Gen. Abdelfattah El Burhan, ostensibly for his own safety.

Burhan is the army chief and the head of the sovereignty council, which was the highest body of the transitional government. He dissolved the transitional government on Monday after arresting its civilian leaders, including the cabinet ministers and the non-military members of the sovereignty council.

Most of them remain in the military’s custody in unknown locations. Burhan said in a statement that they would be tried on charges of inciting rebellion within the army and only those found to be “innocent” in these trials will be released.

While Hamdok has been returned to his residence, he appears to be under house arrest as a large contingent of soldiers surround his residence. The army, however, maintains that this “heavy security” has been put in place for his own safety. 10 pro-democracy protesters had reportedly been killed by soldiers and another 140 injured by the time of Hamdok’s return.

Revolutionary forces fight for full civilian rule

The revolutionary forces, which have mobilized hundreds of thousands to the streets, reiterated that the struggle will continue till the formation of a full civilian government, to whose authority the military is subjugated.

Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a trade union coalition affiliated with the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), said in statement that neither the release of the prime minister nor the restoration of the transitional government, in which civilian leaders shared power with the military generals, will de-escalate the mass-protests.

Civilian rule was a central goal of the December Revolution, which beginning at the end of 2018, forced the army to remove former dictator Omar al Bashir from power in April 2019.

The protests demanding a civilian government continued after Bashir’s deposition. However, the compromises struck by the centrist and right-wing political parties after the June 3 massacre at the sit-in in front of the army headquarters in Khartoum resulted in the formation of a joint civilian-military transitional government in August 2019.

This transitional government was supposed to rule for a period of three years before holding elections. The agreement had also required Burhan to hand over the presidency of the government’s sovereignty council to a civilian leader in November 2021, ahead of which he carried out the coup on Monday.

Condemning the coup, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the UK, US and its western allies are pressuring the army to release the arrested civilian leaders and restore the transitional government. However, protesters who are holding barricades against the army in neighborhoods across Sudan continue to reiterate that they are facing the army’s bullets for full civil authority, and not for the return of the transitional government.

“Down with the ‘bloodshed-partnership’” remains the slogan of the masses on streets. This is a slogan against the transitional government’s underlying power-sharing agreement between civilians and generals, which concedes immunity to the senior-most military officers who are accused of masterminding the June 3 massacre.

The terms of this agreement had allowed the military to control the country’s defense policy, internal security, foreign policy and most of the economy. This left the civilian leaders in the government – chosen by the centrist and right-wing parties – with little real power to address the crisis which continued to deepen, with soaring food prices and raging armed tribal violence in the periphery.

Turning the tables on these civilian sections, army chief Burhan, in a statement on Tuesday, blamed “political rivalries” for the crisis, and declared, “The experience during the past two years has proven that the participation of political forces in the transitional period is flawed and stirs up strife.”

Military-appointed technocratic government?

Burhan is expected to announce the formation of a new government made up of technocrats appointed by the military elite. The civilian political parties will have no say in it. While this government may be announced in the coming hours or days, its ability to impose its authority on the country remains a question, considering the massive number of people on the streets.

Workers in the oil and banking sector are on strike. Doctors have reportedly refused to serve at military hospitals. The critical trade highway connecting Sudan with Egypt – whose authoritarian government is known to be extending support to the Sudanese military – has been blocked, a source told Peoples Dispatch.

He added that the security forces are stretched and outnumbered as demonstrations are being staged behind barricades erected by protesters in virtually all neighborhoods in every town and city. On being attacked by the army, protesters disperse, regroup elsewhere and block the roads with torched tires.

Photo: Special Arrangement

“Our people are stronger than murderers and saboteurs, we have accumulated legacies of resistance responsible for bringing down many dictatorships who thought they had succeeded in breaking the Sudanese people’s resolve. The victory of our revolution is certain, regardless of the brutality of the counter-revolutionaries and the thirst for blood among vampiric putschists,” the Sudanese Workers Alliance for the Restoration of Trade Unions said in a statement.

International solidarity

Recounting the history of “the great Sudanese people” in revolting against a series of dictators in the last decades – Ibrahim Abboud in October 1964, Jaafar al-Numeiri in 1985 and Omar al-Bashir in 2019 –  the International Peoples’ Assembly (IPA) declared “absolute solidarity with the Sudanese people and its revolutionary political, social and civil forces..”

The IPA is a network of people’s organizations, social movements, political parties and trade unions from Africa, Latin America, Asia, North America and Europe. Its statement – signed also by left parties in Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon – called on all “progressive forces in the world.. to launch solidarity campaigns and act to put pressure on their regimes in order not to recognize the coup regime.”