In Sudan, a determined people fights for democracy

Sudanese demonstrators cheer as they attend a protest rally demanding Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to step down outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 11, 2019 (photo credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)
Sudanese demonstrators cheer as they attend a protest rally demanding Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to step down outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 11, 2019
(photo credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)
On December 18, 2018, the heroic people of Sudan began their nonviolent democratic revolution to oust Omar al-Bashir, the brutal, cynical, and corrupt dictator who had ruled Sudan for nearly 30 years. Their movement started with local demonstrations to protest the high price of bread, shortages of food and fuel, and corruption. It quickly morphed into a national movement calling for democratic reforms and the dismantling of the Bashir regime.
Arrests of movement leaders, censorship of the media, attacks on peaceful demonstrations throughout the country, and insincere promises by Bashir of his willingness to dialogue with the opposition and change his policies could not stop the movement’s momentum.
Following nearly four months of continuous and growing demonstrations calling for Bashir to resign, a small group of generals closely tied to his regime deposed the dictator in a military coup on April 11, 2019. After establishing a Transitional Military Council (TMC), the generals proclaimed that they fully supported the demands of the people to transfer power to a civilian-led government that would bring democracy to Sudan. They lied.  
The two generals heading the TMC played a major role in implementing Bashir’s ongoing vicious ethnic-cleansing campaigns against Darfur’s non-Arab African populations. As a young army officer, Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, the president of the TMC, commanded Sudanese Army troops sent by Bashir to crush rebel forces in Darfur. His deputy and TMC vice president Mohammed Hamdan Dagolo (aka Hemeti) organized and led Darfur’s Arab tribes to force Darfur’s non-Arab African tribes off their land through a scorched-earth campaign involving mass rape, burning villages, and attacks on unarmed civilian populations. Hemeti now heads the dreaded Rapid Support Forces (RSF) comprised mainly of recruits from Arab tribes in Darfur loyal to him.      
On June 3, 2019, the TMC revealed its true colors when Gen. Burhan ordered troops to end the nonviolent sit-in of tens of thousands of Sudanese camped out in front of the army’s central headquarters in Khartoum.
The Rapid Support Forces led the onslaught by firing on unarmed protesters, killing at least 100 people. Hameti’s men taunted and beat bystanders; raped women protesters; entered hospitals to pursue the injured and to expel doctors seeking to treat the injured; and callously tossed at least 40 bodies into the Nile. They also burned all the tents and facilities set up to provide food, shelter and medical treatment for the participants in the sit-in.
The horrors and terror of Darfur had come to Khartoum. The streets of Khartoum were now deserted. Hundreds of armed pickup trucks full of Hameti’s men arrogantly flaunting their weapons patrolled the streets. The sit-ins were no more.
The TMC believed that ending the sit-in through terror would intimidate the people and allow the military to continue to control the country. The generals were bolstered by the strong political and economic support they knew they would get from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates led by rulers encouraging the crackdown.  
THE NEXT day, the TMC abruptly canceled all agreements previously made with leaders of the revolutionary movement. These agreements included acceptance of a three-year transition period in which a civilian-led government would work together with the TMC to end the Bashir regime’s war with rebel forces, establish new democratic institutions, and rebuild the broken Sudanese economy.
The TMC also denied any responsibility for the Khartoum massacre. Instead, it denounced the coalition of diverse opposition forces for acting in bad faith, engaging in violent criminal acts, and excluding Islamists. 
Despite the repression, the revolutionary movement has continued the struggle. After mourning its martyrs, the movement organized a general political strike a week after the massacre. Unintimidated by the TMC’s threats to fire strikers, arrests of opposition leaders, and cutting off the Internet to curb communications via social media, millions of Sudanese from all walks of life defiantly joined the general strike throughout the country.
Sudan is now at a crossroads: continuation of the Bashir regime without Bashir or democracy? The overwhelming majority of the Sudanese people have rejected dictatorship and corrupt government and opted for peace, democracy and economic reform. They have demonstrated their commitment to democracy by organizing and risking their lives and livelihoods over a six-month period with no external support. 
Their peaceful revolution goes beyond the borders of Sudan. It has inspired the people of Algeria to continue demonstrating for freedom and democracy and has raised hopes for the revival of an Arab Spring. The Sudanese revolution has also raised the fears of Arab and African dictators who see that oppression and repression cannot indefinitely stop a determined people from asserting and winning their right to oust tyrannical regimes.
Their efforts may have also shamed the United Nations, the African Union and Western nations into giving more than lip service to democratic ideals and practices. The UN has just announced its refusal to withdraw UN troops in Darfur charged with protecting more than two million people in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps. The African Union has expelled Sudan because it is still governed by the leaders of the military coup. The United States, Great Britain and the European Union have all been putting more pressure on the Transitional Military Regime to transfer power to a civilian government.    
The people of Sudan, Arabs and Africans, religious and secular, employers, professionals and workers, and above all women and youth, have joined hands to fight for their freedom and save their country with dignity and courage.
Although the Israeli government remains silent about events in Sudan, Israeli citizens living in a Jewish and democratic state can help by becoming better informed and speaking out in support of Sudan’s democratic revolution. To do so would go a long way in showing that Israelis understand what is happening in Sudan, why Sudanese asylum seekers fled to Israel, and why it is still not safe for them to return. 

The writer is a Jerusalem-based researcher and consultant specializing in African development and democracy issues.