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Sudan’s revolutionaries prepare for Saturday showdown with military

By Patrick Smith
Posted on Friday, 29 October 2021 19:44

Protest against prospect of military rule in Khartoum
Demonstrators protest against prospect of military rule in Khartoum, Sudan October 21, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

In what is being billed as the biggest popular mobilisation in Khartoum since protesters triggered the ousting of Sudan's long-standing leader Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, hundreds of thousands are due to march through the capital on Saturday in protest at General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan’s military coup on 25 October.

Many hope for the same result. That the spectacle of mass civilian opposition in Khartoum, and in cities across the country, will convince the high command that people will no longer accept repressive military rule.

Protesters will be marching after a week-long national strike and near-universal condemnation of the putsch within Sudan and its neighbours as well as by multiple international organisations.

Minimal support for Burhan

There is barely a scintilla of public support for Burhan. That might be why his erstwhile military partner, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo ‘Hemeti’, commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia, appears to have gone to ground this week. Hemeti was noticeably absent from Burhan’s bizarre, and mainly self-defeating, press conference on 26 October.

Foreign diplomats say that Hemeti has been telling them that he tried to talk Burhan out of the coup. That they say is cue for a nervous giggle. No one believes a word of it, but Hemeti hopes to step in somehow if Burhan is forced out.

Others warn that it all could end in bloodshed. There is little sign that Burhan and his close allies are ready to make concessions, let alone step down.

Army schisms

Another pressure point on Burhan would be for the latent schisms in the armed forces, militias and spy agencies to open still wider. Activists say there are enough junior and middle-ranking officers to stop Burhan’s latest junta project.

Many suspect his agenda is for the military to dominate the transition and the run-up to elections, and Burhan to switch his khaki uniform for a jalabiya and run for the presidency with the armed forces behind him.

That mirrors the ascent of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in neighbouring Egypt: confected economic chaos, coup d’état then a state-backed presidential run.

Already this week, more than 12 people have been killed and at least 140 badly wounded, in Khartoum, Madani in the centre and at al-Fashir in Darfur in the west. Most of them are reported to have been shot by soldiers and fighters from the RSF militia under the command of Hemeti.

‘Little pressure to rein in the security services’

Despite the near global condemnation of the putsch, including by the African Union and thousands of African civic organisations, Burhan has felt little pressure to rein in the security services.

So desperate to cobble together a government to appease the critics, Burhan has been sending entreaties to Hamdok to join a reconstituted team of technocrats to work alongside the generals in a military-controlled transition.

Although, there has been no repeat of the massacre of June 2019 in Khartoum, when fighters from Hemeti’s RSF militia broke up a protest camp killing more than 120 people in a single night, the security services have swooped on suspected opposition centres across the country.

State security agents, wearing plain clothes, have been raiding houses this week, targeting critical journalists and suspected members of the resistance committees.

More than 40 prominent activists, journalists and politicians have been abducted this week, along with hundreds more community activists. Ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was still under house arrest on 29 October. His media adviser, Faisal Mohamed Salih, was arrested on 26 October.

With both the AU and the UN Security Council condemning the putsch, and with China and Russia failing to defend it publicly, Burhan has been trying to put together an alternative civilian cabinet.

So desperate to cobble together a government to appease the critics, Burhan has been sending entreaties to Hamdok to join a reconstituted team of technocrats to work alongside the generals in a military-controlled transition.

When Jibril Ibrahim, the sacked finance minister and leader of the Islamist Justice and Equality Movement was asked by the BBC on 28 October why the military would try such a plan, he said: “Transitions can get very messy.”

Ibrahim, who is seen as close to the military, added that he would be happy to take up the finance ministry post again.

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