Four years after the fall of dictator al-Bashir, Sudan is torn apart by a violent conflict between soldiers. This conflict can only be settled with the participation of democratic forces.
Clashes between armed factions in Sudan since April 15 have led to the death of hundreds of people, the massive destruction of civilian infrastructure and the complete disruption of daily life in the capital Khartoum and other combat zones, particularly in Darfur. Of waves of refugees seek to reach safer areas in the countryside or seek shelter in neighboring countries.
This crisis is part of the broader context of the democratic revolution that has been going on in Sudan for several years. THE resistance committees played a fundamental role there, and are the only ones to help the many civilian victims today.
The Roots of the Sudanese Revolution
The current democratic movement was born in the 2010s, in opposition to the Islamist military dictatorship of General Omar el-Bashir (1989-2019).
First vilified by the West because of his links with Islamists like Osama Bin Laden, whom he welcomed to Sudan in the first half of the 1990s, and for its responsibility in what some call a genocide (more than 300 deaths) in Darfur, the al-Bashir regime ended up regaining its partial confidence by accepting the South Sudan secession, which became independent in 2011, and by breaking with radical Islamism.
To access funding from international financial institutions, the regime is implementing required structural reforms such as the abolition of subsidies and the privatization of part of the public services.
Society is paying a high price for these reforms, which only benefit a small business and military elite well connected to the regime and its foreign supporters, particularly in the Gulf countries. The commercialization of agriculture leads to land depletion and contamination of soil and water, and accelerates rural exodus. Khartoum goes from 2,5 million inhabitants in 1991 to 6,3 million in 2023. Due to the dismantling and privatization of public services, the new inhabitants of the cities are weaving networks of mutual aid with the impoverished urban population. This is the origin of the resistance committees.
Le " Arab Spring " that mobilizes people against their rulers also affects Sudan. Throughout the 2010s, revolts sporadically took place, including general protest movements in September 2013 et November 2016. They are motivated by the austerity policies of the government, in particular the end of subsidies to the population for the purchase of bread, gasoline and other foodstuffs.
Brutal repression by law enforcement, who are also waging wars against the separatist movements in several provinces of Sudan, avoids the end of diet. But the country's youth and other underprivileged populations are becoming aware that they share the same struggle and the same objective: a more democratic Sudan, where resources are distributed more equitably and where everyone, woman or man, of Arab or other origin (the 30% of non-Arab Sudanese historically suffer from discrimination), would have the same chances in life.
The uprising of December 2018 starts the same way. But this time, the demonstrators persevere despite the usual repression. A joyful spring atmosphere reigns in the sit-ins organized by the resistance committees of the different districts of Khartoum and the whole country. In the cultural proliferation and the practice of new forms of solidarity, a new Sudanese collective identity seems to be taking shape.
The rejection of representation in politics
In April 2019, the armed forces dismiss al-Bashir and promise a democratic transition in order to restore order. But the bloody repression against the demonstrators, who do not accept military authority, ends up mobilizing the international community.
In August 2019, the Forces of Freedom and Change, a movement established on 1er January 2019 to bring together all Sudanese opposition groups and parties, agree with the military to form a civilian transitional government led by former senior UN official Abdalla Hamdok.
In October 2021, the army, fearing to lose its autonomy and fearing the holding of elections scheduled for 2022, dissolved the civilian government and take over. It is not only in politics that the Sudanese armed forces play a leading role. Thanks to neoliberal reforms and the tutelage of the business-minded religious clique gathered around al-Bashir, they now control a large part of the economy.
Many analyzes exist of the violent conflict which has opposed since April 15 the Rapid Support Forces (FSR) led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo dit “Hemedti” to the Sudanese army led by Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan. But what about the democratic movement? The Forces of Freedom and Change seem crumbled; the representative legitimacy of the few people who, in their name, signed the agreements of December 5, 2022 with the military junta is highly contested.
The Sudanese revolution shares with the 17 October Movement in Lebanon and Tishreen movement in Iraq, for example, a rejection of political representation. Only the resistance committees that have emerged throughout the country to coordinate aid, solidarity and protest actions retain full popular legitimacy.
Given the withdrawal of the government from the public space – except as forces of order – the resistance committees also organize access to education and health, food aid and even infrastructure. But they refuse to appoint representatives or participate in "vertical" politics. This complicates their inclusion in processes overseen by the United Nations or the African Union, even if, by general agreement, the resistance committees embody the democratic movement.
Towards a new democratic commitment by the international community?
In one recent press release, the Khartoum state resistance committees demanded an end to the fighting. They asked members of local committees to provide medical and food aid to the population and to collect information on the fighting and the situation in the neighborhoods to avoid "fake news". Like all Sudanese civilian forces, they reject the participation of the military in the political transition, demanding the dissolution of the FSR and the return of the armed forces to their barracks.
This shows that the democratic infrastructure of the Sudanese revolution is still functioning. But Sudan's civilian forces have lost hope. Who will end the fighting between the military factions? How to prevent Sudan from disintegrating into regions ruled by armed men, like Libya? Only a strong intervention by the international community seems capable of this.
But the latter has accepted that the Sudanese military and regional powers play a leading role. However, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, worried about the impact of the Sudanese revolution on their internal affairs, consistently supported the Sudanese generals against democratic forces. In the current fighting, the regional powers all choose sides, which risks prolonging the conflict.
If Europe and the United States care about Sudan, they should recognize that their mediation efforts have failed and stop seeing the Sudanese military as legitimate interlocutors. They could take steps to isolate and sanction the armed factions engaged in the current conflict, confiscate their assets abroad and return them to the Sudanese people. And, at the same time, a dialogue should be established with the resistance committees and other Sudanese democratic forces to steer a real democratic transition that would not be taken hostage by neighboring countries or the military.