In December 2018 the Sudanese government imposed emergency austerity measures and a sharp currency devaluation. This was their way of trying to avoid an economic collapse, which was influenced by years of U.S. sanctions and loss of oil revenue. Members of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) began organizing demonstrations when living standards started to worsen. For example, bread prices tripled and fuel prices began to rise. Originally, the protests focused on rising costs, but soon evolved into the removal of President al-Bashir and his administration.
On Thursday, April 11, 2019, Sudan’s military overthrew President Omar al-Bashir after five months of violent protests against his repressive 30-year rule. After overthrowing al-Bashir, the military stated they would govern the country for two years before holding free and fair elections. Along with ruling for two years, the military has suspended the constitution, set a curfew, dissolved the government, declared a state of emergency for three months, and closed Sudan’s borders. Later, the state run media announced that Ibn Auf was going to be sworn in as head of the new council. The announcement did not help decline protests, instead they continued.
The SPA ordered a sit-in outside the military headquarters after President Bashir was overthrown because the new leader and the coup was led by military officials close to President Bashir.
Pro-democracy demonstrators continued to protest because they were not getting what they want. They want a democracy. They want a transition to civilian rule. They do not want the coup to simply remove one leader, but continue the same regime. They do not want the transition to include anyone from the previous regime. Pro-democracy demonstrators were defying the curfew to continue their protests against authoritarian rule. After continued protests, Ibn Auf resigned as leader and Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan was named as the new leader.
After Ibn Auf declared the new rules imposed by the military, it was clear that the military was going to continue staying in power. The military is remaining in power for a couple of reasons. First, the military, National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), and paramilitary leaders want to share power among themselves. When discussing the aftermath of al-Bashir’s removal, the opposition or pro-democracy demonstrators were not invited to the table. Second, the military is buying time because they do not know how to handle the challenges of the demonstrators. They need to decide whether to take a repressive or co-option course of action.
With the military remaining in power, there is a sense of martial law being imposed. Martial law is temporary rule by military authorities in a time of emergency where civil authorities are deemed unable to function and involves the suspension of ordinary law. It might be argued that martial law is democratic but in the case of Sudan, it is undemocratic because the military wants to remain in power to share it among themselves. And the fact that the military is considering taking a repressive course of action goes to show that martial law is being undemocratic in Sudan. Not only does the military want to rule for two years before holding elections, but they have implemented radical laws.
Sudan is far from a democracy and we do not know whether the protesters will be successful. The military does have absolute power and we do know that the protests will continue until demonstrators see democracy in their country.
It can be difficult to declare whether or not a country will become a democracy, especially when an authoritarian is replaced by a military leader. You provide a strong explanation with regards to why the protests continue despite Omar al-Bashir’s removal, and the difficulties at hand for the military regime in containing the protests. What I think is somewhat lacking in this article is discussion of particular demands among the SPA, namely what their calls were for beyond simply a removal of the leader or the toppling of the entire regime. How does that affect, or not affect, your conclusion that Sudan is far from a democracy? Can their actions and their demands potentially influence the military’s decision to actually hold free and fair elections in a few years’ time?
It is incredibly interesting to read an article that was written two years ago and compare what is currently occurring in Sudan in 2021. I would first like to commend you on your well-written post, it can be challenging to find sources that detail the motivations of protestors in Sudan as well as your article does. Today, the Sudanese protests have escalated dramatically. This week, the Sudanese military staged a coup d’etat which sparked a new wave of protests across the country. The civilians have retained their strong commitment to Democracy, as the current rallying cry for the protests which have since killed 2 people and wounded many has been “No for military rule, yes for civilian rule.”
You had mentioned the role of the SPA, and currently, they are the driving force behind the calls for the restoration of the country’s transitional civilian government. Currently, the international community has condemned the violent handling of peaceful protesters. Additionally, the United States has cut off US Aid and the African Union has suspended Sudan.
In a country that has made such fragile but steady progress toward democratization in the past, it is disheartening to see this dramatic downturn, but as you predicted in your article, it is not exactly shocking. Considering this, I am of the opinion that withholding US Aid is simply counterproductive to tackling the real issues faced by the Sudanese civil society. The approach of withholding foreign aid does little to affect those in power, but drastically harms the civilians of the nation who have already struggled with skyrocketing prices of basic goods and food. Reading this article my question for you is: do you think it would be helpful for international bodies to take a more ambitious and coordinated stance to intervene in this wave of unrest? One helpful strategy could be urging the IMF to reimagine its standards for political stability and human rights in a country as a condition to receive loans or financial help. Regardless of the method of assistance, it is clear that more must be done to support the pro-democracy protesters within the country.