In the context of the coup in Sudan, Muzan Alneel analyses the Sudanese revolution and the role of the transitionary government. She argues that the deep unpopularity of the now overthrown government sponsored by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, internationally financed, was an expression of both the economic and political counterrevolutions. This long read forms part of a dossier of articles that is published in collaboration with the Transnational Institute (TNI) and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation – North Africa.
By Muzan Alneel
In early December 2018, protests broke out throughout Sudan against the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir. One week into the sit-in that demanded his departure in April 2019, Omar al-Bashir was deposed – after almost 30 years of rule. However, Sudanese revolutionaries did not stop their sit-ins: they continued to rally before the General Command (headquarters of the Sudanese Armed Forces), affirming their commitment to keep protesting until all their demands were met and their desired changes were realized. On 3 June 2019, the 29th night of Ramadan, the Sudanese security forces brutally and simultaneously dispersed all the sit-ins, committing a massacre.
A ‘power-sharing’ agreement was subsequently signed between the Military Council (comprising al-Bashir’s former security council, which has led the country since al-Bashir’s fall) and the opposition coalition (the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change – FFC). Under the agreement, the civilian-military government is to rule Sudan for a transitional period of three years.
Throughout the two years since the announcement of the transitional government, Sudan has experienced various political and economic changes, including signing peace agreements with different armed movements in the country, Sudan’s removal from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and the ratification of some laws and the amendment of others. At the same time, protests have never stopped: they have occurred at least twice a month during this period.
One chant which has been heard during the ongoing protests in Sudan, and which has become a prevalent part of daily life, is the call ‘It hasn’t fallen yet’: a phrase that follows the call of the December 2018 uprising ‘Just fall’ – referring to the dictatorial regime. The phrase ‘It hasn’t fallen yet’ is a clear expression of the protesters’ rejection of the current situation in the country, and of their will to continue protesting. Other chants include ‘Whether it’s fallen or not, we’re staying here’ and ‘It hasn’t fallen yet, the rule is military still’.
This blogpost seeks to enrich the international revolutionary conversation on the lessons that can be drawn from the Sudanese revolution. Learning these lessons can help us to achieve the revolution’s goals and can also enrich worldwide struggles for a more just world.
Why have the Sudanese risen up?
In early December 2018, angry protests broke out in different Sudanese cities. The bleak economic situation, with people forced to queue for bread and fuel, had ignited a general mood of anger. Atbara city was the site of the most important protest, organized by students at Atbara Industrial School protesting the fact that ta’amiya sandwiches (the most common breakfast consumed by impoverished Sudanese) had become unaffordable as a result of increased bread prices. The students marched all the way to the headquarters of the ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP), and burned the building to the ground.  Pictures of the NCP headquarters on fire soon circulated among the Sudanese. The building looked identical to other NCP headquarters throughout the country, along with their lavish spending, coloured green and provocatively located amidst impoverished and underdeveloped surroundings. The picture ignited hope and the possibility of overthrowing the government suddenly appeared more realistic, despite the arsenal of the security services and their crackdown on protesters.
Although the protesters’ anger emerged in 2018, the economic problems that catalysed it went back much further, resulting from economic policies with a long history. Some of these policies had been implemented by the National Salvation regime of Omar al-Bashir, while some had been put in place under former regimes. Ever since the coup on 30 June 1989, the Salvation government had adopted policies of liberalization and privatization, including the withdrawal of public services. Since the ruling party’s Islamic background led it to adopt an oppositional stance towards the ‘major powers’ (principally the United States and the European Union), it implemented neoliberal economic policies without being able to benefit from the aid that the global financial institutions could have offered. Liberalization empowered the National Islamic Front – the ancestor of the Bashir’s NCP – whose cadres provided, and thus profited from, those public services that the state had abandoned, like education and healthcare. Accordingly, the regime was able to redirect revenues from the state treasury into the pockets of its party cadres.
The history of the Salvation government was marked by a series of failed economic policies and short-sighted decisions, including selling government assets, abandoning service provision, and opening the door to privatized healthcare and education. These policies provoked mass protests throughout the 1990s. Towards the end of that decade, driven by the 1998 US embargo on the country, the regime turned to Chinese companies to act as partners in oil drilling operations in the country. At the same time, the regime strove to re-join the global financial system. It entered into negotiations with a series of US administrations to lift the economic embargo. As part of this process, Sudan accepted to enter into negotiations with the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) to end the civil war in South Sudan, the longest in the history of the continent.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the war initiated a period during which public funds and development grants were channelled into construction, contracting companies, oilfield services, and related projects, both Sudanese and foreign. Oil drilling increased in the South, with pipes pumping the resource to Port Sudan, on the Red Sea. An economic boom occurred, manifested in the stability of the currency and a proliferation of building and construction projects, including roads and infrastructure projects (always marred by corruption scandals and the disappearance of public funds). However, the boom was not accompanied by any development in basic service provision, public facilities, or developmental projects, and there were no serious attempts to establish developmental or service projects in the South, or to provide a national plan for economic and social justice.
This treatment of the Sudanese regions – whereby the government depleted their resources but refrained from engaging in development activities and service provision – was nothing new. Before independence in 1956, education and health services had always been centralized in Khartoum (the capital of the centralized administration) and its surroundings. Sudan’s road network reflected this centre of gravity: converging on the political capital, with virtually no intercity roads not passing through Khartoum. Electricity networks and other services were no different. Following independence, governments did not change the colonial approach that prioritized securing Egypt’s southern border, the sources of the Nile, and cheap agricultural exports from Sudan, while cutting public services to a minimum, limiting them to wealth-administering, rather than wealth-producing, regions.
It is not surprising, then, that the Southern population, or any other Sudanese population for that matter, would choose independence from Khartoum’s colonial authority. In January 2011, as the five-year transition period laid down by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement came to an end, the South Sudan population voted in favour of separation.
After South Sudan declared independence, it became clear that the government in Khartoum was unprepared for this new reality. Its loss of control over southern oil led to economic collapse. In 2012 the national currency depreciated by half within one year. In response, the government immediately turned to austerity measures and announced the lifting of fuel subsidies. Protests broke out against this decision, mainly in universities and higher education institutions. Inspired by the Arab Spring, weekly marches took place, coordinated through social media networks. The protests were met with violence and arrests and within two months they stopped. The following year, in 2013, seeking to prevent continued economic collapse, the government announced the lifting of fuel subsidies for a second time. This time, however, it did so only after school break was announced – to limit student protests. The demonstrations that broke out this time occurred on the periphery of the capital and were met with a different level of violence: live bullets were shot at protesters in the capital in September 2013, when more than 100 people were martyred within three days. The violence was perpetrated by the Janjaweed, the semi-governmental militia known for their genocidal massacres in Darfur, whose formation and continued existence had been partly assisted by the Sudanese generals and National Security Services. 
Facing these protests against its austerity policies, the government proceeded to look for political alliances to sustain its rule. In January 2014, in accordance with a proposal by Princeton Lyman, the former US Special Envoy to Sudan, al-Bashir called for a national dialogue. His proposal envisaged an alliance between the regime and the opposition, whereby the latter would give up its attempts to overthrow the regime in return for sharing power. In Sudanese politics, this approach is known as the ‘soft landing approach’.
Lyman’s proposal failed and economic collapse continued. In response, the government continued its turn towards Gulf capital, whose need for arable lands coincided with the Sudanese regime’s need for economic support. Sudan’s subordination to the Gulf governments led to the transfer of large areas of Sudanese lands, which were emptied of their indigenous populations, to Gulf capital, and extended to its involvement in the Emirati and Saudi war in Yemen.
Anti-government protests continued during this time. These included protests against land grabs, a two-day strike in 2016 against the lifting of subsidies on medicines, and a journalists’ strike in 2017 against the confiscation of newspapers from printshops, and many others.
The uprisings by the Sudanese against all forms of austerity measures in the 10 years that preceded the December 2018 uprising confirm that lack of economic justice was, and still is, the main driving force behind the Sudanese revolution. The Sudanese rose in revolt against privatizations, the withdrawal of state subsidies, the lack of services, and increased bread prices. It was these policies which, on 19 December 2018, drove the students of Atbara Industrial School to the streets.
How can Sudan’s current reality be read?
The Sudanese took to the streets in various Sudanese cities under the slogan ‘Just fall’ – a total rejection of any form of compromise with the existing regime. In July 2018, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) was established as a trade union, being composed of parallel unions (mostly in white-collar sectors), proclaiming its opposition to the regime-controlled official unions. In August 2018, this assembly called for a march towards the parliament, planned to take place on 25 December 2018, to demand an increase in the minimum wage. As protests broke out in early December, and then intensified, the SPA changed the destination of its march to the presidential palace and adopted the call for overthrowing the regime.
In January 2019, in the Declaration of Freedom and Change, the SPA set out its demands, and urged the Sudanese people to adopt and employ various methods of peaceful struggle to achieve them. The demands included the immediate resignation of al-Bashir and his regime, along with the formation of a transitional government, to be charged with nine tasks encompassing economic, political, and legal reforms. The declaration was signed by the SPA and four other bodies representing major Sudanese opposition alliances. They then published the declaration and invited others to sign it too.
While the SPA was widely accepted among the protesters, who were eager for a new leadership, some of the other signatories to the declaration, including existing political parties, were less popular. The Sudanese people’s hostility towards the existing political parties was both logical and justified: throughout the country’s history, these parties have repeatedly compromised and allied themselves with the autocratic regimes they claimed to oppose, and they have repeatedly failed to realize any of their goals, despite justifying their compromises as the road to achieving them. At the same time, Sudan’s centralized and disproportionate development path has created a terrible gap between the country’s wealth-administration centres and the regions, in terms of education, political participation, and political power. The Sudanese parties thus represent the elites created by such a reality: they are agricapital and commercial parties, alongside educated effendi parties. Although some parties, like the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), have theoretically proposed approaches promoting the interests of the working classes, their effect has barely differed from that the capitalist parties and their elite political ways.
In this context it is clear why the protesters preferred other forms of organization, from neighbourhood resistance committees to professional organizations. The popularity of such organizations is the result of alienation from ideological organization, in favour of geographic or professional organization. This discourse naturally led to calls for the formation of a ‘technocratic’ government, distanced from politics (which the people now perceive as corrupt). The lack of a revolutionary vision among the protesters was the result of the absence of any revolutionary party capable of revolutionary theorization and of introducing a counter discourse.
Upon its publication, more than 20 trade union and factional bodies signed the Declaration of Freedom and Change, on 1 January 2019. More signatures were gathered over the following weeks, reaching more than 100 bodies. Nonetheless, the FFC’s decision-making remained tied to the votes of the first four bodies (the SPA and the major opposition party coalitions). The SPA thus failed to play its expected revolutionary role of liberating political decision-making from the hands of the elite. Its composition and approach, being made up of white-collar individuals pursuing their dominant interests and class choices. Again, this was the result of the absence of an organized revolutionary party that could deliver sound analysis to the public.
The SPA called for the forming of neighbourhood resistance committees, drawing on the earlier experience of the grassroots committees that had been formed during the 2013 protests. The committees became the chief heroes of the uprising, conducting impressive work organizing protests on the ground. Just before announcing the one-day strike in March 2019, the SPA had called for the formation of strike committees, or resistance committees, within specific institutions. However, the scope of these committees’ actions remained limited to on-the-ground resistance: an implicit public consensus had been reached that committees should work at the street level to overthrow the regime, while the political leadership should devote itself to preparing a new government and arrangements for the aftermath of the fall of the al-Bashir regime.
On 6 April 2019 people across Sudan marched to the respective compounds of the Army General Command, where they announced the beginning of the General Command sit-ins, which led to al-Bashir’s fall on 13 April 2019. This signalled a new phase in the uprising. Meetings then took place between the FFC and al-Bashir’s security committee, which had deposed the former president in a coup and was now ruling the country, calling itself the Military Council. These meetings were supposed to discuss the handover of power by the Military Council, but in the days that followed, they quickly shifted into ‘negotiations’ meetings. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) supported the Military Council government through their media coverage and sought to whitewash the image of Council members. The Council brought into its camp Bashir’s leaders of the armed forces, security service chiefs, and minister of the interior, as well as the Rapid Support Forces (the new name given to the Janjaweed).
Unsurprisingly, the protesters rejected the Military Council’s rule, but negotiations continued between the FFC and the Military Council, with Gulf governments supporting the Military Council through grants and media coverage. Ambassadors from Western countries backed a ‘peaceful transition by negotiation’, which was promoted by European and American advisory centres. In parallel, the protesters attributed the power held by the FFC negotiators to their own commitment to the sit-ins and other forms of resistance and protest. They led marches within and through cities and shut down the streets any time the Military Council was slow to negotiate or insisted on conditions that they refused. However, during the period of the negotiations, the sit-ins faced repeated crackdowns by the security forces. On 13 May 2019, the eighth day of Ramadan, security forces attacked the General Command sit-in in Khartoum, in what would come to be known as the first massacre of the revolution.
The eighth of Ramadan massacre unleashed a wave of anger on the streets and kindled the protesters’ all-out rejection of the Military Council. Chants of ‘100% civil’ rose against negotiation proposals at the time that offered joint rule between the military and civil leaders. There were also calls for a general political strike, to force the military to hand over power. The political leadership of the FFC was slow to heed the calls for a strike, with some even publicly opposing the call. The street’s fear that the elitist parties would give in once more to their addiction to compromise and fear of radical change was thus borne out. This coincided with meetings between the leadership of the FFC parties and EU and US government representatives, and repeated visits to the UAE. The protesters’ refusal of these shady international manoeuvrings was reflected in their chants and songs, and their efforts to ensure accountability of the representatives of the political leadership through the sit-in squares and their platforms. At the time, thanks to its anti-negotiations position, the SCP managed to garner considerable public trust, at least in comparison with the rest of the FFC. However, the SCP could not escape its elitist essence and unrevolutionary policies, ultimately preferring to preserve the opposition alliance rather than side with the revolution and protect it from compromise.
The SPA call for a political strike was officially made following weeks during which grassroots organizations had been pushing for a strike. Once the strike was announced by the SPA, these organizations published statements of their readiness to strike, and they publicized the planned strike in their speeches in the sit-in squares.  The political strike represented an intensified confrontation between the protesters and the Military Council. The Council arrested strikers and threatened to fire and replace them, as Gulf financial and media backing for the Council increased. The strike ultimately took place on 28 and 29 May 2019, completely paralysing the country, including its airports, seaports, institutions, and markets.
A week later, in June 2019, the Military Council responded to the strike with a series of massacres. The security services simultaneously attacked the sit-ins across 14 Sudanese cities. Survivors’ testimonies document brutal scenes of rape, torture, and murder. In some cases, the bodies of the dead as well as the living were tied up, weighted down with stones, and thrown into the Nile. The massacres resulted in more than 100 martyrs and hundreds of wounded and rape victims, while the search for the disappeared is still ongoing.
The Military Council then announced its withdrawal from all negotiations, stating that it would hold elections in six months; it also shut down the internet throughout the country, to ensure a media blackout (though the Sudanese in the diaspora helped report the massacre). This did not stop the neighbourhood resistance committees and they organized a march in rejection of military rule. More than seven million Sudanese women and men took to the streets in displacement camps, cities, and villages on 30 June 2019, demanding civil rule. Thanks to the 30 June march and international popular support for the Sudanese revolution, the military retreated from its previously announced positions on holding elections and rejecting negotiations.
Nonetheless, the military continued to receive generous international backing. The Emirati and Saudi governments announced grants and loans to support the Military Council. Likewise, the African Union sent its own mediators to call for dialogue between the opposition leadership and the Military Council, which had led the massacre. Inter-state coordination of investments and interests emerged through the so-called ‘Friends of Sudan’ meetings, which began in Washington in May 2019. The attendees comprised the United States, Germany, the EU, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Ethiopia. This group supported a power-sharing approach between the civil leadership and the Military Council. Their aim was to ensure a regime that preserved their ongoing investments and to use the moment of change to open up investment opportunities that had previously been closed either due to the US economic embargo on Sudan or as a result of al-Bashir’s failure to embark on full liberalization. In essence, these states’ positions on Sudan were no different from the similar positions they held on other movements for change in the region, whether in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, or others.
Official external pressure, then, was brought to bear to reinforce the very political and economic approaches against which the Sudanese had revolted. But without a revolutionary party, the guiding discourse on the street was reduced to justifying partnership with the military to spare blood and stop the violence. Likewise, public access to the details of negotiations and agreements was limited to occasional leaks, instead of official public statements, and the political leadership (the FFC) met with foreign ambassadors, delegates and mediators more than they addressed the public. The absence of a revolutionary leadership, then, resulted in wasting the fruit of the revolutionaries’ resilience in the face of the Military Council, and their defiance of the post-massacre oppression. Calls for forming a qualified technocratic government circulated, side-lining the treacherous political parties. Opportunistic actors among the parties making up the FFC promoted such discourses to obstruct analysis of their compromised positions or their international allies’ interests.
Unsurprisingly, this climate produced the current government, which is a military and civil partnership sponsored by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, internationally financed, and staffed by former employees of developmental organizations. This government is therefore an expression of both the economic and political counterrevolutions. In one of his first public speeches, the first transitional Minister of Finance mentioned that the economic objective of the Sudanese revolution was to bring Sudan out of its debt crisis. This represents a complete shift and distortion of the objectives of the revolution, which were to provide economic justice for the impoverished majority of the Sudanese, and to overturn austerity measures. Debt repayment thus became the main justification for plans to further lift subsidies, float the currency, and introduce foreign investments, in a manner no different than al-Bashir’s policies in his later years. The only difference between the former and the latter is the international support given to the current government. The transitional government claimed that a return to the international market and the imagined material wellbeing this would bring were dependent upon such decisions.
The implications of the absence of a revolutionary party are again clear here: it has produced a vacuum as regards progressive discourse on internal and external political questions. It has also enabled the transitional government to present development grants and debt exemptions as revolutionary economic victories – despite the impact of their crushing neoliberal conditions on most Sudanese lives. While the SCP attempts to offer a discourse that rejects liberalization, it is incapable of influencing the masses. The latter have lost trust in the party as a result of its fluctuating positions and its insistence on coalescing with reactionary parties, whose positions the SCP simultaneously critiques in its statements. In the public imagination, this kind of strategy has rendered the party a disrupter that speaks much and resolves little, and lacks seriousness. In the meantime, through their coordinating committees and different alliances, neighbourhood resistance committees have released statements and views against liberalization, but they lack political experience and have prioritized the preservation of the transitional government. Slogans like ‘Yes to reforming the revolutionary path, no to overthrowing the civilian government’ have been voices by the resistance committees, which seek to ensure the military does not seek to ride the wave of protest – as happened in the Egyptian scenario. Nevertheless, as a result of its counterrevolutionary decisions in economic and other domains, support for the civilian government has been steadily declining.
Possible paths for the Sudanese revolution
The revolution must continue in order to halt the economic violence being practised against the impoverished Sudanese masses. This requires drawing lessons from the Sudanese revolution, both its successes and its limitations and failures.
Since August 2019 there have been (increasingly serious) attempts to form organized alliances between different groups of neighbourhood resistance committees, labour organizations, and factional bodies to pursue demands against the harmful transitional economic policies. These alliances would not have developed had it not been for the lessons learned from the recent history of elitist political leadership decisions and their predispositions. Alongside the internal organization of resistance, such alliances constitute the clearest road towards creating a principled front against counterrevolutionary policies. This could lead to the establishment of a revolutionary party, or an organization that partially plays that role.
However, such an auspicious scenario that foresees a sustained Sudanese revolution that continues until its goals are achieved must not distract from the dangers that underlie the counterrevolutionary global alliances. Overthrowing the cross-border global counterrevolutionary alliances cannot be achieved except through a cross-border global resistance. This requires consolidating global solidarity and channels of communication with communities that have been harmed by similar liberalization policies to those currently applied in Sudan. It also requires supporting all forms of resistance to autocratic regimes, especially those engaging in direct economic interventions in Sudan, with invested capitals in its resources, first among which are the Gulf countries – who are responsible for the lion’s share of counterrevolutionary interventions. At its core, cross-border solidarity is no different from ‘national’ solidarity campaigns: just as populations affected by goldmining in Sudan make alliances with those affected by oil drilling in the country, allied around their joint demand to protect their environment from the effects of extractive industries, so it is both possible and imperative to join forces with the common interests of miners in Morocco, for example, who demand safe working conditions, and with environmental activists fighting against the impacts of mining in South Africa.
The path to realizing the goals of the Sudanese revolution thus requires an organized Sudanese working class, which has the largest stake in achieving the revolution’s goals. It also requires forming a strategic alliance with anyone engaged in anti-imperialist resistance who shares similar goals, within Sudan’s borders and beyond. Only then shall it ‘Just fall’
Muzan Alneel is a is co-founder of the Innovation, Science and Technology Think-tank for People-Centered Development (ISTiNAD) in Sudan and is a non-resident Fellow of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP), focusing on a people-centric approach to economy, industry and the environment in Sudan.
A version of this blogpost forms part of a dossier of articles that is published in collaboration with the Transnational Institute (TNI) and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation – North Africa and the full dossier can be accessed here.
Featured Photograph: The strike on 28–29 May 2019 – Revolutionaries in the street lift strike signs before Rapid Support Forces cars in Khartoum, text on paper: “Are you on strike or are you Ummah #CivilianRule” (Ummah Party, one of the biggest parties, which announced its refusal to strike).
 The ruling regime established the NCP in 1998. Its members came from the National Islamic Front (NIF), which led the government that ruled Sudan from 30 June 1989 until President al-Bashir was deposed on 11 April 2019.
 The civil war in South Sudan pitted the ruling North against the southern Sudanese. Under the banner of the SPLM, the southerners demanded greater local governance. The first round of the war began in 1955, and lasted until 1972. War broke out again in 1983, and ended in 2005, upon the signing of the Comprehensive Peace (Naivasha) Agreement.
 The War in Darfur began in 2003. Insurgent movements that had risen up against the persecution and marginalization of the area’s population fought the Khartoum government. The government armed some Darfuri tribes to fight in its stead, later termed the Janjaweed militias. The United Nations has estimated that 80,000 to 500,000 people were murdered in the Darfur genocide, while President Omar al-Bashir stated that the death toll did not exceed 10,000.
 The term effendi, was used throughout the Ottoman Empire to address government officials. In Sudan, effendisrefers to the educated people who were employed by the state after the end of the Anglo-Egyptian colonization. These groups received privileges and opportunities, and constituted the bigger part of the upper middle class in Sudan. They were well-represented politically and were the recipients of favouritism from consecutive regimes.
 The opposition parties that signed the Declaration of Freedom and Change after its publication were the SPA, the National Consensus Forces, the Sudan Call Forces, and the Opposition Unionist Assembly.
 At this point in the Sudanese revolution (April–May 2019), ‘breaking the line’ became a cardinal sin. Grassroots organizations were therefore unable to propose any ideas that contradicted the hirak’s leadership, which, to the public, was the SPA. Accordingly, proponents of a strike used their statements to announce their readiness for a strike, whenever the ‘leadership’ called for it, and urged the SPA to make such a call.
 Despite its clear and constant involvement in counterrevolutionary politics in Sudan – including al-Burhan’s visit to Egypt right before the massacre – and its occasional attendance of Friends of Sudan meetings, Egypt is not an official member of that group. This can be viewed through the complex lens of the Egyptian–Ethiopian conflict over regional leadership, and Egypt’s wish to operate as the first Emirati arm in the region.
 Dr Ibrahim al-Badawi, Minister of Finance and Financial Planning, in a meeting promoting a shared vision of the private sector and the transitional government, organized by the Sudanese Businessmen and Employers Federation, held at Sadaqa Hall on 7 December 2019.