By Steve Bell
On Monday October 25th, Sudanese military forces, led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, enacted a coup against the civilian members of the Transitional Government. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and other civilian ministers and leaders were arrested. A state of emergency was declared, and General Burhan took effective power.
The Transitional Government had been installed following a compromise between military leaders and a number of political parties in June 2019. This was in response to massive street protests, strikes and demonstrations from December 2018, until April 2019 which resulted in an end to the thirty year rule of Omar al-Bashir. At the time, many of those protesting felt that the compromise formula of a dual military/civilian government would not address the outstanding problems of Bashir’s military dominated regime.
The transitional process was to lead to full elections in 2023. Burhan was required to hand over the presidency to a civilian in November 2021. For the coup plotters then, time appeared to be running out, and rather than retreat from power they moved to monopolise it.
At the time of writing on October 31st, it is far from evident that the coup will succeed. The international response has been mostly hostile. And the masses of the Sudanese people are actively rejecting the military’s actions.
The international opposition
The US government, which had been supporting the compromise regime, has felt it necessary to distance itself from the coup. US Special Envoy, Jeffrey Feltman, had been in Khartoum, meeting with both civilian and military members of the Transitional Government. Tensions had been rising for some time. In late September there was a failed coup from a section of the military and bureaucracy that remained loyal to the previous regime of Bashir. Equally, the mass movement of Sudanese people had taken to the streets on October 21st, when millions took part in rallies across the country demanding a full shift of power to civilian forces. The date was chosen as the anniversary of the revolution in 1964 which had brought down the military dictatorship of General Ibrahim Abboud.
Feltman’s visit was obviously unsuccessful, as the military moved against the civilian forces within an hour of his plane leaving Sudan. Biden’s administration stated this was a surprise. In response, it has taken action to press Burhan to step back. It has suspended $700 million in aid. It has also stated it opposes any further “normalisation” of relations with Israel while the military acts alone. This blocks a process of potentially great economic and political value for the military. In addition, the World Bank has halted access to $2 billion granted to the Transitional Government in March. At the moment, the IMF is monitoring the situation, but not yet withdrawn the $2.5 billion offered to the regime in June.
Clearly these financial inducements will give the military pause for thought. The general economic situation is dire. Inflation is at record levels, reaching 400% in June. There is a shortage of goods and services, and a spike in food insecurity. According to the UN, more than half of the population is in poverty, and 38% of children suffering malnutrition.
Opposition has not been confined to the US government. The African Union has suspended Sudan’s membership. Both the UN and the Arab League have called for a return to the terms of the 2019 accord.
Initiatives have been undertaken on the diplomatic field. On Wednesday October 27th, the UN Special Rapporteur for Sudan, and ambassadors from the US, France, Germany, Britain, EU and Norway met with Hamdok at his residence, where it appears he is under house arrest. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has called for the takeover to be reversed, and for the military to take heed of the protests. The UN Envoy for Sudan, Volker Perthes, met with Hamdok on Sunday October 31st.
The popular opposition
Undoubtedly much of this urgency is because the Sudanese people are acting in their masses against the takeover. The mobilisations have been very large, involving millions of people on the streets and in different forms of protest.
Officials in some ministries and government agencies have refused to step down or hand over responsibilities. 41 current and former ambassadors and diplomats have circulated a letter in support of “our heroic people”. The main markets, banks and filling stations have been closed. A general strike has been called across the workforce, including public sector workers, health workers and aviation workers. The strikers are providing emergency medical care, and maintaining flour and gas deliveries.
Demonstrations and protests have been widespread across the country. The largest actions took place on Saturday October 30th, with the biggest turn out of hundrteds of thousands in Khartoum and Omdurman. To the fore of the organisation have been the Sudanese Professionals Association, and resistance committees, who are linked to Sudanese Communist Party. Advice to protesters has been to stay in neighbourhoods, build barricades across roads leading to neighbourhoods and continue with civil disobedience.
The regime has hit back, although it has, so far, stopped short of systematic repression. Nevertheless, eleven people have been killed and more than a hundred wounded. In Port Sudan, there have been clashes between protesters and armed tribal forces mobilised to support the military. The army has demolished some barricades. The army has cut off the internet, and phone lines taken out for some days.
What is clear is that the protests are not primarily seeking a return to the previously deadlocked dual government. The most popular slogans on Saturday’s demonstrations were “Leave!” and “No to Military Rule!”. The people of Sudan want to go further than the concerns of the US and others in the “international community”.
Events are developing by the day and the hour. Immediately, Burhan is manoeuvring to maintain his position. On Friday October 29th, he said that a new PM will be announced within a week. He told Sputnik News that the new government would be led by a technocrat. He had said, the day before, that he had been negotiating with Hamdok. Allies of Hamdok have insisted that he is refusing to negotiate. A meeting between Hamdok and civilian ministers was prevented from taking place on Thursday. These efforts to rearrange military domination are obviously an attempt to diffuse international pressure by incorporating selected “civilians”.
Calls have been made for international solidarity. On Saturday protests in support were held in Australia, Libya, Lebanon and London. A Joint Solidarity Statement was issued on October 25th by a number of parties across the Arab world, and has been promoted by the International People’s Assembly.
If the coup is consolidated this will be a grave blow to the aspirations of the majority of Sudanese people. Support from socialists and the progressive movement is now vital to defend the people’s struggle for independence and freedom.