What’s happening in Sudan: Six things to know about the unrest

Sudanese protesters seek civilian rule as Transitional Military Council retains power after Omar al-Bashir’s removal.

Ramadan in Sudan
Protests began in Sudan in December 2018 over soaring bread prices, but quickly grew into anti-government rallies demanding the removal of then-President Omar al-Bashir [File: Anadolu]

Weeks after the removal of Omar al-Bashir as the president of Sudan, the fight for civilian rule continues as the Transitional Military Council (TMC) refuses to give in to the protesters’ demand to cede power.

The TMC, led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, says it will oversee a transitional period that will last a maximum of two years.

Amid continuing protests, security forces are doing everything possible to end a sit-in protest in the capital, Khartoum.

Here are six things to know about the unrest:

Why did the protests begin?

A wave of demonstrations began across much of Sudan on December 19 over soaring bread prices, a result of a deep economic crisis that started when the southern part of the country seceded after a referendum in 2011, taking oil wealth with it.

The protests started in Atbara, a city in northeastern Sudan known as stronghold for anti-government activities.

Several thousand people took to the streets after the government tried to end the bread shortages.

The price of some types bread tripled after the government introduced the measures intended to ease the shortages and, although there had been bread queues for months, residents of Atbara became angered by the dramatic prince increase.

The authorities quickly changed the policy and scrambled to crush the protests, declaring a state of emergency in Atbara and imposing a curfew from 6:00pm to 6:00am.

But the protests had already spread to Port Sudan, a city on the Red Sea, and to Gadarif in the southeast, before reaching the capital, Khartoum.

Protesters were also angered by cash shortages due to restrictions on withdrawals aimed at keeping money in the banks, which themselves are struggling to find cash.

But what started as a protest about living conditions turned into one about the government of al-Bashir.

How did the protests evolve?

The demonstrations quickly morphed into growing anti-government rallies demanding al-Bashir’s resignation.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella coalition for professional unions, led calls for marches towards the presidential palace, demanding that al-Bashir step down immediately.

Trade unions and professional associations also called for nationwide strikes that saw the participation of a large number of doctors, journalists, lawyers and pharmacists from across Sudan.

Political parties then joined in, and influential sections within the military refused to take part in the repression, forcing the government to eventually cede power.

Protesters adopted slogans used during the Arab Spring of 2011 and gathered outside the headquarters of the military in the capital and refused to move.

The protests reached a climax on the symbolic date of 6 April, the anniversary of a 1985 non-violent uprising that removed Jaafar Nimeiri.

Who are the protesters?

Sudanese from all walks of life have taken part in the demonstrations but the main organiser has been the SPA, which is a coalition of several professional unions that bring together doctors, lawyers and journalists.

There has been a high percentage of women among the protesters, with the image of Alaa Salah, a 22-year-old woman clad in white standing atop a car in April, becoming a symbol of demonstrations.

How did al-Bashir respond?

The Sudanese government responded by promising to carry out economic reforms to “ensure a decent living for citizens”.

However, al-Bashir, who was at the helm since 1989, refused to step down, while security forces continued to crack down on activists and protesters.

As protesters continued their demonstrations across Sudanese cities, al-Bashir announced a one-year state of emergency on February 22.

The presidential decree banned protests, public gatherings and political activities. It also gave the police and security forces more power to monitor individuals and to carry out inspections. 

Under the emergency laws, security forces were allowed to detain suspected individuals and seize private property if they believed it was being used to plan political activities.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese forces have been blamed for a rising death toll amid the increasing number of protesters’ arrest.

In early April, the interior ministry said 39 people, including three security personnel, had died since protests began last year. A spokeswoman for SPA put the death toll at nearly 70.

Special emergency courts established to prosecute people arrested for participating in demonstrations saw hundreds of protesters placed on trial after al-Bashir imposed state of emergency. 

What role has the military played?

Al-Bashir was removed by the military on April 11 after ruling the country for nearly three decades.

In the immediate aftermath of the announcement that al-Bashir had been replaced by a military council, demonstrators called on people to continue with the sit-ins.

The military council, led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, came to power a few days after al-Bashir was overthrown. Al-Burhan promised to oversee a transitional period that will last a maximum of two years.

Demonstrators, however, accused the coup leaders of being close to al-Bashir and said they were implicated in the problems that had broguht about the demonstrations.

They continued to demand that the country’s military rulers immediately hand over power to a civilian-led government.

What is Sudan’s revolutionary history?

Sudan has witnessed two previous revolutions since its independence in 1953.

The popular uprisings of 1964 and 1985 saw the participation of students, trade unions and professional organisations.

After political parties joined the protests and influential sections within the military refused to take part in the repression, the regime stepped down and a peaceful transition followed.

Unlike the current unrest, both revolutionary movements were led by mostly urban, professional elites.

Source: Al Jazeera