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Still hoping for democracy in Sudan

On the first anniversary of Sudan's military coup, the country remains stuck in a political stalemate. But, despite the increasingly difficult humanitarian situation, the population hasn't given up hope.

[Mahmoud Hjaj | Anadolu Agency | picture alliance]

The streets of Khartoum were filled on October 25, 2021, as thousands of people joined in calls for "Democracy for Sudan," "No power sharing with the military" and "Military, return to the barracks."

These chants came in response to the ousting of civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and the transitional democratic government by General Abdel-Fattah Burhan earlier that day.

One year on, the civilian street protests against military rule have turned into a part of day-to-day life in Sudan.

"Here in Khartoum everyone even receives a monthly schedule of the upcoming protest days," Christine Röhrs, resident representative of the Friedrich Ebert foundation's Sudan office, told DW.

Last Thursday was another protest day. "That morning everyone was frantically trying to get to work before the roads are blocked again or you can't make it through," she said.

Meanwhile, the military has been responding brutally since the beginning of the protests.

According to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, about 120 protesters have been killed and close to 7,000 people injured over the past 12 months.

"And yet the politically organized youth and civilians bravely continue with their pro-democracy protests," Röhrs said.

"I am impressed by our ability as a nation to rise and reach a significant level of resistance," Rania Abdelaziz, an activist in Khartoum, told DW.

"There were many times when I was about to give up: I was just tired," she said. "But then you see that you're not alone," she added, "and together we continue to fight."

Limited military power

In terms of establishing a functioning political framework, the protesters and the military have been locked in a political stalemate that continues to impede any political process.

Following Burhan's power grab, Hamdok was arrested, reinstalled and eventually made to step down again.

Nine months after the coup, Burhan promised to allow elections and then step down himself.

He insisted on a civilian-led-government in close cooperation with a military-led Supreme Council.

For this, he appointed his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces — who have been blamed for the brutal clampdown on protesters — as head of the council.

This plan was heavily opposed by many protesters.

The street opposition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) split into the FFC-Central Council, which opposes the military, and the Forces for Freedom and Change-National Accord (FFC-NA), which supports it.

No faction has offered its own candidate for prime minister.

Burhan promised to step down after elections — but he hasn't rushed to hold elections [SDSTS/EBU]

Limited civilian power

In the days before the anniversary of the coup, various news outlets reported that successful talks had outlined the restoration of a civilian prime minister, as well as limited power for the military.

Not everyone has found such reports convincing. Sudanese officials are "as far from a democratic process as they have ever been," Sami Hamdi, the managing director of the global risk and intelligence company International Interest, told DW. "The discussion is about how to extend the transition period by facilitating an impending agreement between the military and the civilian parties, and not necessarily to go to an election."

Some observers say the opposition would do more for the country by remaining out of power — and vigilant — than by attempting to govern.

"I think resistance groups should remain being watchdogs and not part of the governing power. Politicians should be forming a government, based on competence and not based on a power sharing agreement," Hamid Khalafallah, political analyst and research fellow at the think tank Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TimeP), told DW.

Dagalo is a controversial figure with a brutal military history and close ties to Russia [Ebrahim Hamid | AFP | Getty Images]

High humanitarian price

The coup came at a moment when Sudan was already facing multiple crises. In March, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme estimated that conflict, economic collapse and subpar harvests could leave 18 million people in Sudan without adequate nutrition, which puts their lives in immediate danger."

Humanitarian organizations warn that postponing an agreement will exacerbate the situation.

As a consequence of the coup, economic reforms have been stopped and international monetary aid remains frozen. This has led to a free fall of the economy, which also suffered from price increases as a consequence of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"You can't talk about quality of life in one of the poorest countries in the world anyway. It is rather the quality of survival that is at stake here," Röhrs said. "The prices of electricity and diesel, for example, have increased three to fourfold since the coup," she said, "and water now costs four times as much."

Abdelaziz is also worried. "Prices are increasing day by day," she said, "and people actually started stealing."

Hamdi said the humanitarian crisis wasn't likely to accelerate the political process, which could free up international funding.

"The humanitarian crisis is rather accelerating the potential for a new civil war that might see new separatist movements emerge," hamdi said.

International aid organizations estimate that the number of Sudanese in acute hunger will have doubled one year after the coup. [Sam Mednick | AP Photo | picture alliance]

'Far from democracy'

All sides will be paying attention to the number of people who take to the streets on the coup's anniversary.

Civilian groups will want to see how many people are still committed to the cause, and the military will assess the number as indicator of the power of the opposition.

"The military wants to see just how much the support has waned before it agrees to the most recent terms that were proposed in the latest talks, or whether the military has the power to renegotiate some of those terms," Hamdi said.

Röhrs believes that there will be a large turnout. "I assume that the protests will be really, really big again," she said. "Almost all Sudanese and international organizations and companies will be closed on October 25."

Khalafallah also expects a mass of protesters on the streets. "We are much closer to democracy in terms of appreciating it and being aware of the importance," he said. However, he added, "the actual context is still very far from democracy."

Rania Abdelaziz is also planning to take to the streets on Tuesday.

"The struggle is big," she said, "but I am still hopeful and still see hope around me because the street demands remain strong."


(c) 2022, DW


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