Strikes and protests return to Sudan following the recent military coup. These events are part of the larger saga of Sudan’s 2019 revolution. While martyrs are shot down, street barricades are built up. What’s next for the revolution?
On Oct. 25, 2021, the people of Sudan woke to a long-expected military coup. Civilian ministers were arrested in the early morning hours, shortly thereafter the internet was shut down and television broadcasts canceled.
By 6:00 a.m. the people were in the streets of Khartoum, the capital city, building barricades. By 7:00 a.m. the workers’ strikes started. These early morning events were recently described by Sudanese activist Muzan Alneel, speaking on the panel Sudan Resists the Coup: Organizing Solidarity with Sudan’s Revolutionaries. The panel can be found on YouTube.
Alneel goes on to describe how the people of Khartoum proceeded to make their way to the city center before congregating at the military headquarters, the site of a massive sit-in during the 2019 uprising. It is at this point that the first martyrs of these new revolutionary developments fell. Massive strikes and protests have continued since.
To understand this revolt, we must understand the coup and current uprising as the continuation of the 2019 revolution and the 2011 Arab spring more generally.
In 2011, the world was rocked by popular uprisings toppling long-standing dictators in the Middle East and North Africa.
These struggles were a response to the neoliberal policies of austerity these governments imposed, like the slashing of food and fuel subsidies, as well as corruption in government and an overall lack of mobility and job opportunities.
Sudan, too, was rocked by protests from 2011 to 2013. However, the movement in Sudan was not large enough to overcome the repression or to prevent the budget cuts or inflation that they were a response to. With lessons learned, organization created, and continued neoliberal rule, the Sudanese people rose up again in 2019, overthrowing the despot Omer Al Bashir.
Professor Gilbert Achcar described the fall of Bashir in an article for International Viewpoint, “Sudanese armed forces sacrificed their ousted president[‘s] close allies and the people and institutions most directly compromised in the abuses and misappropriations of the abhorred [regime]” while maintaining the overall ruling structures and personnel.
This led to a transitional government of shared civil and military power. But, as Professor Achcar explains, “a key feature of the Sudanese uprising… is its open opposition to the rule of either the military or their fundamentalist allies”.
In addition to the military’s military and political power, it has significant economic power. The New York Times reports these assets include mineral extraction (including gold), the livestock industry, and pharmaceutical enterprises. Demands for democratic control of these state enterprises partially explain the impasse leading to the coup.
The liberal elite have attempted to use the revolution to bring themselves to power; hence, they are willing to negotiate with the military elite to find a power-sharing agreement.
But, this is not happening in a vacuum. The Sudanese people know the lessons of the Arab Spring: both civil and military governments continuing the same austerity agendas, the same agendas appeasing the U.S. and Israel, and the same agendas of repression and corruption.
Likewise in Sudan, the people have watched the shared civil/military government continue to fail them. Those put in power from the 2019 uprising haven’t reversed the neoliberal agenda. They have continued to use anti-Darfur racism to maintain rule. They have failed to implement the anti-sexist aspirations of the uprising that was led by women and centered anti-sexist demands.
Even now, international calls from the United Nations and other such forces are for a return to power-sharing with the goal of a civilian government ostensibly democratic but directed by larger forces like the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
This helps us to understand how the response to the coup happened so quickly. Not only have the Sudanese people already been fighting back since 2019 to hold the new regime accountable, but many were aware that the regime’s inability to meet their aspirations would lead to a counter-revolutionary coup.
More than any other force, mobilizations and general strikes we see today in Sudan are organized by the Resistance Committees. These are neighborhood-based, popular, and democratic. The
Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Solidarity Network published a list of seven demands put out by the Resistance Committees and since endorsed by multiple opposition parties, unions, and other sections of civil society. Only four of them have space to be published here: Overthrow the military coup and hand over full power to civilians; Hand over all members of the military council to urgent and immediate trials on charges of instituting a military coup; No dialogue or negotiation with any of the members of the Military Council and members of its Security Committee, and reject any interference by foreign powers; Remove all armed and police forces from the political process once and for all, by criminalizing the practice of politics by the military.
Muzan Alneel ended her contribution to Sudan Resists the Coup by asking supporters of the Sudanese people to reject both the coup and the liberal calls for compromise, “call them out for being counter-revolutionary racists,”. If we believe the Sudanese people want democracy, we should respect their inherently democratic revolution.
Down with the coup and solidarity with the popular struggle!