The Anti-Coup Resistance that Halted Sudan’s Transition to Democratic Rule

Written by: Garrett Halak

Sudan has been considered the “coup laboratory” of the world with a history of approximately 15 attempted coups, 10 of which were thwarted. For many, these coups are a part of Sudanese life, and while there existed hope for eventual stability in early 2021, another coup was impending. 

Throughout January of 2022, thousands of Sudanese protestors demonstrated their resentment to the recent military coup that halted the country’s transition to democratic rule. Young men and women urged for the end of military rule that has rendered widespread turmoil throughout Sudan. While protests occurred across the nation, the capital city and its twin city, Khartoum and Omdurman respectively, have seen the largest demonstrations. Demonstrators have shouted “hand over the country’s keys and leave” in Atbara and “the authority is that of the people” in Wad Madani. These declarations are a call to action for the military to return the government to civilians and proceed with a democratic transition. 

The military coup that sparked this outrage occurred in October of 2021. Just prior to the sudden implementation of military rule, many citizens were looking forward as the government was in a transitional period towards more democratic rule after being under the reign of dictator Omar al-Bashir for upwards of 30 years. In 1993, al-Bashir gained supremacy in a power grab that abruptly ended after the International Criminal Court (ICC) conducted investigations into various accusations in Darfur leading to the end of his authoritarianism. Following al-Bashir’s dismissal, Sudan’s governance began to push for more democratic practices. Intercommunal conflicts were identified and mitigated and there was growing momentum towards a new constitution.

With a rocky, but nevertheless, noteworthy transition towards more democratic practices and a renewed trust in government, Sudanese citizens were optimistic for the state to assume a more progressive political climate. Despite the net gain, however, instability met with power-hungry military groups led to an inevitable disruption in this transition 

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s top general, led the regime and forced a power grab that detained prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok and arrested any opponents of the coup. Al-Burhan’s dissolution of Sudan’s ruling council and transitional government was prompted by heightened conflict between previously allied military and civilian groups. There was disagreement between the direction of Sudan’s transitional government and therefore, the military sought to gain control. 

Today, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a prominent pro-democracy organization, has expressed commitment to its continued mission to resist the military until the establishment of a civilian-led government. More recent protests include the fourth “million-man march” which occurred in Khartoum. Here, countless Sudanese protestors chant in the streets and seek for the military to relinquish control and hand over authority to a civilian-led democratic government. These marches gained international recognition and helped to garner public support for an end to military rule. 

Measures of civil disobedience have been broadcast across communities within Sudan. With widespread internet access, social media campaigns have promoted multitudinous protests. Many of these protests are led by young Burmese citizens who seek an end to militarization.  

Despite al-Burhan’s sponsorship of a two-week internet block to counter the civilian backlash, Sudanese resistors sought resolve. With no access to other communities within Sudan and abroad, anti-coup dissenters shared fliers for organized opposition and encouraged civil disobedience within local mosques. 

Protests have been met with military resistance, so far causing 60 fatalities. The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors has also revealed that more than 300 people have been wounded in anti-coup protests. Still, citizens have been persistent in vocalizing their concerns with active support on the international level by both state governments and organizations. 

The United States Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman has publicly announced his opposition to the military coup, conceding that it is “utterly unacceptable.” The African Union has called for the opposition leaders to be released. While not condemning the coup to the degree of the United Nations, which called for the “immediate release of Sudan’s prime minister and…officials”, Union Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat has urged talks between the feuding civilian wing and military. 

While peaceful communication is promoted by international influences, there is unlikely a succinct and satisfactory resolution to this conflict. Decreased trust in the government is likely to promote public antagonism for any future regime. Supplementing public distrust, the increased severity of the ruling military’s response to civil disobedience diminishes the previous efforts fostered by the transitional democratic government. With no clear future in sight, Sudan is again in the hands of a coup.