The International Crisis Group defined what is happening in Sudan as “the most sustained protest movement in Sudan’s modern history”. Starting from December 2018, Sudanese people have massively protested for months. Initially, with the aim of overthrowing the 30-years-long dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir.
Once fulfilled their ambition, their demonstrations continued; this time against the military council, who took power after having ousted al-Bashir and refused to transfer it to a civilian-led government. With the help of international mediators, protesters and the army seem to have finally reached an agreement, paving the way for Sudan to become a democracy.
Protests began more than eight months ago, triggered by a rise in the cost of bread and fuel. After starting in the provinces, demonstrations quickly spread across the country, fueled by a general discontent over the economic crisis.
Day after day, the peaceful demonstrations were gaining momentum as all the different segments of society joined the movement. While farmers and shepherds were marching in rural areas, the middle class was walking down the streets of the capital Khartoum, led by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA). The New York Times regards this “semi-secret alliance of doctors, lawyers, journalists, engineers and teachers” as the actual leader of the revolution, able to organize and consolidate a “coherent movement“.
Women are also playing a pivotal role in enhancing the revolution, accounting for two-thirds of the protesters. In spite of their differences, all Sudanese people gathered together in a united revolutionary front called Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), with one single goal: get rid of the long-lasting dictator Omar al-Bashir.
Despite being accused by the International Criminal Court for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the army commander Omar al-Bashir had remained in power for 30 years after the 1989 military coup, facilitated by the civil war. When this domestic conflict ended in 2005 with the secession of South Sudan, al-Bashir was facing a new crisis in the Darfur region. The atrocities ordered against the rebels “left between 200,000 and 300,000 people dead and 2.7 million displaced”. Eventually, under relentless pressure from the civil society, the security forces betrayed their leader and overthrew him on 11 April 2019.
After the initial excitement for the deposition of the cruel dictator, protesters plunged into anguish again as they felt as if “They just replaced one thief with another”. In fact, the newborn Transitional Military Council showed no intention to hand over power to a civilian-led government, struggling to reach an accommodation with the FFC. Consequently, demonstrations not only continued but grew in participants and intensity. On June 3, the security forces fired against a peaceful sit-in in Khartoum, leaving 118 people dead and many more wounded.
It is widely agreed that Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, known as Hemeti, should be held accountable for the violence. Regarded as the real leader of the military junta, Hemeti is the head of the Rapid Support Forces, a branch of the Sudanese security forces accused of perpetrating the horrific crimes ordered by al-Bashir in Darfur. Protesters believe that the violent crackdown was encouraged by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, who support Hemeti to rule the country.
A wave of international condemnations and strong indignation followed the bloody crackdown. Both the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet deplored the violence, while Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo launched a petition to stop the attacks.
On its part, the African Union decided to suspend Sudan’s membership while sending mediators to the country in order to start a “facilitation process” to “support the Sudanese people resolve the crisis in Sudan“, alongside the Ethiopian Prime Minister. Eventually, these joint efforts resulted in the signature of an agreement between the pro-democracy protesters and the ruling military on July 17.
According to this power-sharing deal, a sovereign council composed of six civilians and five army generals will be in place for three years and three months, until the holding of “free and fair elections”. This transition committee will be chaired by an appointed army member for the first half term, and by a civilian for the second one. Furthermore, the FFC will set up a cabinet of ministers; afterward, a legislative council will be established. The most controversial point of this deal is “the launch [of] a transparent and independent investigation” into the events of the third of June. The probe, which has found that three RSF officers acted in violation of the orders, exonerating Hemeti from all responsibility while lowering the death toll to 87, has already been rejected by the democratic forces. Despite persistent civilian protests, the negotiation process continues and a constitutional declaration has been agreed in the last few days.
Signs of division between the two sides are already visible. Only time will tell if this settlement is durable and a democratic Sudan will finally be born.