After a sit-in that lasted close to two months (from 6 April to 3 June), which brought down the 30-year rule of the hated dictator Omar al-Bashir on 11 April, after the massacre of more than a hundred people on 3 June by the Rapid Support Forces (the militia formed by the fallen dictator, which had played a sinister role in the events in Darfour under the name of Janjaweed), after the revolution raised its head once again, with hundreds of thousands, even millions coming out on 30 June, the ruling Transitional Military Council and the opposition Forces for Freedom and Change (formerly Alliance for Freedom and Change) declared on 5 July that they have finally come to an agreement. The previous negotiations, before they were interrupted by the massacre of 3 June, had led to the shared resolution of forming a so-called Sovereign Council that would appoint the government and oversee the transition to a civilian democratic rule, but had faltered over the question of which side would have a majority on the said council. The two sides have now come to an agreement that is based on five seats for each side plus one member being appointed by consensus. Rumour has it that the consensus will be on a retired general. The finalised legal text has not been disclosed yet. We have waited to se the text in order to write on the agreement, but eight days on there is still no document. So, for the purposes of this article, we will assume that things will go pretty much as declared by the two sides.
It should be obvious for anyone that whether the 11th member is a retired general, the head of the Sudan Bar Association or a Martian is immaterial. What is decisive is that the military will be part of the entire process of preparing the fundamentals of the future political regime. This is the self-same military that supported the murderous Omar al-Bashir for three decades, that was engaged in mass murder on a scale to be characterised by many as a genocide in Darfour, that fought a civil war with the South Sudanese in which the number of causalties is estimated to rise all the way to two million, and that grabbed its share of the riches of the country, first during the oil bonanza of the 2000s and now, once three fourths of the oil was lost to the new state of South Sudan that seceded in 2011, the new wealth promised by the discovery of gold in various regions of the country. There is no reason to think that the top brass will relinquish their hold on the levers of power by their own consent.
Their very realistic calculation is that once the Sovereign Council starts its business of developing the provisions of the future constitution, delving into intricate legal nuances, the mass of the people will be alienated from public affairs and will go back to the routine of everyday life, trying to pick up the pieces of the economy, which has come to a grinding halt in the long months of feverish revolutonary action, almost eight months from its beginning in late December 2018, with a two-month sit-in recently, when very few people engaged in regular work. Add to this the second important provision that the chair of the council will be from among the military wing for a full 21 months and one needs no special skills of prescience to conclude that the military are counting on the universal law of revolution that timing is of the essence of victory. To give in to a power-sharing scheme at this point when the revolutionary zeal of the masses and their self-confidence is at its peak, especially in the wake of the heroic revival of the movement despite the massacre of 3 June simply means that time will henceforth be on the side of the military. The only source of power for the Forces for Freedom and Change and the directing force in that alliance, the Sudan Professional Associations, in their confrontation with the military is the revolution, i.e. the enthusiasm and courage of the people in action on the streets, in their workplaces, in their neighbourhoods, and in their schools. Once the tedious chain of discussions on constiutional quibbling sets in, they will see that source of power evaporate. This is an act of liquidation of the revolution.
Other details of the agreement reached conform to the spirit of the two we have already dwelled upon. The government that will run day-to-day affairs will be appointed by consensus by the Sovereign Council and will be composed of “technocrats”. This last point is also part of the original programme of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC). The big change is, of course, that the military will also have a say on who the ministers will be, so one can imagine what kind of “technocrats” will shape the lives of the Sudanese people in the coming 39 months (three years and three months).
One persistent demand of the mass movement has been the punishing of all who engaged in the killing of the people throughout the revolutionary period, with lately an emphasis on the 3 June massacre. This demand is given lip service by supposedly starting an investigation. The best term to be used here is the French expression, untranstalable into other languages, of “renvoyer aux calendes grecques”, minimally rendered into English as “table or shelve indefinitely”. The grotesque nature of the whole enterprise is demonstrated by the fact that, although everyone knows that the massacre of 3 June was carried out by the Rapid Support Forces, the head of that sinister institution and the vice-president of the Transitional Military Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also called “Hemiti”, has come out and said that the person who ordered the massacre was now under detention. And when did he say that? On 8 July, a full month after the affair. The gentleman spends the whole month of June doing nothing about the terrible crime committed by the “security force” that he commands and then when the masses corner the junta by staging a demonstration attended by millions in spite of the 3 June massacre, finally looks into the matter and finds someone who is responsible for that crime. It would have been a bit more honest on his part to look in the mirror!
This aspect of the agreement between the Transitional Military Council and the Sudanese Professional Association and the Forces for Freedom and Change has proved to be so ridiculous that when the latter were invited to Geneva to a special meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR), they said that both the Rapid Support Forces and the Transitional Military Council “constitute a threat to civilians and human rights”. The delegation also “stressed that no positive change has taken place so far, especially with the continuation of wars, the serious violation of international humanitarian law, the existence of millions of displaced people and refugees, and the prevalence of impunity for those accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.”
The forces incriminated here are the very same forces that the Sudanese Professional Association and the Forces for Freedom and Change are now allying with in order to conduct Sudan into a democratic regime. The epitome of farce!
We should not neglect to mention that the Sudan Revolutionary Front, a coalition of the armed forces that have been fighting the regime of Omar al Bashir, immediately rejected the agreement. These groups are the armed representatives of the non-Arabised, non-Muslim peoples of Sudan, who had to resort to armed struggle in order to defend themselves against the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir allied to the Ihwan, the Muslim Brotherhood. They are based in Darfour, a very large part of Sudan divided into six different provinces, in the Blue Nile province in the south and within the communities that are the remnants of the people of South Sudan that seceded from al-Bashir’s Sudan in 2011. The fact that they have rejected the agreement does not signify that they will adopt an intransigent position: what they are looking for is the inclusion of the interests of their peoples, including the refugees and the displaced, into the settlement. They are now engaged in talks with the Forces for Freedom and Change in Addis Ababa. Earlier, the Vice-President of the Transitional Military Council and the leader of the Sudan Revolutionary Front had met in Chad, under the auspices of the president of Chad.
The question of class
There seems to be an enigma in this whole affair: why would the Sudanese Professional Association and the Forces for Freedom and Change, who have courageously fought the repressive forces of the regime throughout these eight months, put themselves in such a ludicrous position? Is it that they were forced to do so because there was no other way out?
In order to answer the question, one needs an understanding of the class nature of the different forces that constitute the dynamics of the Sudanese revolution. The revolution, it is important to recall, started in reaction to the tripling of the price of bread and the rise in the cost of gasoline and the price of transports. So it is very clearly an economic question that is at the root of the revolution. From the very beginning, the poorest strata of society were engaged in the revolution.
However, the leadership was formed, again from the very beginning, by the Sudanese Professional Associations (SPA). The core of this force was formed by the various organisations of medical doctors, of lawyers, and of journalists. The movement owes its prestige partially to the proud struggle of doctors and pharmacists against the utter neglect of health care questions in 2016. The SPA was formed for more restricted and modest purposes at the beginning. But as the revolution gained momentum in the last days of 2018, the movement undertook a bolder project of regime change together with other opposition forces and put out the Declaration for Freedom and Change, whence the Alliance carrying the same name. At the very centre of the Alliance that covers a very wide array of forces is, nonetheless, the SPA.
The very fact that the SPA has been in the forefront of the revolutionary movement begs to be explained. The fact is that in addition to the very clear class-economic basis of the revolution, there is another aspect that requires close scrutiny. The al-Bashir regime, as was alluded to above, had an Islamist ideological front, but behind that a neoliberal frenzy of enrichment of a new provincial bourgeoisie together with the upper strata of the army was the real material driving force that upheld the regime. Emblematic of the 1990s, the beginnings of al-Bashir’s rule in alliance with Hasan Turabi of Ihwan, was the Islamist financier Abd al-Rahim Hamdi, who refashioned the Sudanese economy in a neoliberal direction serving the newly rising Islamist bourgeoisie.
This new economic regime, fuelled further by the oil bonanza of the 2000s, created its own class structure. The modern petty-bourgeoisie and the upper echelons of the salaried classes, together with the intellectuals, the artists, and the youth, formed an entire strata of class forces who are no longer contented with the Islamist outlook of the al-Bashir regime. These strata look to Western imperialism and to bourgeois democracy as the “ideal” to be reached. These class forces, in particular the youth among their ranks, are the ones who projected a “liberal” middle-class image of the revolution to the rest of the world by their savvy use of smart phones and social media, but also set the tone for the entire revolutionary movement because they are the ones who demonstrate in the centre of Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. This was the social basis of the SPA and the main reason why it was hegemonic in the clash of political forces.
There was a very different dynamics going on in the peripheral neighbourhoods of Khartoum and in the other cities and states, such as Atbara, Port Soudan, Gedaref, and Gezirah, where the revolutionary movement was strong. In the central districts of Khartoum, the SPA was the unchallenged leadership. However, in peripheral neighbourhoods and in other cities, where the working class and the urban poor of recent peasant origin rub elbows, the situation was very different. The neighbourhoods threw up their own leadership. These people were educated, so to speak, in the uprising of September 2013, which was triggered by the rise in the price of gasoline. Some 200 people died in that uprising, with the death toll concentrated disproportionately in poor periheral neighbourhoods.
As in the rest of the Islamic world and, indeed, in backward countries in general, these neighbourhoods are dense webs of social affinity, where everyone has known each other from childhood and where political relations are built upon relations of everyday networks of friendship and solidarity. Here the influence of the SPA was distant and mediated. It was here again, as in 2013, that the clash between the revolutionary people and the “security forces” took the fiercest forms and the casualties were highest. It was also here that “resistance committtees” as alternative leaderships to the SPA and the Alliance were formed. These rank and file bodies have been decisive in the struggle in many parts of Sudan and have not received the attention they deserve.
This class difference is the basis of the compromising attitude of the SPA and the Forces for Freedom and Change hegemonised by the SPA. The relatively well-to-do, and we stress the word “relatively”, modern petty-bourgeoisie and the upper echelons of the proletariat, as opposed to the rank and file of the proletariat, the urban poor, and the poor peasantry, has a lot to lose if the revolution goes too far. And their patrons in the imperialist countries do not want revolution, but simply an “orderly transition” to a more streamlined bourgeois democracy adapted to the “international community”.
Let us then look at the international dimension of the Sudanese revolution.
The taming of the revolution
There are three distinct aspects of the international dimension of the Sudanese revolution. The first of these dimensions has to do with the internecine struggle within the world of Islamist forces. Al-Bashir came to power, as has already been pointed out, on the tide of a rise of Islamism of the Ihwan brand in 1989, as a reaction to a self-styled Nasserian secular regime led by Jafaar Nimeiry from 1969 on (let us hasten to add that there is a four-year interlude between the two regimes, as the Nimeiry regime had been borught down by a revolution in 1985). When Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came to power in Turkey in 2002-2003, he immediately turned to the Sunni-Arab world to find allies in Ihwan. Al-Bashir was an obvious candidate.
However, historically Sudan has always been very much tied to Egypt, its powerful northern neighbour. When the Egytpian revolution of 2011-2013 was hijacked by the Ihwan, everything worked according to the scheme Erdoğan had conceived. (We are not entering here into the details of what happened in other countries at the time of the Arab revolution.) But when al Sisi, the Egyptian Bonaparte, brought down Mohammed al Morsi, the president of Egypt elected on an Ihwan slate, the whole scene changed. Al Sisi was supported by Saudi Arabia, the major counter-revolutionary power of the Middle East, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which between the two of them pumped 23 billion dollars into the Egyptian economy in the following years. This was not only a move against revolution in the Arab world. It was also a blow to the Ihwan movement, which, with its republicanism and its Islamist internationalism, was perceived as a threat by these two monarchies of the Gulf, as well as Kuwait and Bahrain.
This conflict over Egypt created an impasse for al-Bashir. It started to manoeuvre hopelessly between the two major Sunni powers of the Middle East, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It tried to appease the Saudis and the UAE by sending 14 thousand troops to assist them in their cruel war against the people of Yemen. But when the UAE, no doubt on behalf of Saudi Arabia as well, asked al-Bashir at a 2017 meeting to ditch the “Islamists” (read Ihwan) in its government, the latter refrained from doing so. So in the end it was al-Bashir himself who was ditched in the context of the Sudanese revolution. There is every reason to believe that some of the bigwigs of the Sudanese “security forces”, be it Salah Gosh of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) or Mohamed Hamdan “Hemiti” of the Rapid Support Forces, who brought down al-Bashir on 11 April in a palace coup, got their orders either from Saudi Arabia and the UAE or directly from the United States.
Let it be said in passing that the ouster of al-Bashir from power is another blow to Tayyip Erdoğan and his dream of ruling over the Sunni Middle East and North Africa (MENA) through the auspices of Ihwan.
The reverse of the medallion is that whether directly or through the services of the duo Saudi Arabia-UAE, it is the United States that stands to gain form the ouster of Omar al-Bashir. It should be remembered that since the ascent of Trump to the presidency, the US has tied its fate in the Middle East to that of the Saudi Arabia of the butcher crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Hence, any gains made against the Ihwan is a plus for Trump’s America as well. (Remember that the Trump administration is even toying with the idea of declaring Ihwan as a “terrorist organisation”.)
However, it is one thing to have an Ihwan ally brought down and another to countenance a revolution. So, the way the lackeys Gosh, “Hemeti” and Co. oustered al-Bashir was extremely similar to the way Hosni Mobarak was brought down in Egypt, when revolution threatened to cause an upheaval that might end in a change in the class nature of the state, leading to a social, rather than political, revolution. The avowed goal of the United States in advising its foremost allies the military top brass in Egypt to bring down Mobarak was “orderly transition” (which was then made into a general rule, applied, with less success, in Yemen as well).
This is precisely why al-Bashir was bought down in a move that was characterised as a “military coup” across the board, left and right. That characterisation shows that political science, whether of the left or of the right, is trapped in formalism and confuses a last-ditch defensive move by the ruling army with a forward-looking hegemonic project. No, the move by the security forces against al-Bashir on 11 April under the pressure of the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators engaged in a sit-in in front of the General Staff building in Khartoum was not a coup in the ordinary sense of the term, but the shedding of ballast within the confines of the same regime. It meant to protect the regime by removing its most hated symbol. It was a concession to the power of the revolutionary masses.
Fast forward to exactly three months later. The Foreign Minister of Finland is sent as an envoy of the European Union to Sudan to have talks with the Transitional Military Council. He utters precisely the following words upon his arrival at Khartoum airport: “A peaceful and orderly civilian transition remains the only viable way out of the current crisis in Sudan.” “Orderly transition”! Precisely the same terminology used by the plenipotentiaries of imperialism during the revolutions of 2011!
The third aspect of the international connection is a studiously ignored fact: the negotiations between the Transitional Military Council, on the one hand, and the SPA and the Alliance, on the other, are mediated by an Afro-Ethiopian leadership, i.e. a representative of the African Union and one of Ethiopia. Moreover, the Arab League plays an important part in the mediation between the two sides. Thus, we see here an example of how the “international community”, through the auspices of local forces, plays an anaesthtetic role in numbing a revolution. This is the other reason why the leadership of the Sudanese revolution has agreed to settle for so little. When the delegation of the Forces for Freedom and Change went to Geneva for the UNHCR meeting, they also had an encounter with Norway and Britain. Norway is the expert of the imperialist camp in anaesthesizing revolutions or wars, whether it be in Palestine, Kurdistan, Sri Lanka or, now, Sudan.
Beware the illusory support of imperialim is the only conclusion to be drawn from this whole episode. Imperialism may wish for regime change, but not through victorious revolution.
All power to the resistance committees! Organise the rank and file of the army!
So everything points to a situation where the “international community”, in unison with the most reactionary forces in the Arab world, i.e. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are trying to arrest the development of the Sudanese revolution, trying to tame it down to a simple change of guard within the “security apparatus” of the Sudanese state, and hushing the revolutionary fervour of the people of Sudan.
But remember what we said above of the leadership in the peripheral neighbourhoods of the working class and the urban poor. In these localities the PSA has only a limited amount of influence. If and when the discussion within the new Sovereign Council and the new “technocratic” government turns sour and meaningless, the local leaderships may take over the leadership of a new rise in revolutionary activity.
There is also no reason to write off the army. When the masses first encircled the headquarters of the General Staff in early April, the Rapid Support Forces, the murderers of 3 June, opened fire on the unarmed crowds several times. Ordinary soldiers and non-commissioned officers, as well as young officers, of the army returned fire on those forces so as to protect the masses. This was one of the most felicitous developments that revolutionaries can hit upon. The rank and file of the army fighting with the revolutionaries rather than acting to repress them. Unfortunately, the petty-bourgeois leadership of the revolution has kept aloof from this incredibly positive development within the mass movement. These soldiers and non-commissioned officers are only workers and peasants under uniform. To the best of our knowledge, they came to the aid of the revolution without any revolutionary party organising them. The petty-bourgeois leadership in its fixation on a pacifist attitude has turned its back on this opportunity. But there is nothing to tell us that this kind of support from the army rank and file is impossible in future clashes.
The entire capitalist world system, African and Arab reactionary institutions, the military regime and the present leadership of the mass movement have set on a course of liquidating the Sudanese Revolution. But this is a revolution that has risen from its ashes even after the terrible massacre of 3 June. There should be no despair, not yet. Real revolutionaries must now turn to the plebeian forces of the revolution and build a new leadership, a proletarian party, in order to lead the next round of mass insurgency. There will be many ups and downs in the coming months and years. We do not even know that the military and the civilian camp will eventually be able to come to an agreement. Revolutions sometimes have great surprises in store. So the Sudanese working class and the labouring population have to start creating now a class organisation to lead the revolution in the next key juncture.
14 July 2019
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