IntelBrief: Sudan Protests Gain Momentum and Are Met With More Bloodshed
July 3, 2019

Sudan Protests Gain Momentum and Are Met With More Bloodshed

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Bottom Line Up Front

• Pro-democracy protesters in Sudan reemerged in full force to demand a transition to a civilian-led government; demonstrations were met with widespread violence.

• After Sudan’s longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir was deposed in April, a military government seized power, backed by external forces including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

• In an effort to quell the protest movement’s momentum, the government has sought to block civilians from accessing the internet, a common tactic used by authoritarian regimes during times of civil unrest.

• More recently, both the African Union and regional heavyweight Ethiopia have offered to help mediate the growing crisis. 

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Pro-democracy protesters in Sudan reemerged in full force to demand a transition to a civilian-led government. Demonstrations were once again met with widespread violence. Protesters reportedly numbered in the hundreds of thousands for the so-called ‘millions march,’ an amazing turnout for civilians desperate for change in Sudan and willing to risk imprisonment or death for their desire to have Sudan embody democratic ideals and freedoms. The latest protests were met with violence from the security forces, leaving at least 11 dead and with hundreds injured. On the streets, even amidst the escalating violence, protesters could be heard shouting one of the revolution’s primary slogans, ‘Just Fall, Just Fall,’ as anger at the military’s brutal crackdown continues to sweep throughout the country. To most close observers of the situation, Sudan seems to be heading for a period of sustained violence that could lead to civil war—a  development that would have spillover effects throughout the region.

After Sudan’s longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir was deposed in April, a military government seized power, backed by external forces including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. These countries and their leaders see an opportunity to expand their influence in Sudan while simultaneously preventing the spread of a true democratic movement throughout the Arab world. Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed have positioned their countries to take advantage of power vacuums throughout parts of Africa, especially the Horn of Africa and North Africa. Both Gulf leaders have been ardent supporters of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council and have even lent support to war criminals and rapacious militia leaders known for ethnic cleansing. Armed factions are often joined by vigilante mobs and other violent non-state actors that operate with impunity and wanton disregard for the rule of law.  

Protests mostly centered around Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, as well as Omdurman, Atbara, and several other smaller towns and cities across the country. The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a militia that operates in parallel to, but semi-independently of, the military, was deployed throughout Khartoum in response to the growing protests. The RSF, which maintains close links to the Janjaweed militias responsible for some of the worst violence of the genocide in Darfur, has supplied ground troops to the disastrous Saudi- and Emirati-led war in Yemen. In turn, both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have offered generous financial assistance, weapons, and training to the RSF and other Sudanese militia and paramilitary groups.  

The Sudanese military callously blamed the protesters for the recent violence, insisting that the Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change compelled the security forces to use physical violence after demonstrators made the presidential palace and military headquarters the focus of their march. Two of the opposition’s most high-profile leaders were arrested early this week. In an effort to quell the protest movement’s momentum, the government has sought to block civilians from accessing the internet, a common tactic used by many other authoritarian regimes during times of civil unrest or large-scale demonstrations. More recently, both the African Union and regional heavyweight Ethiopia have offered to help mediate the growing crisis, which began in December and gained worldwide attention in April, following the ouster of Bashir.

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