Protest In Sudan Broken Up By Tear Gas

This week, security forces in Sudan used tear gas to break up a demonstration in the capital supporting a civilian-led transition to democracy. Al Jazeera reports that 20,000 protestors chanted “the army is Sudan’s army, not Burhan’s,” referring to General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of Sudan’s military and its governing Sovereign Council. The protest follows an attempted coup last week aimed at overthrowing Sudan’s transitional government established in 2019, which replaced the authoritarian rule of President Omar al-Bashir. “We came today to block any coup and achieve civilian rule,” said Eman Salih, a 22-year-old university student. “We will not allow the military to control our revolution.”

Sudanese officials thwarted last week’s coup d’etat, which they blamed on soldiers still loyal to Omar al-Bashir, a tyrannical leader infamous for corruption and genocide. 21 people—with and without military affiliations—were arrested in connection to the coup. Although it is still unclear what their plans were upon success, the attempt exposes the fragility of Sudan’s transitional state, revealing entrenched divisions between the military and civilian groups’ power-sharing for the duration of the nation’s interim government. According to Al Jazeera, civilian officials accuse the military leaders of abusing their power, while military leaders criticize civilian mismanagement of the economy and democratic processes. “The objective of these marches is to protect Sudan’s democratic transition and there is no way to achieve that without ending any partnership with the military council,” said a statement issued by the Sudanese Professionals Association, which initiated the rallies. 

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, the “civilian face” of the new government, faces pressure from both groups. Although Hamdok received more public support than any other Sudanese leader at the start of his term, he now struggles to retain civilian backing. He has stated that he prioritizes an inclusive, democratic transition. But because Hamdok’s main focus has been rebuilding Sudan’s international reputation, many citizens feel as though national challenges have been disregarded. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit Sudan—just six months into Hamdok’s premiership—the country was plunged into unprecedented poverty rates, as the civilian wing of the government grappled to effectively manage the outbreak.  Meanwhile, the nation is in the midst of multiple foreign and domestic crises, ranging from the aftermath of unrest in Tigray, to floods and locusts threatening food security. As Hamdok sets his sights on alleviating external debt, the public isn’t convinced that the government has its citizens’ best interests at heart. 

“Debt relief and international acceptance as measures of success mean little for those who are unable to buy basics like food and fuel,” writes Kholood Khair, Managing Partner of Insight Strategy Partners, a policy think-and-do tank based in Khartoum, Sudan. Referencing Afghanistan, Khair warns against prioritizing international reputation over domestic needs, as it can spark doubt in liberal democracy, leading to the resurgence of fundamentalist ideology. “The delay in the formation of parliament, Hamdok’s perceived weakness in pressuring the military to fully commit to the transitional process, rising unemployment and deepening poverty, coupled with the public’s persistent lack of faith in the national political process have brought Sudan closer to breaking point,” claims Khair. 

To prevent the escalation of violence between the public and security forces, Hamdok needs to shift his focus and resources to domestic crises. To effectively address these issues, he must work to unify the civilian wing of the government, which, according to Al Jazeera, has thus far failed to reach a domestic consensus. The current division within the civilian government has created room for supporters of Omar al-Bashir’s regime to resurge, as demonstrated in last week’s coup. Certainly, in this transitional state, Sudan will require reinforcement from international organizations such as the United Nations, but the focus must be on domestic issues. With a strong unified front, a civilian-led transition to democracy is possible.

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