Millions of Sudanese poured into streets and squares around the country on 30 June, which this year coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Front coup that brought recently ousted Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir to power.
Their voices thundered with demands for a complete break with the country’s tyrannical past. They would continue to press for the realisation of their demands for freedom, justice, democracy and peace, they said, undeterred by severed Internet communications, economic straits, and the looming threat of brutal force.
On 3 June, over 100 people were killed and thousands more were wounded during the break-up of a sit-in in front of the Sudanese Army General Command in Khartoum.
Khartoum looked like a battlefield on Sunday, with clouds of tear gas wafting above the crowds as armed security forces moved in to disperse the protesters who had responded to the call of the Alliance of Freedom and Change (AFC) to stage a “Million-Strong Martyrs’ March”.
The first victim was a young man in his 20s, who received a bullet in his chest while demonstrating in Atbara, the northeastern town where the revolution against the Al-Bashir regime started on 19 December.
The protesters continued to chant, “civilian rule, civilian rule”. Ten people were killed and more than 100 were injured in the demonstrations, according to the Sudanese Ministry of Health.
The Sudanese Transitional Military Council (TMC) that is ruling the country held the AFC responsible for the losses.
Opposition forces believe that the 30 June marches have strengthened the position of the AFC and sent a powerful message to the TMC that the revolution is still alive.
At the same time, the massive turnout for the marches together with the latest casualties have reignited the debate among the forces for change and the public at large over the value of negotiating and partnering with the TMC.
Other opposition leaders, however, argue that there is no alternative but to negotiate with the TMC and begin the transitional phase. “The situation now is moving in the direction of a settlement,” said Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Mohamed Sayed Ahmed Sir Al-Khatim.
Salah Jalal, a leading official in the Sudanese Umma Party, holds that there are only two safe ways out of the current predicament in Sudan. The first is elections.
“The TMC wants to stay in power. That is so obvious it needs no proof. The demonstrations have made it clear that the people want civilian government. The shortest route to civil government is through early elections. I believe that the international community will support the demand for early elections and the full handover of power to a civilian government. The TMC will not withdraw from the scene without elections,” he said.
The second option, according to Jalal, is to accept the Ethiopian-African Union (AU) initiative calling for partnership with the TMC.
“The Sudanese people’s demand, as confirmed by the recent marches, is civilian government. It is a desire that must be realised. However, the appropriate mechanisms are needed in order to turn this aspiration into a practical reality. Therefore, the forces of freedom and change must hold an urgent meeting in order to produce a thoroughly studied and agreed upon conception for how to fulfil the popular demand for civilian government,” he said.
“Shouts and chants alone cannot make this happen. It requires a well-studied programme and plan of action that can be presented to the people. We need a roadmap to civilian government that can be carried out collectively by the forces of the revolution.”
According to Yassir Arman, secretary-general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), the situation is still very complex, but he sees hope in the fact that the grassroots movement has acquired fresh impetus as a result of last Sunday’s demonstrations.
The Sudanese journalist Ezzeddin Ibrahim also believes that the 30 June marches have sent a powerful message to the TMC and conveyed the popular anger for its evasiveness in the negotiations since the overthrow of Al-Bashir on 11 May and for reneging on its agreements with the AFC on the pretext of “new developments”.
“The new developments that the TMC was talking about were its belief that it had suppressed the revolution through the forceful break-up of the sit-in. However, the unprecedented 30 June marches have put things in their proper perspective and shown that the forces of change are what represent the people and are stronger than the TMC,” he said.
“The TMC cannot present itself as an alternative to Al-Bashir because the people want to establish a new and different political phase. If the TMC wants to be part of this phase, it must sit with and reach an agreement with the AFC over the creation of the structures for a transitional government.”
In Ibrahim’s opinion, the government has also miscalculated by cutting Internet communications and other policies, inducing new segments of society that had previously been neutral to join the protest demonstrations.
But many activists have little faith in the TMC. “I don’t see the point of negotiating with the TMC. It’s futile,” said Sudanese activist Mohamed Babakr.
Sudanese novelist Hamour Ziyada believes that the TMC cannot be trusted as a partner and that its actions have put paid to the notion of sharing power with it during the transitional phase.
Khaled Ahmed, another Sudanese activist, said that “the TMC doesn’t want to hand over power to a civilian authority. The forces of freedom and change must bring the curtain down on the negotiations and mobilise the street in order to bring the TMC down.”
Sudanese activist Ali Abdel-Rahim described the TMC’s communiqué blaming the AFC for the casualties on Sunday as “pitiful”. Othman Al-Mahdi of the Umma Party said that “the Sudanese people are emerging from the wreckage of despair and will never be defeated,” while activist Ezzeddin Selim said that the 30 June marches “have transformed an anniversary of darkness and oppression into an anniversary of light and illumination”.
As the debate continues, representatives of the AFC met with the Ethiopian-AU envoy Mahmoud Dreir and conveyed their approval of the Ethiopian-AU initiative, while registering reservations on six points that they held were not negotiable.
The TMC had also notified mediators that it was prepared to negotiate on the Ethiopian-AU proposals.
According to informed sources, the differences between the TMC and the AFC centre around the proposed transitional council.
The TMC wants to head it throughout the entire transitional period instead of half of it in alternation with the AFC as proposed by the Ethiopian-AU initiative.
The TMC also wants a shorter transitional period of two years instead of three.
The Ethiopian-AU initiative also calls for the creation of an independent commission under the sponsorship of the AU Human Rights Commission to investigate the violent break-up of the sit-in on 3 June.
Opposition forces welcomed the Ethiopian-AU initiative as an avenue to the realisation of a national consensus. The Umma Party pledged to work to coordinate its positions with its allies in order to promote the realisation of this “praiseworthy effort”.
Other opposition leaders held that the proposal would make it possible to create a sovereign council and a cabinet. A good agreement would “steer the Sudanese people out of confrontations and spare precious blood,” said one opposition leader.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Hopes of a settlement in Sudan