Military Coup in Sudan Ignites Deadly Street Protests, Blow to Democratic Transition


A military coup in Sudan has dealt a sharp reversal to one of Africa’s most heralded and closely watched democratic transitions, igniting street protests by thousands of pro-democracy supporters and triggering a harsh crackdown that left scores of people dead or injured from military gunfire.

Early on Monday, the military dissolved Sudan’s transitional government and the Sovereign Council, a joint military and civilian body created soon after al-Bashir’s ouster to run the country. Soldiers arrested the key civilian leaders of the government, including Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a former UN official. By Monday night, his fate and whereabouts were unknown.

The Sovereign Council had been tasked with overseeing a four-year transition to democracy after long-time leader Omar al-Bashir was removed from power in 2019 in the wake of months of civil unrest and protests.

The military takeover was strongly criticized by UN leaders and Western governments. Many of those Western leaders have vocally supported the transitional government and provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid over the past two years.

The U.S. said it was immediately suspending US$700-million in economic support funds for Sudan. The European Union called the military coup “a betrayal of the revolution, the transition and the legitimate requests of the Sudanese people for peace, justice and economic development.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the immediate release of Mr. Hamdok and all other arrested officials.

By Monday night, seven protesters had been shot dead by soldiers and 140 were wounded by gunfire, according to reports from Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. There were bursts of heavy gunfire in the streets for hours, the reports said.

At the end of the day, pro-democracy leaders vowed to keep fighting against the military takeover. Many set up barricades in their neighborhoods after dark in an effort to keep soldiers out, while planning more street demonstrations.

The protests during the day on Monday, including at Sudan’s military headquarters in Khartoum, were highly significant because the country’s massive street rallies have often been effective in pressing the military to continue the slow democratic transition.

Less than three years ago, a wave of protests in Sudan evolved into a street revolution: many months of pro-democracy rallies that sparked the toppling of the long-ruling dictator Omar al-Bashir, another military coup, months of further protests, a massacre of protesters by security forces, and finally an agreement on the creation of a military-civilian Sovereign Council and a promise of a transition to democracy over a 39-month period.

Since the first eruption of the current wave of pro-democracy demonstrations in late 2018, the street movement has been marked by the bravery of the protesters, the huge size of their rallies, and the unrelenting persistence of their demonstrations – even after more than 120 of them were killed in a massacre by the military in June, 2019.

Analysts said the current situation in Khartoum was still fluid and unpredictable, especially because of apparent conflicts within the Sudanese military. Reports suggested that senior military officials in recent days had disagreed on how to respond to the rising tensions in the country.

For days, there had been hints that the military was considering a takeover. Civilian politicians and protesters had been pushing for a transition to full civilian rule by Nov. 17. Pro-military protests were held in Khartoum, demanding a military takeover, although they were seen as choreographed by the military itself.

The coup on Monday was led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the Sudanese armed forces, who had been chairman of the military-civilian Sovereign Council until he dissolved it after the coup.

Gen. al-Burhan announced on Monday that a state of emergency is being imposed in the country to protect safety and security. “What the country is going through now is a real threat and danger to the dreams of the youth and the hopes of the nation,” he said.

The military moved quickly to seize control, shutting down Khartoum’s airport and closing bridges into the city. Internet access was restricted. But the takeover was not fully complete. Some government officials and cabinet ministers were able to keep speaking and issuing statements against the coup on Monday.

One key question is the role of General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, deputy head of the Sovereign Council, who leads a notorious paramilitary force called the Rapid Support Forces. His unit was previously known as the Janjaweed, which committed atrocities in the Darfur region for years. His role in the coup is unclear, but the involvement of his forces would heighten the risk of further bloodshed and violence.

The Sudan Doctors’ Committee, which said 80 people were wounded as troops opened fires on protesters.

After the early morning arrests of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other senior officials, thousands poured into the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and its twin city of Omdurman. They blocked streets and set fire to tires as security forces used tear gas to disperse them.

As plumes of smoke filled the air, protesters could be heard chanting, “The people are stronger, stronger!” and “Retreat is not an option!” Videos on social media showed large crowds crossing bridges over the Nile to the center of the capital.

Pro-democracy activist Dura Gambo said paramilitary forces chased protesters through some Khartoum neighborhoods. She said the sporadic sound of gunshots could be heard in many parts of the capital.

Burhan said quarrels among political factions prompted the military intervention. Tensions have been rising for weeks over the course and the pace of the transition to democracy in Sudan, a nation in Africa linked by language and culture to the Arab world.

The general declared a state of emergency and said the military will appoint a technocratic government to lead the country to elections, set for July 2023. But he made clear the military will remain in charge.

“The Armed Forces will continue completing the democratic transition until the handover of the country’s leadership to a civilian, elected government,” he said. He added that the country’s constitution would be rewritten and a legislative body would be formed with the participation of “young men and women who made this revolution.”

The Information Ministry, still loyal to the dissolved government, called his speech an “announcement of a seizure of power by military coup.”

The Communist Party called on workers to protest what it described as a “full military coup” orchestrated by Burhan.

International parties have voiced their concern and condemnation after the Sudanese military staged the coup.

In a statement on Monday, African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat demanded the release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other officials of the transitional government, and called on the Sudanese military to respect human rights.

Neighboring Egypt and regional power Saudi Arabia both called for restraint and demanded that all parties work for the welfare of the country.

Britain, the former colonial ruler of Sudan, described the coup as “an unacceptable betrayal of the Sudanese people and their democratic transition.” Britain’s Africa minister, Vicky Ford, tweeted that those who did not respect the right to protest must be held to account – seemingly a reference to reports that demonstrators had been fired on by the military.

“All parties must immediately return to dialogue and engage in good faith to restore the constitutional order,” according to the organization’s special representative in Sudan, Volker Perthes.

Burhan asserted that he would create the proper conditions for political parties to reach elections and insisted that the military was needed to oversee the process and ensure the country’s security and safety.

The declaration also sees state governors removed and the appointment of general managers as the caretakers for their respective ministries; the anti-corruption task force will also be suspended. In place of the government, Burhan announced the formation of a revolutionary parliament of youth.

Industry Minister Ibrahim al-Sheikh, and the governor of Sudan’s capital Khartoum, Ayman Khalid, have also been detained by the military, according to family sources who spoke to Al Jazeera. Al-Sheikh’s daughter and Khalid’s wife told the news channel that the men had been taken from their homes before dawn.

Major Sudanese tribe plans to end port blockade in support of military coup, as doctors and academics go on strike against it

The Beja tribe, which had been blockading Port Sudan since September, has said it will withdraw in support of the military, according to regional TV, while doctors and academics have vowed to strike against the coup.

On Monday afternoon, the Al-Hadath TV channel reported that Sudan’s Beja tribe had announced that it would end its blockade of Port Sudan, which has seen the country’s fuel, medicines and wheat supplies pushed to the limit.

According to the Saudi-based TV network, the tribe expressed support for a military takeover staged earlier in the day. The reports are yet to be confirmed by the authorities.

The tribe had been blocking roads around Port Sudan and forced Red Sea ports to close, after criticizing a lack of power within Sudan’s new political settlement and poor economic conditions.

The country’s medical staff were going on strike.

“Sudan’s doctors declare general political strike in all Sudan hospitals except for emergencies and withdrawal from all military hospitals. Refusing the military coup,” a post read.

The ministry also said that Khartoum University professors had declared a civil disobedience protest and had called on others, in all professional and service institutions, to do the same and resist the coup.

A later post stated that all workers in federal and state ministries as well as civil service institutions had joined the strike, demanding that power be handed back to the civilian government.

In December of 2018 protests amidst a deepening economic crisis began in the Sudanese town of Artaba, quickly sweeping the entire nation. After months of consistent nationwide demonstrations demanding the removal of the long-time autocratic ruler, President Omar Bashir, Sudan’s Minister of Defence, General Ahmed Ibn Auf, announced that Bashir had been arrested after almost 30 years in power. The announcement, on April 11, caused an initial outburst of public euphoria, which was quickly spoiled for many.

A Transitional Military Council (TMC) was then proposed by Sudan’s military establishment, under which the constitution was temporarily frozen and the nation would remain in a State of Emergency for three months. It was said that after a two-year period democratic civilian rule would then be achieved. Yet, the people saw otherwise and demonstrated against the newly formed TMC, forcing its leader, General Ahmed Ibn Auf, to step down and allow for General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to take his place.

Opposition groups, seeing the TMC as still not delivering on the demands of the people, engaged in a struggle for a quicker route to civilian rule and democracy. This came to a climax on June 3, 2019, when security forces and militia men massacred around 100 people, after a sit-in protest had been set up in late May in front of the military’s headquarters.

The brutal crackdown by the TMC then led to the ‘March of the Millions’, on June 30, which eventually brought much of Khartoum and neighboring cities to a standstill. Eventually, after weeks of negotiations brokered by the African Union and Ethiopia, the protest leaders and the military’s top generals agreed to building on a power-sharing agreement, which sought to lead to eventual civilian rule. As a result, the 11-member Sudanese Sovereign Council was established, in which five civilian and five military members would work, with one civilian elected by the consensus of both elements of the power-sharing council, led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

The entire process of the revolution cost at least 246 people their lives, with roughly 1,300 injured.

In early October, anti-government protesters in Sudan’s East began a blockade of Port Sudan, which sparked fears of the country running out of fuel, wheat and essential medicines. As the Transitional Government struggled with a deepening economic crisis, as well as the blockade of the Red Sea Ports, strategically vital to military powers seeking to exploit the area, unrest began in Khartoum, with pro-military demonstrators demanding an end to the civilian element of the government. There was also an attempted military coup in September, which was ultimately blamed on “pro-Bashir elements.”


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