Three opposition members, acting as mediators between Sudan’s Transitional Military Council and the pro-democracy Alliance for Freedom and Change, were arrested over the weekend. In response, protesters called for a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience Saturday. It’s the latest development in an ongoing, and frequently violent crisis in a country all too accustomed to them.
The TMC, a seven-member council of generals, has ruled the country since overthrowing Sudan’s longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir, in April. Unrest began in December, when protests over cuts to bread and fuel subsidies transformed into an uprising against Bashir’s thirty-year rule. Since then, the TMC and protest leaders have negotiated to a stalemate over when and how to handover power. The two sides agreed, back in May, to a three-year transitional period, so that the remnants of the Bashir regime could be dismantled, and elections could be free and fair.
That all changed on June 3. The military opened fire on protesters, who had staged a sit-in in Khartoum, killing scores. At least 40 bodies were pulled from the Nile on Tuesday, with officials putting the figure killed at 46. The opposition, however, claims at least 108 were killed by the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary unit. You might remember the RSF by their former name, the Janjaweed militia, notorious for numerous atrocities in the Darfur region in 2003. The TMC expressed “sorrow for the way events escalated.”
Protest leaders had attempted to restart peace talks with the TMC, through Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. However, after the meeting, Alliance politician Mohahed Esmat was arrested on Friday. Another Alliance member, Ismail Jalab, and his spokesman, Mubarak Ardol, were arrested Saturday. “This amounts to a practical response from the military council that effectively rejects the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s mediation effort,” Khalid Omar Youseff, another Alliance leader, told Reuters. The TMC has not commented on the arrests.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, a group of doctors, lawyers, and health workers who organized the original protests in December, called for civil disobedience in response. It will begin Sunday, “and end only when a civilian government announces itself in power on state television.” The SPA added that “disobedience is a powerful act capable of bringing to its knees the most powerful weapons arsenal in the world.” The SPA was not clear on what the “disobedience” would involve.
The response from the outside world was far more direct. The U.S. condemned the “brutal attack,” the UK said the TMC bore “full responsibility” for the violence. The African Union, which typically takes a “stand by your man” approach to unrest and revolts within its neighborhood, suspended Sudan “with immediate effect.” The AU warned of further action if power was not transferred to civilian hands, and demanded an “immediate and transparent” investigation into the killings.
The Middle East and North Africa has seen more than its share of stillborn revolutions, in neighboring Libya, Egypt, and especially Syria, throughout the last decade. Sudanese citizens have suffered almost continuously under Bashir’s ruthless and malignant misrule, enduring some seven separate instances of civil war and internal conflict since Bashir seized power in 1989. Another incomplete regime change, leaving either anarchy or dictatorship in its wake, would be even worse for the country and the region.