With the apparent support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the military has launched a crackdown on peaceful protesters in recent days, leaving at least 100 dead.
Sudan has fallen into anarchy in recent weeks, with at least 100 people horrifically killed by the fearsome Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary unit throughout the normally festive Muslim religious holiday of Eid.
Instead of celebrating, many spent the holidays grieving the deaths of their loved ones as Sudan’s military is emboldened by foreign support.
Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC) has found regional support from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt; while the remainder of the international community has said little, and done even less to check the rampant violence.
UAE-marked military vehicles were identified throughout Khartoum. In a previous show of support to the military regime, Saudi Arabia and the UAE both pledged $3 billion in assistance to Sudan.
Mahmoud Elmutasim, a political activist, writer and doctor who graduated from the University of Khartoum’s medical school, spoke to TRT World about the shared interests behind Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s interference in the country.
The RSF commander, Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, and Abdel Fattah al Burhan, the head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, recently carried out visits to Gulf states.
“The UAE and Saudi have deep investments in the Sudanese economy, particularly in agriculture and telecommunications. But it goes deeper than that. They are using our soldiers to fight their war in Yemen, something they would very much like to continue. It’s geopolitics.”
But that’s not all, says Elmutasim.
“There’s another reason that isn’t emphasised enough. Saudi Arabia and the UAE don’t want any democratic countries in the Middle East. Their main target is the idea of democracy itself. Should it ever take root, or become widespread in the Middle East, it will threaten their rule existentially.”
Saudi Arabia and the UAE's involvement in Sudan is characteristic of its counter-revolutionary actions since the beginning of the 'Arab Spring'.
“Sudan is a big country,” he adds. “A successful democracy would have implications for Chad, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Egypt. With a slowly spreading idea, at some point, people in Saudi Arabia and the UAE would want to live in such a democracy.”
The armed bands are primarily made up of former Janjaweed militias who allegedly committed war crimes in Darfur under Omar al Bashir’s command.
As the instability spreads, the death toll rises.
Forty bodies were pulled out of the Nile River, according to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, a professional association affiliated with protestors, following reports that soldiers from the RSF paramilitary group disposed of their bodies in the river.
Internet access has been completely cut off in Khartoum for multiple days now.
Civil society has continued its non-violent resistance in the face of violent crackdowns, and for Elmutasim, the current violence in Sudan isn’t new. It’s an extension of a bloody past.
He alludes to organised state violence in West Sudan, Darfur and even in Khartoum previously.
"The threat of violence wasn’t enough to stop people from seeking change," he says.
So what’s the solution? Forcing protestors and activists to take up arms.
“We reached a milestone of political consciousness where we realised that they are trying to push us to defend ourselves by arms. We have lots of arms, and it’s easy to get access to weapons. But if we give them what they want, we’ll also give them legitimacy, and then they will crush us,” Elmutasim says.
Sudan’s initial popular uprising began in December 2018, when protests over a flagging economy gave way to a nationwide strike organised by labour unions.
More than a hundred civilians died during the protests that sought to eliminate the government. Omar al Bashir would step down, but many of his former officers and government officials would remain in power.
“We’re no longer naive. By holding onto peaceful demonstrations, labour strikes and civil disobedience, we can involve more people in our own society regardless of their ethnicity, political leanings or gender, while receiving the support of the international community.”
Elmutasim is careful to note that not all international players are benign.
“We trust the support of democratic, progressive countries in the African Union like South Africa, rather than the EU and US. The latter simply have too many overlapping interests with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and they will never support us,” he reflects.
After former president Omar al Bashir stepped down, the Sudanese military promised to hand over power to civilians organising the popular protests. The promises never materialised.
Democracy in Sudan isn’t just “a beautiful idea created in the West,” says Elmutasim.
“It’s a necessity, and a product of a long struggle to reach stability, born of a desire to live together without war, and to finally be free of tribal, religious and identity politics,” he states, emphasising that this belief firmly entrenches protestors.
Sudan’s uprising against the status quo is fighting an uphill battle, particularly with democratic countries slow to support the popular movement with anything beyond rhetoric.
“It may be better for the West to see a Sudan ruled by a strong civilian government, rather than a weak military,” he comments.
“Of course, no one knows the future, and anyone who says otherwise is lying,” Elmutasim adds after a moment of reflection.
“The future will be decided by our activism and our hard work… We are fighting in solidarity against a vicious military while fighting against our tendencies to fight with each other. We’re now joined together as one nation guided by a united civil society that strives for a clear and sustainable democracy.
After the lessons of two painful failed revolutions, we will succeed.”