Sudan: At the heart of the ‘million march’ against the coup plotters

By Augustine Passilly
Posted on Thursday, 24 February 2022 18:41

Demonstration against the military coup in Umdurman, 14 February 2022 © AFP

Despite the bloody crackdown, the Sudanese continue to demonstrate peacefully against the 25 October military coup. We report on these citizens who refuse to return to the dictatorship from which their country has just emerged.

They either have bandaged heads, an arm in a sling or are supporting themselves on crutches. Sudanese youths, who have been subjected to nearly four months of ferocious repression, continue to – week after week – demand the military’s departure. The latter seized power on 25 October, effectively putting an end to the chaotic democratic transitional period that succeeded Omar al-Bashir’s 30 years of military-Islamist dictatorship in 2019.

For two years, even though the generals ran the country alongside a coalition of civilians, the Forces pour la Liberté et le Changement (FFC), they never relinquished their political and economic control over the country. The army, therefore, took over the Sovereign Council’s leadership while maintaining a monopoly over the main production sectors.

Repression and torture

Since the putsch, more than 80 demonstrators have died. Despite this, mobilisation efforts are still going strong. “The only thing I am afraid of is a military government. We refuse to ever allow a soldier to lead us again,” said chemistry student Wajdi Alwasila, before returning to the front line to face the riot police during the 30 January march. He wore swimming goggles to prevent tear gas from getting into his eyes.

The military killed many people. We have to avenge them.

Others protected their heads with construction helmets and their airways with gas masks. But there is nothing they can do to avoid the red water sprayed by the authorities. “It smells very bad and itches the skin,” says Alwasila. The dye is mainly used to mark the most active demonstrators so that they can be arrested later on. According to the Association des Avocats d’Urgence, around 400 political prisoners are languishing in the regime’s jails.

“The military killed many people. We have to avenge them,” says 17-year-old student Ali Alkhair, who studies information and communication technologies. Alkhair will probably never see out of his right eye again, as it was hit by a tear gas canister.

On 7 February, he had nevertheless responded to the call of the resistance committees, which were holding “marches of a million” throughout the country. The participants of these peaceful processions demanded the coup plotters’ withdrawal. Once again that day, tear gas canisters and live ammunition were launched towards the thousands of men, women and children marching towards the presidential palace.

This did not discourage committee members such as medical student Azza, who prefers not to give her name and participated in a march on the parliament in Omdurman, a city near Khartoum, on 14 February.

“We continue to demonstrate because we have already paid a very high price. Many have died. We cannot be satisfied with this situation,” she says. “The military is not qualified to govern us. They are supposed to protect the country, not run it. This coup has set us back three years, when we were fighting against the al-Bashir system.”

Military betrayal

The memory of his fall galvanised the crowds. “Omar al-Bashir was more powerful than the army’s current leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. And it was more dangerous to demonstrate at that time. If we managed to topple him, we can topple Burhan,” said Hiba Diab, stepping over the barricades erected to slow down the arrival of armoured vehicles, which could sandwich the processions. This is what happened on 14 February in the vicinity of the parliament in Omdurman where yet another citizen lost their life.

The popular uprising certainly contributed towards ousting the former dictator. However, what really made it possible was when the generals turned against their leader. Now these high guards have just broken an agreement they made with civilians, claiming they want to change the transition government’s course.

“The military are incapable of keeping their promises. They must return to their barracks,” says 5-year-old Essa Yahya amidst the resistance committees’ banners, Sudanese flags and other portraits of “martyrs”, some of which were decorated with flowers in honour of Valentine’s Day.

Both the resistance committees and the Association des Professionnels Soudanais – the union of trade unions that spearheaded the December 2018 revolution – now refuse to negotiate with the army. But many political parties say talks are unavoidable. “Even in wartime, you have to sit down with your enemies to sign the armistice. We also need to discuss how the military should withdraw,” says Elwathig el-Birair, secretary-general of Umma, one of the four main CTF parties.

This coalition supports the consultation process that the United Nations initiated in early January, while other movements and figures advocate direct negotiations. This is the case for Youssef Mohammed Zain’s Parti National Unioniste who fears that otherwise “violence will continue to escalate.” At the same time, all seem to be aware that these divisions benefit the generals. “If all these forces united, we would easily get rid of the military,” says Razan Daoud, a nutritionist who marched on 14 February. “The problem is that everyone wants to represent the protestors so that they can control the future government.”

‘What other choice do we have?’

In the meantime, the “million march” systematically gives rise to a procession of motorbikes. On the seat, an injured person suffocates, sometimes even faints, while a third passenger massages his back to help him catch his breath.

What other choice do we have? Either we die or we remain humiliated by the military.

Mild cases are treated directly on the spot, where an army of volunteers injects them with diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug that takes effect immediately. Set up in the dusty alleys of the capital’s centre, each volunteer disinfects and bandages dozens of wounds within the space of a few hours. The most injured are escorted to the hospitals, which are regularly attacked by the police.

“What other choice do we have? Either we die or we remain humiliated by the military,” says sociologist Nidal Ibrahim, his voice drowned out by the beating of drums and the “uluations” during the 24 January procession. “We refuse to be ruled by people who kill us for no reason and decide when we have the right to use the internet and telephones.

Our generation may have lost its dreams, but we at least want to allow our children to live normally,” said Abda Mohamed Najeeb, his eyes irritated by the opaque smoke emanating from the burnt tyres, during another rally four days earlier. “Bashir was able to rule at a time when our parents did not know their rights. Today we are aware of them and that is what scares the military.”

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