From dictatorship to democracy, to dictatorship again. Since its independence in 1956, Sudan has witnessed a series of unstable governments; with 10 years of democratic rule and 55 years of dictatorship. In December 2018, the public took to the streets protesting the 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir. In 2021, an all too familiar tale played out again.
The National Congress Party – its origins and demise
The roots of the National Congress Party of Sudan date back to the late 1940s, following its establishment by a group of Sudanese students returning from Egypt. They aimed to create a local organisation under the umbrella organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood.
By 1963, the group had created their own political party called the Islamic Charter Front (ICF), advocating for the implementation of an Islamist constitution, with secretary general Hassan Abdallah al-Turabi, leading the group. The ICF mainly recruited members on university campuses, hoping to attract young, educated and impressionable members.
In 1969, the ICF faced a setback after President Gafar al-Numeri came to power through a military coup. He abolished all parties and deemed them illegal, thereby dissolving the ICF.
In 1985 the group reorganised under al-Turabi’s leadership and a new name; the National Islamic Front (NIF). The NIF backed Colonel Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir in a military coup in 1989, where he remained in power until 2019. Al-Bashir was a young army official and member of the NIF. Unfortunately for the NIF, Turabi garnered increasingly negative attention in the media and the international community over the next ten years. Their allegiances and ties to wanted terrorists like Bin Laden, gross human rights violations and several accusations of violence and intolerability towards minorities in Sudan tainted the image of the party and al-Turabi proved to be an obstacle for the NIF from within.
Wishing to ‘rebrand’ his party al-Bashir expelled Turabi from the NIF in 1998 and relaunched as the reformed National Congress Party (NCP). By distancing itself from Turabi the party made major gains and by 2009, it had about 5 million members. Despite the changes, in the view of the International Criminal Court and other international organisations the NCP and Bashir’s government remained an anti-democratic and repressive regime indicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
December 2018 – The NCP headquarters burn to ashes
On December 19, 2018, wheat and fuel subsidies were lifted by the Bashir regime as an attempt to reverse the economic downturn in Sudan. The tripling of bread prices overnight pushed citizens of Atbara, North of Khartoum, to the streets. As emotions ran high, the local headquarters of the National Congress Party burned to the ground, triggering nationwide protests within a few weeks.
Thawra – Revolution
In the next four months, Sudanese civilians (dominated by the younger generation born into the Bashir regime) took to the streets, organising neighbourhood protests 2-3 times a week. Although these efforts were small and consisted mainly of young men and women living in the local area, they attracted violent attacks from police forces. Using tear gas, batons and often live ammunition, protestors were beaten, killed and arrested as the weeks went by.
Feeling the country slip through his fingers, al Bashir declared nationwide state-of-emergency in early February 2019. Rather than pacifying the population, the move triggered the April 6th millions march. The millions march was a call for the entire nation to take to the streets, and so they did. At least ten thousand people were said to have marched on that day towards the defence ministry headquarters in Khartoum, calling for revolution and a sit-in. Protesters set up tents, a medical clinic and guarded the sit-in with barricades in fear of a violent dispersion of the sit-in. On April 9th and 10th, the National Army sided with the protesters, protecting them from security forces and militias of the Bashir regime.
Al- Bashir was removed 5 days later, on April 11, 2019. His replacement; his own vice president and defence minister- Awad Ibn Auf. Unsatisfied protesters remained at the Military HQ, forcing Ibn Auf to step down in less than 48 hours.
Until June of that year, protestors remained at the sit-in, waiting for the official announcement of the transitional council and who would be on it. The sit-in became a safe haven for the street children of Khartoum, artists – purged by the Bashir regime, and youth striving for a step in the right direction. Music played throughout the day, with colourful and positive chants, artists painted murals along the walls, Friday prayer hosted; actions that united the Sudanese public and motivated them to keep up the high spirits in the face of an unknown future. The revolution gained mass media attention and captured the true Sudanese spirit of cooperation, diversity and generosity.
June 3rd Massacre
At 3.00 am June 3rd, 2019, the day before Eid al-Fitr, riot police, security forces, Rapid Support Forces, national police, army officers and other militias – with some men dressed as civilians – attacked sleeping protesters – firing live ammunition, beating and raping protestors. Clips of unidentified forces dumping bodies into the River Nile surfaced on the internet, highlighting the heinous crimes committed that day and throughout the 30-year rule under the al-Bashir regime. The result; more than 130 killed and thousands injured, following a single day of terror.
Within hours of the massacre, mobile internet services were cut off by the state, in an attempt to stop the spread of news about the massacre and the horrifying images and videos captured by protesters on site. The massacre urged pro-democratic forces to call for a nationwide civil disobedience. Fearing marching on the streets as armed military officials patrolled the city, strikes were declared around the country. In the coming days, amidst the internet blackout the internet still went #blueforsudan as Sudanese diaspora flooded social media websites with calls for action and tributes to victims.
In early August 2019, the Forces of Freedom and Change, that had been leading the political and organisational aspect of the revolution and the Transitional Military Council (TMC) came to an official agreement, deciding on an 11-member Sovereign Council to rule Sudan for a period of about 4 years until official elections can be held. The council aimed to reflect both ‘parties’ in the conflict: the military and civilians, with five soldiers and 6 civilians including a Coptic Judge, a woman named Ayesha Musa Saeed, and a journalist. By late August, Abdallah Hamdok, an economist and former UN diplomat is declared Prime Minister and the county’s transitional period to democracy officially begins.
In yet another coup d’état on October 25th, 2021, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (unsurprisingly a prominent figure of the Bashir regime) ordered the arrest of the civilian-government ministers, including Prime Minister Hamdok, who according to al-Burhan is ‘staying at home with him’. Al-Burhan has simultaneously declared a state of emergency and the dissolution of the ‘sovereign council’. Internet and mobile networks have been cut off, similar to the situation in 2019, leaving the public isolated and unable to communicate with one another or the outside world.
Yet protests continue successfully, with the most recent Millions March on the 13th of November. Police have cracked down on protestors using live ammunition, resulting in the death of more than 10, so far. Reports are claiming the youngest victim to be a 14-year-old girl shot in the head, but that has yet to be confirmed. Sudanese diasporas take to the streets of London, Sydney, Atlanta and many other western cities voicing their support for their country that remains in isolation.
The recent attempts at steps toward a democratic shift and continuous sacrifices made by protesters, highlight not only the brutality of the fallen – or rather lurking – regime, but the perseverance of the Sudanese public. With our country left bleeding and in havoc we want to remind the world that though it is a long road ahead, we are willing to walk it.
Note: The views expressed in this article are independent and drawn upon from personal experience and accounts from non- English sources. The news articles linked in the article were added by the author and the Utblick editorial team to provide a background and context to our English speaking readers.
Do you want to know more of current events in Sudan? Sara recommends:
@bsonblast on Instagram, who gives regular updates on events in Sudan, and
@yousraelbagir on both Twitter and Instagram, a journalist who is also covering events in Sudan.
Sara Mohamed is a Sudanese student who resides in Qatar.