Sudan is in a state of chaos following last month’s coup, in which army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan dissolved the government, declared a state of emergency and arrested Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok and prominent opposition figures.
Almost immediately, opposition groups took to the streets and continued to protest in the aftermath of protests and civil disobedience. A demonstration in Khartoum, a militia established in 2013 to fight armed rebel groups in the country’s war-torn Darfur region, faced fierce opposition from the military and the feared Rapid Support Force. Three people died and more than 100 were injured in this.
Read more: Explainer: what is Sudan’s coup and why the rest of the world needs to act
Sudan’s military has always played a major role in the country’s politics and was instrumental in the removal of the previous president, Omar al-Bashir, in 2019. But he did so with a broad coalition of civil society groups, including student bodies, trade unions and other community. Group.
Resistance: at home and abroad
The Sudan Professionals Association (SPA) is a major player in the protests. Established in October 2016, it is a coalition of three of Sudan’s largest professional groups: the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, the Sudanese Journalists Network and the Democratic Lawyers Association. It acts as an umbrella organization for about 18 other trade unions representing professional associations ranging from academics and teachers to engineers and health professionals.
There is also significant resistance within senior civil service offices and some ministries. In a statement posted on Facebook on 29 October, the ministries and agencies of Khartoum, Sudan’s most populous state, said they would not step aside or delegate their duties and declared a general strike.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, the US have also drawn notable protests from the international community, urging the lifting of the state of emergency and the release of those recently detained. In the end, international criticism and pressure may prove crucial. The poor state of Sudan’s economy means that it will have to rely on external finance for any recovery.
While Egypt and Abu Dhabi have close ties with Burhan, they stand to gain little from the continued instability and international opposition that attracts these influential actors, the latest being the added advantage needed to roll back military authoritarianism. could.
The Sudanese military junta itself is divided, primarily between the Sudan Armed Forces led by Burhan, and the RSF militia led by General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemati” Dagallo, who is also the vice chairman of the Sovereignty Council. There is internal economic rivalry over military involvement in trade, but there is also a proposed integration of the RSF, which many believe to be at the center of an obscure commercial empire. The RSF also reputedly pays significantly higher salaries than the Army, causing resentment among lower and middle-ranked SAF officers who view RSF commands as less than legitimate.
Following violent retaliation by security forces against the protests, the Resistance Committee advised people to “stay in their neighbourhoods, barricade streets and continue civil disobedience”. According to the most recent reports, the death toll among the demonstrators stood at 12 dead and over 200 injured, although security forces denied using ammunition.
With most senior civilian leadership being placed under house arrest or detention, overall coordination of opposition functions can be difficult. Several senior figures in the civilian leadership were part of the Joint Civil-Military Council appointed after the 2019 coup, and many of these figures have been detained along with Hamdok. Since the house arrest, Hamdok and other opposition figures continue to speak with the United Nations, but, as the UN Special Representative in Sudan, Volker Perthes, said on 1 November, “the real talks … May be among those who are free.”
Hamdok remains the leader of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), a broad coalition formed during the 2018-19 protests against Bashir and a key part of the transitional government formed in April 2019 after Bashir’s ouster. The FFC holds 67% of the seats in the Legislative Council, which was established as the parliament to run the country during a three-year transition period. The council is in favor of establishing civil rule and prosecuting those responsible for war crimes under Bashir. But it would be a mistake to think of the FFC as a unified organization.
Sudan’s long history of political fragmentation has allowed the military to step in on regular occasions to, as they say, “restore order” – and there are currently at least 80 political parties in Sudan. The FFC consists of some major parties, including the National Ummah Party (NUP), the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the Sudanese Congress Party (SCP), and the Sudanese Communist Party. The SPA leader, Ismail al-Taj, and Sediq al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of Sudan’s largest political party, the Ummah, have also been arrested.
Another important opposition leader detained since the military came to power is SCP leader, Omar al-Degier. His group of centre-left, secular liberals, students and professionals was instrumental in coordinating the protests against Bashir and calls for more civilian rule. While the SPA exercises considerable control over organized labour, the SCP has been able to mobilize large numbers of protesters partly through social media.
The main issue facing the FCC is the internal division between these major groups, particularly with the SPA which split from the FCC in June 2020 and has since split itself into factions.
Ironically, one of the achievements of the military takeover may have been to unite these fragmented groups in opposition.