Sudanese activists vow not to back down until military rule ends

With internet and telecommunication services down, activists tell 'The National' they are looking abroad for support

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The Sudanese activists who fought to end the 29-year rule of Omar Al Bashir in 2019 are fighting for democracy again less than two years later.

Monday’s coup, in which the military removed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and civil officials, has once more sparked mass protests in Khartoum and beyond.

Security forces were stationed in the capital on Tuesday as protesters wrapped in national flags blockaded streets and burnt tyres, chanting for the downfall of the military government. Shops were shut in Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman across the Nile as calls for a general strike were broadcast over mosque loudspeakers.

“We will not back down and we will not stop. I, as a mother, will not stop. This is our only way towards freedom and democracy and no matter what they do, it’s forward and forward only,” civil activist Mai Abdulmunim, 49, told The National.

She and thousands of others are reviving old methods of organising opposition rallies despite internet and communication blackouts, which services tracker NetBlocks said lasted for about 35 hours.

”People are knocking on each others’ doors and informing them of the time and place that the groups are meeting,” Ms Abdulmunim said.

”Every neighbourhood has resistance committees organising this so when we do arrive at the assembly points, we see throngs of people from surrounding neighbourhoods joining us. It's quite a poetic sight.”

Internal phone calls could not be made in Sudan for most of Monday and Tuesday, several activists told The National.

“I cannot call anyone right now. I can only receive phone calls from abroad," said Mujtaba Musa, 30.

"We are relying, as we did in 2019, on the support of the Sudanese diaspora."

Mr Musa, a rights activist with more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, was one of the leading voices of the 2019 revolution and often relayed requests of assistance from people on the ground when certain protest sites were lacking water, blood donations or medicine.

“This is now the responsibility of Sudanese people living abroad. We await their phone calls for instructions about gatherings and we then inform each other,” he said.

“The Sudanese people are a very tight-knit society. We are very good in communicating with each other and will do whatever is needed to organise and gather.”

When asked, several people declined to tell The National whether they would be going back on to the streets, fearing for their safety in case the calls and messages exchanged were being monitored. But widespread protests, amid growing online support for the opposition, are expected to continue.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Sudan’s ruling military leader Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan said he was holding Mr Hamdok at his home to "ensure his safety".

Sudanese in Khartoum protest against transitional government

Protesters took to the streets of Sudan's capital to call for the departure of the transitional government.

Mr Musa, Ms Abdulmunim and others told The National they continue to support Mr Hamdok.

“He is by far the most popular leader in Sudan’s recent history,” Mr Musa said. The prime minister's lack of political experience, extensive economic background and ties with the West made him popular among the activist community, he said.

“Hamdok is our legitimate leader,” Ms Abdulmunim said.

After the announcement of a state of emergency and the dissolution of the power-sharing body, which has been ruling Sudan since Al Bashir's removal, it is unclear what the future holds.

"We just want to ensure that the resilience of the Sudanese people will not go undocumented amid the internet blackouts," Dahlia Roubi, a former official at the prime minister's office, told The National.

Gen Al Burhan said internet and phone services would be restored gradually but activists fear it will not be fast enough.

“One of Sudan’s darkest chapters in history was committed while the internet was down. Peaceful protesters were brutally killed, injured, raped and humiliated,” said Marwa Fatafta, Mena policy manager at internet freedom organisation Access Now.

“In the wake of a military coup and as the Sudanese people take to the streets in protest, we must not allow history to repeat itself. The internet must remain on as the world turns its eyes on Sudan.”

Updated: October 27, 2021, 11:07 AM