Thousands of Sudanese protesters have performed the weekly Muslim prayers outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, a day after a vast crowd of demonstrators flooded the capital to demand the military rulers cede power.
“Freedom, freedom,” the protesters chanted on Friday as prayer leader Sheikh Matter Younis delivered a sermon.
“We will not retreat until we get our main demand of civilian rule,” said Younis, an activist from Sudan‘s war-torn western region of Darfur, according to the AFP news agency.
He also called for the “symbols” of the old regime to be punished.
“They must face fair and transparent justice, they have to be held accountable,” he said, as the protesters chanted: “Blood for blood! We will not accept compensation!”
Demonstrators have massed outside the army complex in central Khartoum since April 6, initially to demand the overthrow of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir.
But since his removal by the army on April 11, the protesters have kept up their sit-in, demanding the military council that took control to hand power to a civilian administration.
Despite international support for the protesters, the council has so far resisted, although three of its 10 members resigned on Wednesday under pressure from the street.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Vall, reporting from Khartoum, said the military rulers and the protest leaders have been able to reach agreements on a number of issues, including the creation of the joint committee to supervise the transition to a civilian rule.
“But they are in disagreement about who should be the leading part in this partnership. The military want what they call sovereignty in their hands, because they believe they are the side that can maintain peace and security,” Vall said.
“They are going to allow for a civilian government to have a civilian cabinet, a civilian prime minister to deal with the day-to-day affairs of the country.”
He said the protest leaders wanted the military away from the ruling positions completely.
“The people are tired of the military ruling the country. They say the military should be for the protection of the country, for the protection of the borders, but the leadership of the country, including the presidency, the cabinet and so on should be in the hands of civilians.”
At a separate Friday prayer gathering in a mosque in southern Khartoum, Muslim preachers long allied to al-Bashir’s government called for a rally to support military-backed Islamic rule in the face of alleged attempts by protesters to abolish it.
“They want to write a secular constitution, but we will protect Sharia (Islamic laws),” said Abdelhai Yousef, a prominent conservative imam. “We will gather on Monday to tell them that Sharia is a red line.”
Since independence in 1956, Sudan has bounced between tumultuous party politics and military rule.
But al-Bashir successfully presented himself as the leader of a new wave of “political Islam”, based on an alliance between conservative Muslim preachers and the military.
As a young officer, al-Bashir and his army were trusted by the conservative Muslim movement, which played a key role in propping him up for years.
After leading his coup with a few fellow officers, al-Bashir declared the imposition of Islamic law. The new rules included stoning and amputations as punishments.
The conservative Muslims “have not stopped their attempts at regrouping themselves, but they are not capable of standing against the revolution,” said Faysal Saleh, a Sudanese journalist. “Hence, they are rallying behind the military council.”
Some see no imminent threat posed by hardliners, arguing they lack a solid support base in today’s Sudan.
“So far these groups are standing alone and people are already resentful of them and hold them responsible for supporting al-Bashir’s regime for decades,” said Saleh.