On the morning of June 3, the world woke up to the news of a harrowing, bloody crackdown on peaceful civilian protesters on the streets of Khartoum by the RSF (Rapid Support Forces, a new-fangled name of the notorious Janjaweed militia) – under the command of the infamous Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemeti, the mastermind behind the genocide in Darfur. The fault of the protesters? Demand for a civilian transitional governing body, following the fall of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president of 30 years.
More than 118 people, including minors, died during the sudden crackdown, with footage emerging of the Sudanese security forces dumping bodies of the murdered and the injured in the river Nile, to make the casualty numbers more palatable. According to a Forbes report, at least 19 children have died during the atrocities committed by the Sudanese paramilitary forces, while another 49 have been injured. The number of injuries among the adults is reported to be as high as 300. According to the BBC, reports of rape by a “feared unit of Sudan’s security forces” have also emerged, in the aftermath of the crackdown. France24 also reported witness accounts of mass rape of female and male protesters by the RFS. According to a Guardian report, hospitals in Sudan registered at least 70 cases of rape after the clampdown by the security forces.
As if firing live ammunition on the protesters and rape was not enough, the RSF even attacked several hospitals in Khartoum, to disrupt the medical services being provided to the injured. Internet was cut down to prevent the flow of information outside the capital. In the build-up to the security forces’ attacks, satellite news channel Al Jazeera’s Khartoum bureau was shut down on May 30, and its journalists were banned from reporting from Sudan.
This was very much in keeping with how the media was handled throughout the episode. According to a report by Reporters Without Borders, Sudan has committed at least 100 cases of suppression of free media during the months-long protests, including “66 arrests of journalists, six cases of accreditation being withdrawn from the correspondents of foreign media (including Al Jazeera and the Turkish news agency Anadolu), and 34 seizures of newspaper issues.”
According to the same report, the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), the Sudanese intelligence wing responsible for press censorship, has suppressed publication of all protests-related news in the country. Meanwhile, social media platforms all remain blocked in the country, forcing people to access them using VPN sites. Despite the ban on communication mediums, and persecution of the media, the Sudanese military could not stop reports of the atrocities from trickling out of the country. News of the atrocities committed by the Sudanese forces have shocked the world and drew condemnation from world leaders, with the United States embassy in Sudan terming the attacks “wrong” and the UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling it an “outrageous step that will only lead to more polarisation and violence.”
In response to the atrocities committed by the Sudanese security establishment, the African Union has suspended Sudan’s membership from the group of African nations, although the move did not seem to have had much effect on the nation. At a United Nations Security Council session, China and Russia vetoed the circulation of a press statement presented by Britain and Germany, which would have called on the Sudanese Transitional Military Council and the civilians to “continue working together towards a consensual solution to the current crisis.”
Regional powers, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have remained almost silent about the RSF attacks. In fact, if anything, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) chief General Burhan and his deputy Hemeti’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt in the lead-up to the crackdown, have raised questions about the possible role the Middle Eastern deep state might have played in the deeply undemocratic events that had unfolded in Sudan on June 3.
In the wake of the persisting unrest in Sudan, the United States had to send its Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, to the country to encourage dialogue between the civilian protesters and the ruling TMC. During his visit, Nagy was accompanied by the newly appointed Special Envoy to Sudan, veteran diplomat Donald Booth, who has been appointed to “lead US efforts to support a political solution to the current crisis that reflects the will of the Sudanese people.”
The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has visited Sudan and met both the TMC authorities and the representatives of Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), a coalition of political parties whose organised protests had led to the downfall of Sudan’s dictator Omar al-Bashir. In fact, while the Sudanese military rulers thanked Abiy for his reconciliation efforts, immediately after his visit, two political “rebel” leaders had been arrested by Sudan’s security forces, after their meeting with the Ethiopian prime minister. Meanwhile, the protesters have again started taking to the streets asking for immediate transfer of power to a civilian transitional governing body. In a show of resilience defying fear, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the civilian organisation that first launched protests against Bashir, has called for civil disobedience against the military council.
While foreign powers have not been able to do much except for their lip service in condemning the attacks on peaceful civilian protesters, the people of Sudan have decided to not give up on their demand for change
The Sudanese have perhaps realised that unless the extractive institutions, which have exploited the people all these years, are dismantled, real change will not be possible. The fall of Bashir was just the first domino. The TMC is being run by the very people who had aided Bashir all these years in suppressing the people. General Burhan and Hemeti, the two hegemons of the TMC, essentially subscribe to Bashir’s political ideology and have both played important roles in Bashir’s administration. It is not surprising that nearly two months after his fall, Bashir is yet to face a trial for his misdeeds and atrocities.
Amidst repeated international calls for resumption of dialogue between the TMC and the civilians after the RSF attacks, the TMC on Thursday said that talks on transitional government should resume without any conditions from the civilians, which is not acceptable to the protesters
Against this backdrop, it is fair to assume that the people of Sudan are alone—alone in their pursuit of democracy, and a pluralistic, inclusive society for all. And although they might not get much support from world powers, except for their demands for “peaceful dialogues” between all parties, the Sudanese are a resilient people, and they look set to push for their demands for an equitable society. With the TMC’s unwillingness to yield power to a civilian body, what remains to be seen is how much the world powers will be interested to intervene in the internal affairs of a nation, so far away from the West’s heartland, having such little impact in the affairs of their own.