Sudan faces its latest round of political unrest after major protests which began in Dec. 2018. The Guardian reports that on Apr. 6, thousands of demonstrators held a sit-in outside of a major military installation in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, which also houses the president’s mansion, while smaller demonstrations erupted throughout the country. Four days after, on April 10, the military took over after and successfully ousted President Omar al-Bashir after 30 years of repressive rule. The current authority is now negotiating with the protestors to form a transitional government.
A 10-member delegation representing the protesters delivered their demands during talks late on Saturday, according to a statement by umbrella group the Alliance for Freedom and Change. The group insists civilian representatives should be accepted on to the military council, and that a fully civilian government should be formed to run day-to-day affairs. “We will continue … our sit-in until all our demands are met,” said one of the alliance’s leaders, Omar al-Degier, reports The Guardian.
Bashir came to power through a coup in 1989 and the establishment of a four-year transitional government ending in elections. The December protests erupted after Bashir tripled the price of bread and claimed that he would seek a third presidential term in 2020 even though this would require a constitutional amendment. Subsequent crackdowns on anti-government demonstrations killed 51 and imprisoned hundreds more who can face torture and expedited trials.
Due to spiraling unrest, Bashir declared a year-long state of emergency in February. This declaration gave the security forces a free hand in suppressing protests and censored press as well as opposition political organizations. Even though Bashir admitted that the protesters have “legitimate” grievances he has reaffirmed the need for change through the ballot and claimed that the protests are being hijacked by people who want to throw Sudan into chaos. In a further move towards authoritarianism, Bashir dismissed the state and federal governments in February and appointed military officials to take their place.
The Guardian reports that the most recent protests are led by The Sudanese Professional Association which released a statement claiming that “the demands of this revolution are crystal clear… the regime and its head must step down.” The Professional Association had also reached out to the military, in the hope that it would assist in the establishment of a transitional government. The military had remained relatively aloof during the demonstrations, and some soldiers had even shown sympathy towards the protests. On April 6 and 9, military units fired on each other as one group defended the protesters against soldiers directly loyal to the president. One military officer even let the protesters hide in a military installation when a pro-government militia opened fire on a demonstration.
On April 13, the military council claimed that it would prosecute Bashir but would not extradite him. Bashir faces a genocide indictment from the International Criminal Court for his government’s actions in Darfur. Darfur, a region of western Sudan, has been in a state of civil war since 2003 that has killed 300,000 and displaced millions. Since the military became increasingly unreliable, Bashir had even brought in the Janjaweed, a pro-government militia accused of mass-murder in Darfur and South Sudan, reconstituting them as Rapid Support Forces according to The Guardian. The Janjaweed have attacked protesters in Khartoum, and are attempting to starve the sit-ins of food and water by establishing checkpoints throughout cities to prevent aid from reaching the demonstrators.
One positive event that emerged during the protests was a viral photo on social media which became the defining image of nearly four months of protests against Bashir’s authoritarian rule. The powerful image shows a woman in a traditional white Sudanese gown and moon-shaped golden earrings standing on top of a car with her right arm raised and a finger pointing to the sky. The image is of 22-year-old engineering student from Khartoum, Alaa Saleh.
The photo also represents the significant role women have played during the protests. Authorities have jailed hundreds of women since the protests began in December, according to The National. Now that Bashir is out of office the future for citizens like Saleh is uncertain, but hopefully a better future is on the horizon.