Sudan’s hidden resistance: ‘The day that can no longer wait’
To assess Sudan’s appetite for a democratic, civilian state through street protests alone would be a mistake.
As a renowned Sudanese musician’s concert wound up close to midnight, the large crowds started leaving the old open theatre in Khartoum. They had been listening to the last songs on their feet under the night rain. There was a strange, contemplative silence as they began walking out. Then, as they spilled onto the street they suddenly started chanting, spontaneously, a revolutionary poem.
“And we will reach the day that can no longer wait … the day whose sun is ablaze,” the chorus went.
One year after the military coup that upended Sudan’s democratic transition, the country continues to witness frequent demonstrations demanding a return to full civilian rule.
However, these organised protests only scratch the surface of popular resistance that is bubbling inside the country, the intensity of which often appears to be lost on the international community in its focus on the street demonstrations.
Mass defiance against the coup continues to manifest itself in broader, more complex and nuanced forms. Sometimes, the act of protest isn’t even visible, especially to the outside world.
For instance, Sudan’s resistance committees — neighbourhood grassroots networks that have served as key pillars of the organised pro-democracy ‘street’ movement — have also been writing political charters that embody their vision for a Sudanese state. Their aim is to offer alternatives to the traditional political systems and practices followed by the country’s elite. The participatory processes and community engagement that goes into producing the charters are as important as the content of those documents.
Electricity sector employees, medics, street cleaners, traders and other professional groups have also been demonstrating their collective power. Many have gone on strike, while Sudanese local markets in several states also shut down in recent weeks to reject new taxation imposed on them by finance minister Jibril Ibrahim, who supported the October 25, 2021, coup.
The drivers of these actions have been largely economic, related to demands for salary increases, anger against unpaid salaries and new burdensome taxes that allow the coup plotters to keep securing the revenue they need. They are also indicative of mounting Sudanese anger at the acute hike in prices of food like bread, sorghum and millet, as well as of basic goods. Sudan witnessed a 359 percent inflation rate in 2021. These strikes could spread.
Resistance also simmers in day-to-day interactions and conversations on social networks and between families and friends in households, markets, on public transport and in universities.
You’ll hear strains of defiance against the coup and its leaders among groups of Sudanese sitting around women tea-sellers on street pavements – social spaces that bring people together every day. People serve up constant sarcasm directed at the junta’s claims of undertaking the coup to “restore the path of democracy”. They also ridicule the military’s insistence that it consolidated power in order to “protect the transition”, as well as the junta’s promise to eventually “hand over power” to civilians and forever stay out of politics.
Such conversations are also ubiquitous on Facebook and, even more so, on the wildly popular WhatsApp, where Sudanese regularly share audio or video footage that captures abuse against protesters, reject the junta’s threats and keep the flame alive in the fight for a civilian, democratic state.
Hashtags are created every other week under different titles, calling for the termination of the coup. Hidden forms of resistance also exist inside social, cultural and artistic events from music concerts to discussion forums, where anti-coup slogans frequently break out.
In a recent event in Khartoum, celebrating good journalism, a winning press report with the title, Burhan and Hemeti Chose the Wrong Generation to Carry Out their Coup Against, received the most intense round of applause from those attending. The reference was to General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the coup leader, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — better known as Hemeti — who is the leader of the Rapid Support Forces militia that supported the coup.
Graffiti with revolutionary slogans such as: “Long Live the Struggles of Sudanese Women” and “The Revolution Goes On” are painted over by the regime only to keep popping up again on street walls. Hundreds of journalists were able to get together and conduct free and monitored elections amid the coup and form their first Sudanese Journalists’ Union in over three decades in August 2022.
All these forms of resistance — some overt, others disguised — coexist and strengthen one another. They adapt in response to the policies and repression of the junta. And they can come together.
The international community must recognise this mood of defiance and the myriad ways in which Sudanese people are expressing themselves. To assess Sudan’s appetite for a democratic, civilian state or their acceptance of the status quo through the barometer of the size of street demonstrations alone would be a serious mistake.
We often hear members of the international community assert that Sudanese civilians are not united. That’s a claim that the military first propagated to justify the coup last year. Sudanese civilian pro-democracy forces do not have to be united in the narrow sense of the term: their differing political ideologies and perspectives on how to bring about change demonstrate the robust democratic underpinnings of their movement. And they do agree on a number of fundamental issues — including, first and foremost, full civilian rule.
A new political deal between the military and some civilian political parties, midwifed by the international community, appears to be taking shape.
Should this new deal not meet the aspirations of most Sudanese, they will resist it in their own different ways. Treating immediate, visible, organised street protests as the only indicator of the aspirations would be a grave miscalculation.
It will not be an easy road, nor a short journey. But Sudan is moving — slowly but definitely — towards the day that can no longer wait.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.