Sudanese Protesters Persist Despite Military Warnings

After nearly a month since the Sudanese military ousted President Omar al-Bashir, protesters continue to demand representation in Sudan’s transitional government. Former President al-Bashir was removed from power on Thursday, April 11th, in response to over 16 weeks of widespread protest. After orchestrating the coup that placed al-Bashir under house arrest, the Sudanese military has retained a firm command of the government, declaring a two-year official transition period to be followed by a presidential election.


Al-Bashir’s decision to impose dramatic increases to bread prices in December 2018 sparked the original protests in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. However, the protests soon morphed into opposition against al-Bashir’s dictatorial, violent, decades-long rule. From the outset, the government and military response to the public opposition has been lethal. Sudanese officials estimate death tolls of approximately 40 people in the past five months, while non-governmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch estimate that the Sudanese law-enforcement has killed almost double that number, with 35 in the last six days of al-Bashir’s rule alone. According to official reports from Al-Jazeera, of the 35 people killed in the week preceding al-Bashir’s ousting, 16 have died from “stray bullets” and 20 others have been hospitalized with injuries. In addition to those killed, hundreds of others have been detained by government forces. 


Beginning in 1989, al-Bashir’s tenure as President has been marred with human rights violations. In 2016, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest in response to the atrocities committed by the Sudanese army against the people of Darfur; a conflict that has claimed over 480,000 lives and displaced nearly 2 million people since 2003.


Although al-Bashir’s removal is widely lauded as a global human rights victory, skeptics cite the military’s entrenchment in al-Bashir’s regime as evidence that these events mark a superficial transition of power rather than a substantive one. As a result, protests have not halted despite the former President’s ousting.


Initially, the demonstrators’ persistence had a nearly immediate impact, as former Defense Minister Awad Ibn Auf stepped down from his head position on the transition council only two days after al-Bashir’s unseating. Auf’s resignation was followed by similar departures from other al-Bashir cronies, such as former intelligence chief Salah Abdallah Mohamed Saleh, commonly known as Salah Gosh, who resigned on Friday. Auf’s replacement, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, immediately vowed to release political prisoners, dismantle Bashir’s regime and removed the night-time curfew from the state of emergency.  Since then, however, it appears the willingness to yield to civilian demands has stagnated.


One of the most prominent groups leading the protests, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), has articulated a clear set of demands: rather than the current 10 member transition council currently composed entirely of military officials, protesters demand a 15 member council consisting of eight civilian appointed members and seven military-appointed members. These demands appear to have put negotiations in a deadlock, with the military transition council unwilling to cede more than three out of 10 spots on the council.


The SPA, one of the vanguard organisations of the movement, has promised to continue to exert “all forms of peaceful pressure to achieve the objectives of the revolution.” Other demonstrators claim, “We are ready to die because this is a message to the previous regime. We want to build a new country.”


Although the military transition council adamantly insists that the military has no intention to retain power after the two year period, their behaviour suggests otherwise. Most recent statements warn protesters that the council “will not tolerate chaos.” The status of democracy in Sudan hangs in the balance.