‘Just fall that is all’: A look at Sudan’s protests, why now and what next?

Mohaned Mustafa El-Nour is a distinguished Sudanese Human Rights Lawyer who practiced law in the country for over 13 years. He currently resides in the UK along with his family after they were forced to flee Sudan in 2018. Despite his displacement Mohaned has continued to advocate for the rights of Sudanese citizens, in this post he breaks down some of the details of the current protests in Sudan, looking at why they are different this time and what may lie ahead for the country.

“Sudan’s revolution began on 13 December in Blue Nile State, followed by Atbara State on 19 December after cuts to bread subsidies. Protests quickly spread over all Sudan, calling for the overthrow of President Bashir and his regime. So far 55 people have been shot or heavily tortured to death, and hundreds have been injured and detained.

Despite a violent official response the protests have continued for more than three months and are increasing day by day.

The revolution has become a way of life for people in Sudan. Across the country, Sudanese men and women of all ages are repeating the slogan ‘Just fall that is all’ on a daily basis.

After years of oppression, Sudan’s youth has made us proud and become leaders in the current movement. The same youth that has been subjected to injustice over nearly 30 years through laws like the Public Order Act which stops them from cutting their hair or wearing ‘indecent’ clothes in the name of indecent behaviour; the same youth that has faced a lack of a good education and healthcare.

Why now?

Many have questioned why the protests are happening now and not before, but the fact is that Sudan has been no stranger to protests in recent years. In January 2018 the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) called for a protest in which all the opposition parties and civil society participated. In 2017 civil disobedience surrounded the United States’ move to lift 20 year-old trade sanctions on Sudan. In January 2018 there were also protests against the economic reforms, the government arrested and detained hundreds of protesters and hundreds of people who were not even involved in the demonstration. The current protests also mirror 2013’s mass demonstrations in which at least 200 unarmed protesters were killed.

The difference between these past protests and those currently taking place is that this time nearly all Sudanese citizens have taken to the streets, not only in the capital and other large cities but also in villages and towns. The protests are supported by all of the opposition parties, and most importantly by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA).

For nearly 30 years Bashir’s regime has intentionally divided the country, along the lines of ethnicity, religion and gender, but in less than 30 days the SPA was able to unite all the people as it represents every single Sudanese citizen.  

A state of emergency

The UN Human Rights Council regularly reviews Sudan’s human rights record and issues recommendations, however the government has failed to implement these recommendations. Instead of heeding the voices of protesters, the government has used excessive force to supress the protests, and on 22 February President Bashir declared a state of emergency across the country for a period of twelve months without citing the reasons why he believed the nation was under threat. On 11 March the National Assembly approved the presidential declaration but reduced the state of emergency to six months.

A state of emergency can only be declared when the country is not experiencing an exceptional situation, such as war, an invasion, or a natural disaster, this is not the case for Sudan, and as such the declaration is unconstitutional.

The government seems unable to understand that their instincts of repression will not work on these protests. The reason for this revolution is not the cuts to bread subsidies, this was only the spark, the real reason is the repression of the Sudanese people through laws and order. The four orders that were issued with the declaration of the state of emergency increased the powers of the security sector, but they did not stop the protests. The week after the declaration, more people joined the demonstrations.

The fact is Sudan has been in a state of emergency since the coup in 1989.

The laws allow the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) to enter and search any building, restrict the movement of persons, and seize assets or property. In the present circumstances, the state of emergency does not make any difference. The Sudanese people are tired of the policy of divide and rule, it does not work and they are coming together to demand better lives where freedom, peace and justice are a daily reality.

What next?

Some opportunists are trying to take over by proposing a deal to save the regime by some initiatives and calling for an early election, but we are fully aware and know who our enemies are.

What next? The declaration of freedom and change signed by the main opposition coalitions including the National Consensus Forces, Sudan Call, and the SPA answers this question.

The declaration calls for a transitional government as the most important political necessity for the future of Sudan. This government will have specific duties to fulfil before a general election takes place. The transition period will be not less than 30 months and not more than 4 years.

Sudan has learnt from experience that a transitional government needs time to ensure stable political life. In both 1964 and 1985, revolutions overthrew military regimes that had come to power after coups, but in both cases these revolutions were followed by brief transitional periods of one year before general elections were held in which parties rushed to find support at the ballot boxes and dominate political life. It is no surprise that further coups followed in both instances.

A transitional government will need more than a year to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Sudan needs a constitution agreed by all citizens; the deep state must be dismantled; and unjust laws such as the NISS Act, Criminal Law, Public Order Law, Family Law, and Criminal Procedures Act must be changed. Otherwise, we will have given the snake a rest to change its skin.”

Featured image: Protesters in Omdurman, Credit: Sudanese Translators for Change