A month after protests forced out dictator Omar al-Bashir, the fate of Sudan’s revolution remains on a knife-edge.
Opposition forces called for a major escalation in protests to back up their demands for a civilian-led government on Saturday. But the Transitional Military Council, the gang of generals who ditched al-Bashir amid mass protests, has tried to head off moves to dilute their power.
It’s clear that what they most fear and loathe is the sight of ordinary people organising. The council’s deputy head, war criminal General Hemedti, said it was willing to negotiate with opposition groups—but described the mass sit-ins as “chaos”.
Starting with the gigantic sit-in outside the General Command in the capital Khartoum on 6 April, occupations sprung up in major cities. They have played a crucial role in building the confidence in ordinary people that a democratic Sudan is possible.
Muawwiyya Ahmed Kessinger is a member of the revolutionary committees at the General Command sit-in. He told Socialist Worker, “The committees were set up on 6 April, the anniversary of the April Revolution which overthrew the president Ja’afar al Nimeiry in 1985.
“We needed to organise the ranks of the revolutionaries in order to resist the brutal repression of the regime while maintaining the peacefulness of the revolution.
“We began to discuss how to make an organised body of revolutionaries. It was spontaneous at first, but quickly became a more cohesive organisation.”
The sit-ins are a serious threat to the military council—and show how ordinary people can begin to build new forms of democracy during revolutions.
Muawwiyya described how these volunteer activists work to organise the half a million or so protesters who gather in the square each evening.
He explained that seven different types of committees coordinate the sit-in. “Firstly we have Organisation Committees which are responsible for the organisation and distribution of the members of the other committees,” he said.
The Protection Committees were the first of the revolutionary committees. Muawwiyya said, “The first committee was formed on 6 April in order to protect the protesters by running security checkpoints.
“This was to prevent individuals from the regime’s security forces getting access to the sit-in and causing a disturbance.
“They also set up the barricades.”
The Provisions Committees organise food and drink for protesters and Medical Committees provide treatment for the injured.
“There are also the Awareness Raising Committees,” said Muawwiyya. “They educate the protesters about the importance of non-violence in the revolution and about the rights of the Sudanese people to freedom, peace, justice and democracy.”
Two further committees are responsible for cleaning and coordination.
Political education is a priority for the mass movement. Muawwiyya said, “Since the first day in the sit-in we have been holding discussion circles.
“They are to raise awareness both of the committee members and all the protesters at the General Command sit-in. We talk about the importance of peace, the acceptance of the other and the rejection of racism in all its forms, whether ethnic or religious, and discrimination against women.
“These have really raised the political awareness of the protesters.”
At the moment the Revolutionary Committees inside the General Command sit-in are composed of volunteers, rather than being elected bodies.
Yet a recent statement by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) proposes an important role for elected Resistance and Change Committees in local areas. It is the union that was at the forefront of the mass movement that toppled al-Bashir.
Resistance Committees have appeared in many neighbourhoods and cities to mobilise support for the protests and then the sit-ins over the past few months. The SPA’s proposal would see representatives from local Resistance and Change Committees taking up at 30 percent of the seats in a transitional parliament.
Yet at the same time, the SPA and Alliance for Freedom and Change umbrella group’s negotiators are also trying to convince the old regime to reform itself from the top.
The Transitional Military Council has proposed a presidential council to run the country until elections in the future. But it is resisting demands to make civilian representatives the majority on the body.
So the opposition isn’t encouraging workers and civil servants to take matters into their own hands and purge their workplaces and government institutions of regime officials. They are first hoping to reach an agreement which will put civilians in charge of the whole government.
As Muawwiyya explains, “The cleansing campaigns have not yet begun.
“This would distract people from the task of forming a civilian government and limiting the role of the military in the country.
“Cleansing the state of members of the former regime will be left to the civilian government.”
One partial, but important, exception is in the police. Muawwiyya said, “A few days ago there was a police strike—the first in 30 years—and this is a major shift towards democracy.
“People feel free to express themselves and this is an important step towards purging the state of all forms of dictatorship.”
The problem with asking generals to reform themselves out of power is that they very rarely oblige.
Egypt’s reformist Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed, who took office after dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced out, found that out in 2013. The military stepped in to restore order and crushed the revolution.
The Sudanese generals know that what’s at stake is more than protecting themselves from retribution for their crimes.
The upper levels of the army are deeply embedded in Sudan’s economy. They have been able to seize massive amounts of the state’s wealth and they act as key intermediaries for powerful regional capitalist interests in the Gulf.
These are all reasons why mass protests on their own are unlikely to tip the balance in favour of the revolutionaries. But workers have the power to break the regime, and mass political strikes could really begin to shake it.
They are the best way for the revolutionary movement to widen the splits inside the army— between the generals, their junior officers and soldiers. And they could pull the lower ranks openly into defying orders.
Sudanese workers have already begun to show their support for the revolution. On Saturday in Port Sudan striking workers blockaded the port. And sugar workers at the Kenana Company began a sit-in outside the military command to demanded action against their corrupt bosses.
Workers’ councils are a logical next step for revolutionaries in Sudan. These committees could bring together delegates to plan joint strikes and ensure the distribution of essential goods and services.
Unlike neighbourhood-based committees, workers’ councils could bring the ports, railways, telecommunications networks, public services and food production under the democratic authority of the revolutionary movement.
This would take these sectors out of the hands of the existing state, challenging the Sudanese regime, and be a force to drive through revolutionary change.