Sudan’s pro-democracy groups push for day of anti-coup rallies

Proposed weekend protests to put pressure on military to restore democratic transition

People chant slogans during a protest in Khartoum, Sudan, on Saturday, October 30, 2021. AP
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Sudan’s powerful pro-democracy groups are calling for mass rallies on Saturday to protest against last month’s military takeover in a bid to maintain pressure on the military.

The call by the Sudanese Professionals’ Association and neighbourhood resistance committees, the main engines of the popular uprising that prompted the military to remove dictator Omar Al Bashir in April 2019, came late on Tuesday as hundreds gathered in Khartoum and elsewhere in the country to protest against the October 25 coup.

At least 12 people have been killed and about 300 wounded in street protests since the military takeover. Activists say they were shot by soldiers, but army head Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan has denied military involvement and said the killings are being investigated.

Although protests in recent days were smaller than those in the aftermath of the coup, central Khartoum remained significantly quieter on Wednesday than it was before the military takeover. Pedestrian traffic was scarce and most shops were doing little business.

Compounding the city’s woes is economic hardship. The price of staples such as sugar and milk has inched higher as Sudan grapples with inflation rates of about 387 per cent.

On Wednesday, four universities suspended classes in protest at the coup. Two of the four are in Khartoum, one in the eastern region and one south of the capital. Schools in the capital reopened on Sunday, but few pupils attended.

The internet was cut off for the 16th consecutive day on Tuesday, despite a court ruling ordering for the service to be restored. Phone service has been erratic.

On October 25, Gen Al Burhan dismissed the civilian-led government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and detained several ministers. He also declared a nationwide state of emergency and said he would appoint a government of technocrats to run the country until elections in 2023.

Sudan minister hopeful that 'things will be back to normal'

Sudan minister hopeful that 'things will be back to normal'

Until then, he explained, the military would be the guarantor of the democratic transition and of Sudan’s stability and security.

The coup provoked strong international condemnation and the suspension of vital aid to the poor nation of more than 40 million people.

The ambassadors of the US, Britain and Norway met Gen Al Burhan on Tuesday evening and told him civilian leadership must be restored.

“We underscored the need for restoration of the Constitutional Document, and of Prime Minister Hamdok to office, as the basis for discussions on how to achieve a civilian-military partnership and civilian-led transitional government,” the countries, known as the Sudan Troika, said.

Gen Al Burhan has also ordered the arrest of scores of senior government officials, trade union leaders and journalists.

Despite attempts to mediate a solution to the stand-off between civilian groups and the military, there has been little progress so far.

Late on Tuesday, the Forces of Freedom and Change, a pro-democracy alliance that served as the civilian government’s power base, said it was no longer interested in talks with the military and would focus instead on unifying the ranks of the opposition.

The large Umma party also reaffirmed its opposition to the coup and its insistence on the return of Mr Hamdok’s government and the release of detainees.

Gen Al Burhan also issued a decree to form a committee to review and recoup funds seized by the government deemed to be unlawfully acquired by Al Bashir and his loyalists. Gen Al Burhan suspended the Empowerment Removal Committee soon after the army took over.

Experts say they fear that without mediation to resolve disagreements and end protests, gains to fix the struggling economy would be undone.

“He doesn’t have any solutions to the big issues of the economy, democracy or peace,” Alex de Waal, a prominent Sudan expert at Tufts University, said of Gen Al Burhan. “So, with a solid internal and external opposition, he may have to reverse course. The trick is finding a face-saving formula.”

But the military is not out of options.

“If he hangs on, he might turn Sudan’s weakness into a strong card. The US and others are primarily invested in political stability and if they see Sudan unravelling they may decide to unlock external aid and provide support on the grounds that the alternatives are worse,” said Mr de Waal.

Hany Raslan, a Sudan expert at Egypt’s Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said forcing the military to make significant concessions to find a way out of the crisis could be dangerous.

“A settlement must be balanced and protect the country’s high interests. Anything less will carry the seeds of collapse and another collapse will probably unravel Sudan,” Mr Raslan said.

“A return to the military-civilian partnership is possible, but not necessarily in the shape it was before the coup. If Al Burhan decides to go it alone without the civilians the crisis will stay and the suspension of aid will deeply hurt and destabilise the country,” he said.

Gen Al Burhan has promised a civilian government of technocrats under the guidance of the military and even reportedly encouraged Mr Hamdok to return as the prime minister. The proposal, however, has been rejected on the ground.

Another area of concern for those on the streets is Gen Al Burhan’s decision to bring senior state employees out of retirement to fill positions left vacant by resignations and arrests since the coup. While many are committed supporters of Al Bashir’s regime, regional security officials say the move is born of necessity rather than ideology.

Businessman Mohammed Youssef Abdalla, 30, says this is a step backwards.

“The military is doing everything they can to foil opposition to the coup. The old faces have come back and the Sudanese street is very disappointed to see that,” he said.

But Khaled Fathy, an SPA member, said the process of purging Al Bashir loyalists over the past two years was far from complete, especially in the lower ranks of the state.

“Al Bashir loyalists never really fully left state institutions. They remain in control of the domestic security agencies and have made a comeback in provincial administrations,” he said.

“State television is one good example. It only broadcasts army decrees and says absolutely nothing about what’s happening on the streets.”

Updated: November 10, 2021, 2:43 PM