Subscribe to Secularism is a Womens Issue

Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Home > impact on women / resistance > Sudan’s Protesters Find New Tactics For Civil Disobedience

Sudan’s Protesters Find New Tactics For Civil Disobedience

‘Build barricades, then run’

Tuesday 18 June 2019, by siawi3


Sudan’s Protesters Find New Tactics For Civil Disobedience
‘Build barricades, then run’

By Kaamil Ahmed,

June 19, 2019

photo: Streets in Khartoum have been deserted as protesters reject the rule of Sudan’s military council (AFP)

‘Build barricades, then run’

Anger against military council moves from open demonstrations to civil disobedience amid a violent crackdown

Build the barricades, then run. The message from protest leaders to the young Sudanese on the streets of the capital has been consistent ahead of Sunday’s call to began a comprehensive campaign of civil disobedience.

Initially used to guard the sit-in outside Sudan’s military headquarters – where protesters demanded the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) step aside – barricades built from bricks and metal scavenged from the very roads they block have been a symbol of Sudan’s protest movement.

But after Sudanese forces forcibly dispersed the sit-in on 3 June, those protesters have now spread their opposition through the country.

“The barricades are your guards,” according to one of the many rallying calls released by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the group that spearheaded protests against former president Omar al-Bashir since December.

The SPA has been encouraging protesters to build barricades along Khartoum’s main roads and side streets, but instead of guarding them as they did at the sit-in, to immediately run away.

“Barricade and withdraw,” their messages state. “Avoid friction with Janjaweed forces.”

At least 118 people have been killed by Sudanese forces since they dispersed the sit-in on Monday, according to the protest-aligned Sudanese Doctors’ Committee, which believes the real number killed is much higher.

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group has been blamed for last week’s massacre. Built from the Janjaweed militia accused of committing war crimes in the western Darfur region in the early 2000s, the RSF has now spread throughout Khartoum.

While protesters at the sit-in would man their barricades and face down the soldiers who were often sat directly opposite them, protest leaders like the SPA are now calling on protesters to be more careful.

Civil disobedience, they say, is the new phase of their movement.

It came into full effect on Sunday, with the streets of Khartoum and other cities abandoned and businesses shuttered. Banks were closed, flights at Khartoum airport were cancelled, and the operation of Port Sudan was halted, despite reported attempts by the military council to force staff into work over the past week.

The SPA said aviation, electricity company and bank workers had all been detained in an attempt to force them into working during the civil disobedience campaign.

The protests began in December, when citizens in the northern town of Atbara, exasperated by a surge in living costs, burned down the ruling party’s headquarters.

The image spread, and soon cities across Sudan were protesting, calling for an end to the rule of Bashir after 30 years in power.

They achieved that goal on 11 April, a few days after protesters began the sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, but were angered that the TMC replaced him.

The sit-in remained, and protest leaders had been in negotiations with the military for a handover of power to civilians but, already stalling, the process was ended with the sudden attack on the sit-in last week.

The internet has almost completely shut down across the country since Monday, and RSF personnel have fanned out across the Khartoum, accused of regularly and randomly attacking passers-by, while in recent days eyewitnesses have reported an increase in unknown gangs stalking the streets.

Health ministry official Suleman Adula Gadar told MEE that 11 people had been killed over the past two days by a recent surge in the activity of “outlaws” operating within the chaos caused by the past week’s events.

Khartoum residents told Middle East Eye that going out onto the streets has become unsafe and many avoid it if possible, describing their situation as a kind of mass house arrest.

“People are trying to store supplies for the civil disobedience,” one protester, who did not want to be named, told MEE.

How to implement that civil disobedience has become a hot topic of discussion among protesters, who try to share information through SMS messages or handwritten notes handed out in their neighbourhoods to bypass the internet restrictions.

The Riyadh Resistance Committee, one of the neighbourhood teams set up to organise localised protest activities while Bashir was still in power, echoed SPA instructions to “barricade then run,” but also called for protesters to withdraw to side streets whenever confronted by the RSF.

Localised “resistance committees” hand out notes reminding residents of the civil disobedience campaign (Handout)

The SPA has called on protesters to use this campaign to bring the country to a halt as a way of loosening the military council’s grip, by refusing to work or use any service, especially financial, that could benefit them.

Videos trickling out of Sudan, shared by the few who manage to circumvent the internet cuts, show a cat-and-mouse game of protesters building barricades and the numerous RSF soldiers who have flooded Khartoum trying to clear them so they can navigate the city with their notorious pick-up trucks armed with machine-guns

The SPA has also warned against “miserable” tricks by the military council, accusing soldiers of leaving weapons on the streets to tempt protesters into turning to violence.

But there also appears to be an increase in the number of Khartoum residents ready to return to the streets in large numbers.

In Khartoum’s sister city Omdurman, a major rally took to the streets on Friday night and others followed on Saturday.

In Bahri, also adjoined to the Khartoum and Omdurman, rallies reportedly came under attack by forces trying to break up the barricades.

The doctors’ committee confirmed on Sunday night that protester Waleed Abdel Rahman had died from after being shot in the chest.

“The Transitional Military Council continue to take the lives of unarmed citizens and undermine their security and stability inside their homes and streets,” it said.

Mohammed Amin contributed reporting to this article



Massacre and Uprising in Sudan

Thursday 13 June 2019,

by Shireen Akram-Boshar and Brian Bean

Sudan’s ongoing but embattled revolution is perhaps the best organized and politically advanced in the region. That’s why the US and Saudi Arabia are determined to crush it.

At dawn on Monday, June 3, paramilitary forces raided the sit-in opposite the Army General Command in Khartoum, Sudan, raining fire on protesters and bringing an end to six months of a largely peaceful uprising. Soldiers broke through the demonstrators’ barricades, burnt their tents to the ground, and shot at and beat protesters. Witnesses spoke of soldiers shooting indiscriminately, throwing bodies of slain protesters into the Nile, and raping two of the medics at the sit-in.

Within forty-eight hours, the death toll rose to over a hundred, as tens of bodies were recovered from the Nile. Five hundred more were injured in what could only be described as a premeditated massacre.

The sit-in outside the military headquarters had become the focal point of the ongoing Sudanese Revolution, with students and professionals having camped out to protest the ruling military regime since early April. Led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of trade unions that had previously been banned by the regime, the uprising maintained a nonviolent and highly organized character, culminating in a two-day general strike at the end of May.

But two months after the initial protests that ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir, the revolutionaries were still voicing their same principal demand: an end to military rule in Sudan and a civilian-led transition government that could lead the way to fair and democratic elections. Weeks of negotiations with the military had stalemated, with the military refusing to relinquish control.

Last Monday’s attack was led by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a state-controlled offshoot of the Janjaweed, a militia responsible for war crimes in Darfur. After storming and brutally massacring demonstrators in Khartoum’s sit-in, the RSF then moved to the surrounding neighborhoods — which had also boasted anti-regime protests and ongoing congregations of demonstrators — continuing to disperse, beat, and shoot activists.

Mohammed Elnaiem, a resident of one of the surrounding neighborhoods as well as a Sudanese activist and PhD student, gave us a firsthand account of the crackdown. He described the scene he witnessed early that morning and the continued crackdown:

The RSF came first in a small band, around three or four trucks, and they started talking to the army. We thought that maybe the army — they were lower-ranked soldiers — would be on our side. But the RSF drove through the barricades that we had built, and the army didn’t do anything. Shortly afterwards, the army vehicles that were in our neighborhood left. At that point most people understood what was going to come next, and started to clear out. We realized that the army and the RSF were in coordination with each other — and that the RSF were completely in control. They started shooting at us and we all started running away from the barricades, and running into houses to hide. I haven’t been brave enough to go outside to rebuild the barricades like some other people have been since then. It’s terrifying. There’s gunshots everywhere. In my neighborhood there is reports of a sniper in an abandoned building. I don’t know where specifically so it’s really risky. They want to terrorize us at home.

The RSF also raided three of Khartoum’s hospitals, shooting at wounded protesters who had been brought in for treatment. At Sudan’s Royal Care Hospital last Tuesday, the soldiers forced fifty wounded protesters to evacuate after shooting and arresting one of the doctors, who had been a part of the medical team at the sit-in. Other revolutionary sit-ins in various cities across the country, including in northern Port Sudan, and in eastern Gadarif and Sinja, were also raided and attacked by the RSF.

In a further show of force and lockdown, the military imposed an internet blackout, crippling most online and phone services across the country. The internet blackout is still ongoing. And Khartoum, as activists have explained, is essentially under military occupation.

The aim of last week’s early-morning massacre and the ensuing crackdown is clear: to disperse the revolutionaries, end the central sit-in, and crush the people’s demand to wrest power from the military.

The brutal crackdown comes six years after the Rab’aa massacre in Cairo carried out by then-general, now-president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, where over a thousand Muslim Brotherhood protesters were slaughtered, capping the coup carried out by the Egyptian military and marking a sharper turn of counterrevolution in the country. Today, the Khartoum sit-in massacre marks a counterrevolutionary turning point in Sudan, though in Sudan it is the regime associated with the Muslim Brotherhood that perpetrated the killings.

The forces of counterrevolution in Sudan are outgrowths of the country’s own recent history of genocidal war. As many commentators said of the RSF’s brutal crackdown, Darfur has come to Khartoum this week. Indeed, the Rapid Support Forces have a nearly two-decade history of racist repression in Darfur in western Sudan, as well as collusion with the European Union’s drive to eliminate migration across its borders.

In 2003, Omar al-Bashir created the RSF’s predecessor, the Janjaweed, recruiting them as the government’s main tool in his war on Darfur. The two years after the founding of the Janjaweed witnessed the highest levels of violence in Darfur, with over one hundred thousand killed and up to two million ethnically cleansed. Al-Bashir’s scorched-earth repression in Darfur led to the call for his arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Nearly a decade later, in 2013, al-Bashir formally recognized the Rapid Support Forces and appointed Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo (General Hemedti), who had risen through the ranks of the Janjaweed, as its leader. The militia had evolved from a primarily sectarian paramilitary to an official militia, formally subordinated to the military regime. This is as clear as ever today, as Hemedti, head of the RSF, is also deputy head of the so-called Transitional Military Council — wielding perhaps more power than anyone in the country.

In 2014, the RSF militia took up the task of policing migration, colluding with Fortress Europe as it began to tighten the noose on migrants and refugees heading towards Europe from Africa and the Middle East. The year before Europe turned its focus to Turkey to curb migration from Syria and Iraq, it looked to stop the movement of migrants through Sudan, and launched what became known as the Khartoum Process.

The Khartoum Process aimed to stop African migrants from entering Europe. The Rapid Support Forces themselves were deployed to prevent migrants from various countries from crossing Sudan’s borders. Tasked with arresting and deporting hundreds of migrants, the RSF were paid a quarter of a million dollars to criminalize migrants in response to Europe’s bidding. Thus, European anti-migrant racism fueled and helped professionalize the terror that was turned against the protesters this week.

The massacre of June 3 came just days after the leaders of the Transitional Military Council, General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al Burhan and his deputy, General Hemedti, attended a series of meetings convened by the Saudis in Mecca with the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Burhan and Hemedti have long-standing ties with Saudi Arabia through their participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen that has plunged that country into a humanitarian crisis. The Saudi-UAE coalition has used Sudanese soldiers to outsource the war on Yemen, diminishing the number of Saudi lives lost and thus dampening internal dissent.

The tens of thousands of Sudanese soldiers sent to fight in Yemen have been reported to include numerous child soldiers from the Darfur region. Motivating the war on Yemen is Saudi Arabia’s ongoing imperial rivalry (with absolute support from US) with Iran for regional dominance. It should also be noted that this anti-Iran alignment has driven the Gulf countries into closer cooperation with Israel, one consequence of which is the upcoming Bahrain conference, where the Trump administration plans to unveil its so-called “deal of the century” sell-out of the Palestinian people.

Competition with Iran, partly at the behest of the US, drives the active backing for the Transitional Military Council (TMC) by the regional forces of counterrevolution, and their efforts quell the aspirations of the Sudanese people. On Sunday, June 2, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged to send three billion dollars in aid to Sudan. The Emirati crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, vowed to “preserve Sudan’s security and stability.” Egyptian president — and counter-revolutionary extraordinaire — Sisi has used his position at the head of the African Union (AU) to support the TMC and block attempts by the AU to condemn it, although last Monday’s massacre finally drove the AU to suspend Sudan. The timing of the bloodbath undoubtedly was reviewed and green-lit by these regional powers.

While the US made statements condemning the excesses of the recent violence, this should in no way be equated with support for the uprising, as the distancing is only cosmetic. Saudi actions are carried out in lockstep with the strategy of the country’s US ally in its attempts to isolate Iran. Trump’s plans to bypass Congress to keep weapons flowing into Yemen represent just one small example of this.

Russia has taken a more belligerent stance, echoing the RSF’s earlier statements of justifying the massacre and stating that the violence of June 3 “need[ed] to be done for order to be imposed and fight against extremists” — the same language Russia used to express their support for the butchery of Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s own revolution.

Needless to say, the revolution in Sudan is having to grapple with the fact that the massed forces of global capitalism, though sometimes in rivalry with one another, do not tolerate democratic movements like that which has flowered in Sudan’s streets since January. The revolutionaries in Khartoum know this, chanting slogans like “We don’t want your money” at the announcement of Saudi-Emiriti aid in April. How the struggle confronts this challenge and connects with international solidarity as counterrevolution intensifies will be critical. The revolution has no friends in the halls of government but in the streets.

At first, the response from the TMC was to justify the killings; it has since shifted to downplaying them and minimizing the number killed. In a classic “good cop” maneuver, it has also stated that now — after having dismantled one of the symbolic centers of the resistance and sown terror and death — it is open to negotiating again, even as it enforces an internet blackout to cover up its crimes.

Since the breakdown in negotiations, the TMC has once again announced that elections will be held in no more than nine months, breaking the previously agreed upon three-year transition period that the opposition had called for. The opposition demanded this timeframe before elections in order to provide adequate opportunity to organize political forces independent of the regime. Sections of the country (Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan) are still reeling from civil wars that have lasted for over a decade. Early elections would only ensure that pro-regime elements would be best positioned to reap the rewards of the ballot due to the undemocratic character of the political arena that is just beginning to be forced open by the protests.

The Sudanese Professional Association (the core of the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change) has declared no more negotiations with the TMC and called for an open-ended political general strike and mass civil disobedience in order to bring down the military regime as the “only measure left” to save the revolution. As this article is being written, the first reports of the civil disobedience campaigns are coming in, and a “social shutdown” has cleared the streets in response to the call to stay home. Sections of oil workershave taken up the strike as well. The strike and civil disobedience would also mean an organized boycott of the elections should the military continue unilaterally to pursue them.

This will test some of the divisions within the revolution. Some of the more traditional opposition parties like the National Umma Party of Sadiq al-Madhi (the prime minister deposed by Omar al-Bashir in the 1989 coup), the Sudanese Congress Party, and some of the armed movements around Yassir Arman and Malik Agar are organized under the umbrella grouping Sudan Call.

These parties — along with the Sudanese Communist Party, which is grouped with some small Ba’athist and Nasserite parties in the National Consensus Forces alliance — have for years played the role of institutionalized opposition against the Bashir government and his National Congress Party. Many of them, like al-Mahdi and the Popular Congress Party (PCP) of the late Hassan al Turabi, have played roles in previous governments (the PCP joined a National Unity government in 2017, which the revolutionary forces have not forgotten). Their political habits of negotiation with, and parliamentary opposition to, the old regime, will carry over and make them more likely to compromise with the military regime and counterrevolution.

However, it should be noted that the communists have thus far maintained a principled opposition to compromises on a civilian government. The politics of those elements who clearly see the dangers of these compromises have marked the successes of the revolution thus far. As the protesters recognized immediately after overthrowing al-Bashir, despite changes in government, the state apparatus remains largely intact, and this contest with state power remains the largest hurdle for the uprising.

Indeed, despite the “transition” in their name, the Transitional Military Council represents the same order as the ancien régime. The military has proven to be the consistent kingmaker of Sudanese politics and guided past coups in 1969 and 1989. The general strikes and mass struggle present themselves as the way forward to achieve an alternative.

The revolution sprang not from the opposition parties but from the masses of the Sudanese people and new formations like the SPA — which itself was created through struggle. Now is a crucial juncture to see how, after last Monday’s massacre, the struggle can be maintained in opposition to the military regime.

Mohammed described the current moment in Khartoum:

In spite of all this terror there are still people building barricades. They risk their lives, and they get terrorized, they go home for a few hours, and then they go back and rebuild the barricades.

The determination and political will expressed by this current round of general strikes and civil disobedience are essential. Also, though underreported, the promising development of neighborhood revolutionary councils offers hope, and their growth and regroupment will be essential.

Whatever lies ahead, after the massacre, Mohammed explains that:

The TMC has lost legitimacy and because of that we can have a more strongly defined revolutionary program and demand the sovereign council not as having five [representatives] from the military and five from the civilian government, [but] we should say “no, zero from the TMC.

Though the Sudanese revolution has thus far proven one of the most organized and politically advanced revolutions in the region, these challenges remain massive. Our attention and solidarity should be with the Sudanese people, who have entered the stage of history and are fighting, and dying, for freedom.

Shireen Akram-Boshar is a socialist activist based in Boston.
Brian Bean is a socialist activist and writer living in Chicago