Protests in Sudan escalate as outside forces press for unity

At least 7 killed in a deadly day of Sudan anti-coup protests due to violent military response.

PEOPLE GATHERED on the streets last week in Khartoum amid billowing smoke and reports of a coup in Sudan. (photo credit: RASD Sudan network via Reuters)
PEOPLE GATHERED on the streets last week in Khartoum amid billowing smoke and reports of a coup in Sudan.
(photo credit: RASD Sudan network via Reuters)

Security forces opened fire on demonstrators trying to reach the presidential palace in Khartoum on Monday, killing at least seven persons and wounding around a hundred others. 

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The death toll among those protesting Sudan’s October 25 military coup has now reached at least 71. 

Thousands have joined the demonstrations in the streets of Khartoum and in other cities in Sudan in the past two months, demanding the end of military rule and a transition to democracy. 

On January 8, the United Nations began a series of consultations in Sudan “aimed at understanding the various perspectives and positions on the way forward to end the current political impasse and develop a path towards democracy and peace,” according to the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). 

Sudanese citizens have been marching against the military in the streets of Khartoum on a regular basis since the coup, sometimes resulting in violent clashes where gunfire and tear gas are employed. 

 A road barricade is set on fire during what the information ministry calls a military coup in Khartoum, Sudan, October 25, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/EL TAYEB SIDDIG) A road barricade is set on fire during what the information ministry calls a military coup in Khartoum, Sudan, October 25, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/EL TAYEB SIDDIG)

The latest troubles began in October, when the military’s leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan deposed Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and declared a state of emergency. 

But the Sudanese people’s struggle for democracy goes back years. 

In 2019, protests began in the country in an effort to fell the long-time dictator, Omar al-Bashir, a member of the military who had seized power himself through a coup 30 years earlier.

Once it became clear that Bashir had no chance to remain in power, the military turned on him and compelled him to step down in April 2019. Following a pact between the leadership of the protesters and the military, a transitional government was forged with power shared between the military and a civilian representation, to be followed by democratic elections 39 months later.

Hamdok was sworn-in as prime minister of this transitional government in August 2019. He was kidnapped and moved to an undisclosed location during last year’s coup, and then released and reinstated by the military in November.

But, given the political deadlock, Hamdok resigned on January 2.

Still, the marches continue, with Sudanese protesters calling for the deposal of the ruling council and the return of a fully civilian government, followed by democratic elections, and the absolute eviction of the military from power.

Mazin Salih lives in Khartoum. “I go to the demonstrations to maximize our voices, and our main goal is to remove the military from the government and achieve democracy,” he told The Media Line.

“What the people want is a normal standard of living, and both the military and the civilian leaders [in the transitional government] have failed to provide that for the Sudanese people in the last three years,” he added.

The situation has worsened in the country since the marches started. Keith Murray, an adviser with the United Nations Development Program in Khartoum, told The Media Line that day-to-day life in the country has been badly affected over the last two months.

Protest marches have been taking place around three times a week, he explained. Given the situation, many stores and restaurants have stayed closed for a long time, and many other businesses also were affected because the government shut down national communications for around a month and a half, with severe implications, he said.

“All development stopped, all capacity building work stopped, and humanitarian aid decreased significantly,” the UN official added.

It became difficult for international organizations to work with the government. “Many ministers were removed, and the few that stayed were reluctant to talk with their international counterparts,” Murray said.

Hamdok’s resignation has attracted the attention of the international community and caused the UN to urge the parties to participate in negotiations mediated by the world body. Many global and regional powers such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia also have advocated for the parties to cooperate and take part in such talks.

The main role of the UN on this issue, Murray said, is to be the principal representative of the international community in the country, and to try to bring the various parties together to come to a solution.

Citizens such as Salih believe that unless the military leaders step down, there will be no democracy.

He added, however, that “more than half of the average people want the military to stay in power.”

He suggested that most of these people do not live in Khartoum but rather in states in Sudan’s geographic periphery. “They are only concerned that their basic needs be provided, which the military does, he said. “They do not care about democracy or press freedom.” 

It is mostly the educated people in Khartoum, and the younger generation in the periphery, who want the military rule to be ousted, Salih said.

One of the main factions that opposes the military government on the pro-democracy side is The Central Council of the Forces of Freedom and Change (CCFFC), whose spokesperson, Jaafar Hassan, announced on Sunday that the group would participate in the UN-brokered talks.

However, not all the parties opposing military rule feel the same way.

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, an umbrella organization for 17 trade unions, which led the marches against Bashir in 2019, has rejected the UN’s invitation to join in the negotiations. This group is driven by the motto “No negotiations, no compromise, and no power sharing” with the military.

The military leadership, however, has not rejected participation. Regardless, there is much skepticism in pro-democracy circles and beyond in Sudan concerning the military’s willingness to compromise.

Murray also expressed skepticism on the talks’ chances to succeed.

“There is one side demanding that the entire government be civilian, while the military claims that only they are capable of ensuring law and order,” he said. “When you have diametrically opposed positions, it is hard to get them to agree.”

Salih, on the other hand, remains hopeful that the UN-led negotiations will bring positive developments. “The UN is the only entity that has the power to force the military leaders to listen to the civilian leaders,” he said.