Sudan from ‘Bread Riots’ to a national political crisis

Farah Rafeeq

From the dream of a democratic state, how did Sudan wake into a nightmare of violence.

The social media has been going blue to express solidarity with protesters in Sudan to honour the memory of Mohammed Mattar, one of the victims who had been shot on June 3rd during the protest.

After top Generals were forced to mount a coup against Omer Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and remove him from power in April, after 30 years of his presidency, the optimism that followed wasn’t to stay. A transitional military led by the Transitional Military Council (TMC) under new defence Minister Awad bin Awaf took over.

The TMC said it will stay in power for three years until a new civilian rule is established, but under Awad bin Awaf, the constitution was suspended, and no extradition of al-Bashir occurred in the International Court of justice even after the criminal charges raised against him for his war crimes and his part in the Darfur genocide in 2003. Continued protests had resulted in Awad bin Awaf holding down power to Abel Fattah al-Burhan in a day.

Al-Bashir came into power in 1999 as the president of Sudan. His brutal 30 year old regime distressed the nation, on political, economic and humane grounds. Rampant communal fights and forceful conversions of thousands of Christians in attempt to mould a purely Muslim state in a country with strong Islamic and Christian cultural heritage had led to a civil war between the North and South Sudan.

Widespread starvation doomed the state, also the first genocide of the 21st century in Darfur (2003) that killed over 3, 00,000 people occurred. The country was also experiencing an economic downfall as inflation had risen to over 70%, worsened by the Government’s restriction on money withdrawal.

The chain of protests unfolded in Dec, 2018, when civilians took to the streets in Athara and other cities demonstrating against the economic crackdown. The protests were initially called the ‘Bread Riots’ because the price of their staple food, bread, had risen threefold. But later on, these emerged to be a pro democracy movement and spread to the capital city of Khartoum. The waves of protests in the month of January and February witnessed hundreds of activists, protesters and opposition leaders being held without any charge.

The situation in Sudan remains tense as markets and hospitals remain closed. People are calling it the reign of ‘Janjaweed’, which literally translates to ‘Devils on horsebacks’. Janjaweed were local Darfur Arab tribes, who were used by the Government to crush down the insurgency campaign in Darfur which is known as the first genocide of the 21st century where over three lakh people were killed and millions of Sudanese people displaced. Janjaweed militia was also accused of raping women and using chemical weapons.

The military used violent repression to silence the protesters in the streets. Besides the TMC’s security forces, it has resorted the paramilitary, the Rapid Support Forces (RSP) who had allied the Government in Darfur to crackdown on protesters. RSP has waded into protest camps and crushed peaceful sit-ins. Military and the RSP uses tear gas, lashes and gunshots against the civilians.

As violence persisted in the state, the Sudan People’s Army (SPA) had called on a Nationwide Civil Disobedience Campaign. Since then, the bloodshed and damage has aggravated, with more than 100 people dead, 40 bodies found dumped in the Nile (some of them shot, while others had suffered severe beatings), over 500 people injured, women including female doctors in hospitals raped.

Internet services have been shut down and phone traffic disrupted making it difficult for protesters to organise themselves. The media blackout is also a mean for the Government to ensure that the news of the atrocities do not leave beyond Sudan’s border.

Meanwhile, International attention from the Media and Major countries is negligible. African Union has suspended Sudan its membership over its pending of a full civilian rule. Opposition also raises concerns over certain Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE backing the military council to crack down on protesters to ensure their best interests in the state. Ethiopian PM, Abiy Ahmed had arrived for talks with the military and the leaders of pro democracy parties. The World Health Organization has also expressed serious concerns over health care workers being targeted for treating the injured, along with health clinic tents either destroyed or set on fire.

But the protesters are also unwilling for further negotiations with the ruling generals and have decided to continue with the pro democracy campaign until an elected civilian rule is established in the state, the leaders addressing the TMC as “an extension of the old regime”.

The picture taken by Lana Haroun of a woman draped in traditional white thobe and golden moon earrings became a symbol of the protest movement. This is also a callback to how women dressed back in the 70s and 80s protesting against the dictatorships then.

Farah Rafeeq is studying B.A (Hons) Economics in Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi.

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