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Who are the protesters leading Sudan’s uprising?

  • Mucahid Durmaz
  • 9 May 2019

A diverse coalition of groups, from Islamic movements to Communists, have taken to the streets to demand change.

A Sudanese protester holds the national flag with writings reading in Arabic "Civilian Only" during a rally outside the army headquarters in Khartoum on May 2, 2019 ( AFP )

For decades, Sudan’s diverse opposition groups failed to unite and take collective action against the 30-year long authoritarian rule of Omar al Bashir. 

That changed late last year when riots over the rising price of bread turned into a regime-toppling revolution.

After months of nationwide protests, nearly a hundred political parties united to put an end to Bashir’s rule.

A coalition, uniting everyone from Islamic movements to the Communist Party, is now negotiating with a military council that has assumed power after Bashir’s fall and has pledged to transition to a civilian administration.

Tensions are still high as thousands of protesters remain outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum, nearly four weeks after Bashir’s ouster.

Last week the umbrella group, Alliance for Freedom and Change (AFC), handed over its proposals for a civilian structure, including executive and legislative bodies, that it eventually wants Sudan to adopt, replacing the generals. 

The protesters and the military council are currently grappling over what the makeup of the transitional council should be. Civil society movements want a civilian majority on the transitional council to see Sudan through the move to democracy.

Sudanese protesters wave national flags as they chant slogans during an a sit-in outside the army headquarters in the capital Khartoum on April 26, 2019.(AFP)

So who is part of the Sudanese opposition?

The opposition bloc is made up of Nidaa Sudan, the National Consensus Forces, and the Sudanese Professionals Association. Collectively, the tripartite bloc is known as the Alliance for Freedom and Change.

Nidaa Sudan, includes the conservative Umma Party, the Sudanese Congress Party, as well as representatives of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which fought for the creation of South Sudan. 

The Umma Party is led by Oxford graduate, Sadiq al Mahdi, who served as prime minister twice in the 1960s and 80s and was ousted in the 1989 coup that brought Bashir into the power.

Meanwhile, more non-mainstream groups, such as the Sudanese Communist Party, and the Baath Party, as well as other leftist organisations, form the National Consensus Forces. 

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) has also been a vital component in the uprising, and is seen as a driving force behind the mobilisation of thousands of young demonstrators, which it achieved through the savvy use of social media when protests began last December. 

 SPA is comprised of small political cadres, mostly staffed by young, urban people, including academics, doctors, and engineers.

The main leaders of SPA are Mohamed Yousef Ahmed Mustafa, a professor at Khartoum University, and Mohamed Naji, a doctor who was detained soon after the protests erupted but has since been released.

Teacher Ahmed al Rabia and doctor Omar Salah, are also key figures within SPA.

Importantly, the new generation, frustrated by a corrupt, and economically and morally weak regime, has chosen to unite, not under a political party but as a group of networking professionals. The shift is likely to drastically shape Sudanese politics in the future.

Led by SPA and spearheaded by social media, the uprising marks a generational shift in Sudanese politics. Millions of young Sudanese are refusing to accept anything less than meaningful change. Despite the threat of violence, they committed to sustained mass demonstrations until they were sure that Bashir had gone. 

In a country with a median age of just 19, the uprising is likely to profoundly impact the region -  the Middle East and Africa - where millions of ambitious, talented but frustrated young people lack jobs, education, and better opportunities. 

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