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‘We got rid of a dictator’—activist in Sudan speaks out

A growing network of neighbourhood resistance committees is at the centre of the movement against the military coup
Issue 2793
Protesters on the streets of Sudan

Protesters in Sudan are still taking to the streets and mounting impressive resistance in the face of the military coup  (Picture @Resistcommittee)

It’s been four months since 25 October, when a military coup seized control in Sudan. Ever since thousands of people have regularly demonstrated and defied vicious repression. Muzna Alhaj, a member of a neighbourhood resistance committee in the capital Khartoum, spoke to Charlie Kimber.
How do you assess the situation in Sudan today?
When the military coup took place on 25 October there was an immediate reaction from the people. They went onto the streets and confronted the armed forces. This is not just about a “political crisis” as the United Nations and other forces describe it. It is a new phase of the Sudanese revolution that has been taking place since 2018.
It has not yet prevailed 100 percent because various political actors did deals with the military and the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF). We are guided by the “three Nos”—no compromise with the regime, no negotiations, no legitimacy to the coup leaders. This phase could potentially see victory because the resistance committees can lead the way.
Our experience is that the Forces of Freedom and Change, that was the leadership in an earlier period, has failed, and the Sudanese Professionals Association has been limited.
The central role of the resistance committees has been the improved coordination of resistance on the streets day after day and with a strategically decided monthly schedule of protests. The committees are also building solidarity with each other, not just in Khartoum but also in Darfur and other areas.
The revolution goes through high and low points. Nobody can ignore the cruelty and violence of the regime. We know the authorities have detained up to 1,000 activists from the resistance committees. They are held in Khartoum’s infamous Soba prison and prevented from seeing lawyers. Some are tortured, and all are held in bad conditions. The detainees have gone on hunger strike.
The coup leaders’ plan is to prolong talks and the so-called political process. Really they are relying on people inside Sudan and internationally forgetting what has happened. And they can rely on their allies in the region—the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. 
It’s notable that these are the actors who are all on good terms with the United States. They think the military can offer stability and maintain the present relations of oppression.
The US and its allies are not helping. Their top-down methods are designed to cement the position of the military in any future settlement. As activists we are clear—there can be no place for the military leaders at all. 
It is not an impossible demand to get rid of these people. We got rid of the dictator al-Bashir in 2019 and we can do the same to Burhan.
What are the discussions taking place within the revolutionary forces?
Not all of those who joined in the first week or the first month will remain faithful to the vision of the revolution. It falls on the shoulders of the resistance committees to keep up the momentum. There are thousands of people who refuse to accept the coup.
There is now a process of defining the aims of the revolution and the steps necessary to achieve them. Local resistance committees are debating and adopting political charters that point the way forward.
There are discussions about the role of parliament, the question of whether compromises are possible, the economic issues as well as the political. By the end of February we expect there to be a process of aggregating these demands into a national charter.
We want a much more accountable democracy. In the past the resistance committees were promised seats in a parliament, but that never took place. Some committees want to insist on these seats. Others see their role as being pressure groups and lobbyists outside parliament.
What about the resistance committees themselves taking power?
That can be discussed. But most people see the only possible form of rule as a parliament, although not one like we had in the past or that would include the military. 
The resistance committees are spreading, including into the mostly rural northern region. They have emerged from battles over electricity prices, unfair economic policies and sharing the state’s revenues with the citizens. In these areas people have blockaded the route between Sudan and Egypt since last month. At the moment that trade enriches a few people, the resistance committees are demanding that wealth is shared.
There are barricades around Al-Golid, Al-Burgaig, Abri, Hafeer Mashu, Dongola, Alhamadab, Meroe, Karma, Dalgo, Halfa and occasionally in other places. It’s an important development. The security forces continually attack the blockades but they have stood firm, despite killings.
One of the contrasts with 2019 is that there are fewer strikes against the regime. Why is that?
There have been strikes by groups such as teachers, pilots and doctors. But you’re right, it’s not like 2019. Bosses will now fire you if you strike, and there’s no legal form of protection. The steering committees of some unions have been suspended and Burhan has dissolved others. It’s rule by fear.
This emphasises that the resistance committees must be closer to the struggles at work. At a recent strike over promised backpay at the Bank of Khartoum, the resistance committees were prominent in supporting the strike.
What vision of Sudan are you fighting for?
It flows from the idea of a Sudan for the people, accountable to the people. That must mean the national resources are also controlled by the people. The wealth of Sudan must be the people’s wealth. It must not be controlled by the military or the RSF. There has to be a government that represents all the people.
As a woman I have simple demands. I want political and economic rights. But I also want to be able to walk down the street wearing what I want without fear of harassment or being detained.

The Sudanese revolution – A timeline 

December 2018: A trebling in the price of bread and other basic goods leads to protests. They quickly became a political revolt against the regime of Omar al-Bashir who had ruled for 30 years since a military coup. Despite repression, protests grow during the next three months.

April 2019: Instead of leaving at the end of a march in Khartoum, protesters occupied the area around the military headquarters and began an indefinite sit-in. They set up barricades to protect themselves from attack, organised food, water and security, began cultural projects and held constant discussions. The example spread to some other cities. And workers began to protest not just as individuals but as organised groups from workplaces.

11 April 2019: Fearing the scale of the protests, the military leaders announce that Bashir has been removed. But the military stay in charge. The protests and sit-ins continue and on 28 and 29 May workers hold a powerful general strike.

3 June 2019: Led by the notorious Rapid Support Forces paramilitaries, military council forces stormed the Khartoum sit-in and killed at least 110 people. But protests and strikes continue.

August 2019: Instead of building on the protests to sweep away the military, a rotten agreement sees “power-sharing” between the military and the pro-democracy movement.

October 2019: Huge numbers of people come onto the streets angry at the slow pace of change and economic hardship.

July 2020: Up to a million people march “to correct the path of the revolution”.

October 2021: The transitional agreement says the military should step aside, but they launch a coup to stay in power. It’s met by immediate street protests.

6 Nov 2021: A million people demonstrate across Sudan against the military. They block roads and make clear they will not accept military control.

21 Nov 2021: Abdalla Hamdok, the ousted civilian prime minister, does a deal with general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to lead a government of technocrats for a transitional period. Most of the anti-coup opposition denounce the move as a sham designed to give the appearance of change while the military effectively stays in charge.

2 January 2022: Continuing mass street protests force Hamdok’s resignation. The United Nations and Western powers continue to seek a compromise between the people on the streets and the generals.

For detailed coverage of Sudan go here

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