Sudan: 'The people want a transition to a civilian government'

June 7, 2019
Protest site in Sudan's capital Khartoum.

Green Left Weekly’s Susan Price spoke to Osama Yousif, a member of the Sydney Sudanese community, who has recently returned from visiting Sudan, about the events leading up to the massacre of more than 100 protesters in Khartoum on June 3.

Only two weeks or so ago we saw images of celebration from the sit-in, when protesters thought that negotiations for a transitional military-civilian council had been successful. What happened to turn the situation to one of violent repression?

First, because of the nature of the [ruling] Military Council. Before they took power there was a security council appointed by the previous president Omar Al Bashir. He formed this security council to combat the protests.

After the sit-in started on the 11th, [the council] took power and put Bashir in prison. They are the same people, the same guards of the previous regime. They are an extension of the regime itself.

Secondly, within the opposition there are different groups. The Freedom and Change forces consist of many groups [including] some which were planning — before the protests started on December 19 — to go into negotiations with the regime [for] an election in 2020. That election was announced by the previous regime. When the protests started, they changed plans and joined the Freedom and Change forces to stand against the regime.

So within the Freedom and Change forces there are some voices that were very soft and wanted to accept whatever came from the negotiations.

There were other groups which were very militant in their demands for the people, [including] limited representation of the military in the Sovereignty Council and for majority [representation by] civilians. And that is where the conflict happened.

They agreed in the negotiations to form a Legislative Council of civilians and 67% of it belonged to Freedom and Change forces. They also agreed to form a cabinet from civilians led by the Freedom and Change forces.

The disagreement was on the Sovereignty Council. The military wanted more [of them] on it and they wanted the [role of] President and wanted more power in other structures of the government.

And that is why, when the Freedom and Change forces were demanding a transition, with a majority of representation of civilians on the Sovereignty Council, the military regime were stuck. They knew things were not going their way, because the sit-in continued all this time and [the protesters] were never going to give up until their demands were met.

Thirdly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have supported the military regime and they have very strong interests in them. Why? Because [Sudan] provides mercenaries and soldiers for the war on Yemen.

Sudan has been cooperating with the Saudis since the Yemen war started. They provided them with soldiers and paid work … This operation between the Saudis, Emiratis and Sudan was led by Burhan and Hemeti [Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagalo]. Both of them played a big part in supplying soldiers to the Saudis in their dirty war in Yemen.

That is why things got to this stage. This move by the military — the violence and the killing of protesters in the sit-in — was organised, planned and backed by the Saudis. They donated $3 billion to the Military Council regime in support of the economy. There is no money in Sudan now. The situation economically is very bad. They got the money from them so they can do whatever they want and whatever the Saudis, Emeratis and Egyptians want from them.

How many people have been killed? Are the attacks on protesters confined to Khartoum, or are they happening in other cities and towns?

According to the latest statement by the Sudanese Medical Association, which is part of the Sudanese Professional Alliance, there are 60 protesters confirmed killed.

But the 60 confirmed [dead] died in hospital or the protesters managed to take them with them when they left the site. So the number could be more than 60. The number I have seen of 160 protesters dead is not confirmed by the Medical Association.

There are an unknown number of bodies that were thrown into the Nile River and there are unknown numbers of bodies of protesters killed at the protest site. [The protesters] were not able to take [these bodies] when they were leaving the sit-in site, because they were [being tear] gassed and attacked by the army.

There are also more than 450 [wounded] protesters in hospitals. Some of them have left hospital. One of the main hospitals near the sit-in was [forcibly] evacuated by the Army, because it was full of wounded protesters. They ordered the doctors to evacuate all the wounded. They did not care where they would be taken.

There are also recorded cases of rape (of two doctors) at the sit-in, in the tents, when [the security forces] were attacking the protesters.

What are the economic and political agendas driving the counter-revolution? What has been the role of the US?

Regarding the political and economic agenda, as I mentioned before, one of the main sources of income … is mercenaries — soldiers being sent out to fight in the war in Yemen on behalf of the Saudis and Emiratis and Egyptians. This money comes back to the militia, to Hemeti and the Rapid Forces (previously known as Janjeweed), then from Janjeweed back to the structure of the Military Council.

Janjeweed [were] formed by the previous regime under Al Bashir to fight on behalf of the central government in Darfur. They are the ones who were responsible for the mass killings … more than 300,000 people in Darfur were killed by these forces. After they finished their mission in Darfur they formed the Rapid Forces and they became part of the [Sudanese] Army. But they still have a separate body and a separate leader, Hemeti. It is a very tribal-oriented militia and they are very brutal, uneducated and have nothing to do with civilian life.

Part of their mission is to protect the interests of the previous regime.

The US and the EU stand with the people and they are pushing the regime to transition to civilian government, led by FAC forces. They are not recognising the regime as the government.

You were in Sudan recently. Can you describe the atmosphere of the protests? What were the expectations of the Sudanese people, before this violence broke out?

My latest visit was from mid April until May 7. At that time the sit-in and the negotiations were still on.

During that time, spirits at the sit-in were very high. There were so many activities. The sit-in site was like a carnival of human love, human determination, and the lust for change and for freedom.

There were so many activities — political, artistic and humane. You would see speeches everywhere. So many tents of different unions and neighbourhood resistance councils or groups [were set up]. There were women's tents for the causes of women, calling for gender equality, tents for stories of prison, where people would come and speak about their experiences of detention. It was very educational.

It continued for two months. People stayed there day and night. They never left. They would leave in rotation, to go home and then come back.

The entries to the sit-in were always protected and blockaded by protesters. Everyone coming in would get searched for weapons. The team who were working the entries were such wonderful people. They would receive you with songs and big smiles all the time. For 24 hours [a day] they were smiling and in very high spirits — like they were the protectors of the dream of the people.

It was really amazing. I had never seen something like this in my life and I thought I would never see it. It is like you see the soul of the people.

Walking around and hanging around the whole area of the sit-in. People were playing music … people were knocking on the iron of the [railway] bridge 24 hours non-stop. They were the rhythm of the revolution. This scene I will never, ever forget. It is something indescribable. People just sitting on the top of the bridge, making this steady rhythm [that was] linked to the revolution.

What are the demands of the Sudanese people right now in response to the crackdown? Is the movement staying united and is it still determined?

All the people want is a transition to a civilian government led by the Freedom And Change forces. They want to hold the previous criminals accountable, to take back the wealth stolen from the people by the previous regime. They want to hold accountable and punish all the people responsible for all the killings since December 19 and since June 13, 1989 when [the military] took power.

As I mentioned before, some elements inside the FAC forces are very soft with the Military Council. They wanted to accept a 50:50 representation between the army and civilians in the Sovereign Council. But the protesters at the sit-in said: “No, we don't want this. We want limited representation of the military — such as 3 — and 7 civilians and [for] the President of the Sovereign Council to be a civilian.”

They were very strong. They were more advanced than the political groups. Because the political groups, like the Alliance [for Freedom and Change], had to negotiate and try to reach an agreement, but the protesters already know what they were there for and why they were protesting. It was a very clear demand for them.

The demands of the people right now, after the crackdown on the sit-in is very clear and is being expressed by the FAC forces in their latest statement: It is for civil disobedience and a general strike.

It has already been announced, but it coincides with Eid holiday festivities. Workers at the airport are [already] on strike. All other forces, workers, professionals, are on holidays. So the strike starts this Sunday [June 9].

All of Khartoum is being blockaded [by protesters]. Everywhere, people are blockading the streets. There are no cars and there is very limited movement, unless it is an emergency. The protesters have started now to [use] different tactics, to do the blockade and then withdraw, because killings were happening at the blockades. When the army comes, they take off the blockade. After they leave the protesters come back again and do another one. So that is what is happening right now in all of Khartoum. Everywhere.

People are very determined. People are very angry and very sad. Eid is usually celebrated with happiness but people are [marking Eid] with crying and sadness.

Everyone has declared they are not celebrating, because there were people killed for no reason. This is [happening] everywhere in Sudan. This is a massive rejection of what happened by the people of Sudan.

What is the response to the news that Al-Burhan has pledged to hold elections, to investigate the killings and will declare a temporary cabinet in the coming days?

The opposition do not want a military council. This has been agreed by all forces in the opposition. They are going ahead with the general strike.

Today one of the Military Council [members] came out and said they want to resume negotiations. But this is only the result of international pressure.

But it is not enough because we want full civilian government and in terms of investigations — killers cannot investigate themselves. No one will trust anything coming out of this.

Are some sections of the military still on the side of the people?

In terms of the army, there is different news coming out.

Some people say the Army have withdrawn and that all the attacks were planned by the Rapid Forces, the militia and the security forces.

Others are saying this is not true, because the Army did not allow the protesters to [seek shelter] inside the buildings [during the attacks]. They kicked them out [even though] they didn't kill them and they didn't fire at them.

They also say that weapons have been taken away from the Army members, but I doubt this story. But that is what is coming around on social media. There is not any confirmation of whether the Army was part of the attack [on the sit-in] or not.

In the lower ranks of the Army there are some who supported the protesters [during] the killings when the sit-in started on February 6 … The lower ranks disobeyed orders and fought back against the security forces … between February 6-10.

After that time, the head of the Army took power and formed the Military Council.

People still think they are being supportive to the people and the revolution, but because they are not organised … their movement will be a bit hard. I don’t know how they can participate in the revolution if they do not have anybody to organise them.

What can the Australian and international community do to support the Sudanese people?

First, people need to know what is happening. The Australian government needs to take action in terms of where they stand in this. The EU has issued many statements demanding the transition of the government to civilians. Australia can't do this, because international pressure could lead to [problems] in their relations with the Saudis.

The EU have stopped aid, the US have stopped aid. The EU has said they will never [provide] aid to the military regime. I know Australia doesn't have as much interest and [doesn’t provide] aid support to Sudan so they don’t play a big part in the Sudanese scene, but they can still help the situation in the UN and other international bodies.

[It will help] the movement … if the international community can put pressure to respect human rights and support the struggle of the Sudanese people.


Forces of the Freedom and Change Declaration

Our Sudanese people,

We are closely monitoring some poisonous calls by the Coup Council for resumption of the negotiations, in blatant disregard of the innocent lives we have lost.

Therefore, we unequivocally confirm that we will not sit again with the Coup Council.

We stand firm in our demands for:
– Calling to account the Coup Council and everyone who was complicit in the crimes committed since the 11th of April.
– A full transfer of the transitional authority to a civilian government as stated in the Declaration of Freedom and Change
– The immediate dissolution of the Janjaweed militia and relinquishment of their weapons to the army, and an end to their takeover of the cities of Sudan

Our pledge to the Sudanese people is that the revolution shall continue, and victory is certain. Complete civilian disobedience is the weapon that will topple these tyrants.

The Forces of the Freedom and Change Declaration
06 June 2019

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