Sudan: the phoenix has risen again

Sudanese community protest in Glasgow, June 2019

Two days before the Transitional Military Council signed the first part of a power-sharing deal with the Forces of Declaration of Freedom and Change in Sudan (FFC) on 17 July, FRFI interviewed Rashid El Sheikh, Sudanese Communist UK and Ireland. Rashid explained the context and significance of the mass mobilisation in Sudan and described the new forces involved.

FRFI: What is your opinion of the current proposal for a transitional civilian government? Do you feel progress has been achieved?

Rashid: It is some progress. It is not the desired outcome that we have been working for. The Sudanese people have been fighting for three decades. The Islamist fundamentalist Junta took over on 30 June 1989. Sudanese people deposed the head of the regime and its institutions, not completely as the ‘deep state’ and remnants of the paratroops are still there, this includes members of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) because they were formed from elements of the National Security Council (NSC) created by the deposed regime. They sided with the revolution, as a pre-emptive step, when they recognised the massive rejection of the regime represented by a two and a half million people demonstrating in Khartoum, let alone elsewhere. To stop the mass movement from completely taking over, the TMC took over and declared ‘now we are siding with the people’, alluding to the precedent of the military who sided with the previous popular revolutions of October 1964 and April 1985.

When the FFC planned sit-ins starting from 6 April this year in front of the military headquarters, the hope was that the Sudanese People’s Armed Forces would not allow the regime’s paratroops and militia to brutalise the protesters and, at some point, will side with the people for the third time and repeat the same scenario. Because the regime knew this might happen, they sent a dog whistle to the NSC to take-over and slow the current of the revolution and to let everything cool down, giving bite-size concessions to the revolutionaries, and slowly take things back again. This time the metamorphoses will not be the same because they know they cannot survive it. They are not going to just stop us temporarily with their blue print of a scenario, as we will call their bluff. We know it might be pricey, but we have crossed the Rubicon now, we cannot go back.

Some of our partners in this wide coalition could not fully grasp the people’s determination and sentiment; they are willing to give concessions and to accept some sort of compromise, which is not to the people’s liking, which is why we refused to sign the proposed incomplete agreement. Now they are aligning with this stand. On Sunday [14 July] a massive million-strong demonstration took to the streets of Sudan, repeating what happened previously on the 30th anniversary of the coup-d’état. So now they know that this tide is not going to be pushed back. The latest agreement has been rejected; we have reaffirmed our previous demands which have been resubmitted to the mediators. Now the ball is in their court. It is just like a ping-pong match; they want to present us, as the unwilling part to the deal, yet they are the ones who threw the spanner in the works by refusing the peaceful option and presenting us with options they know we are not going to accept. However, we are now wiser than we were, with stronger and clearer vision. Hopefully, the middle ranks of the military will say ‘Enough is enough guys; this is the will of Sudanese people and they don’t want military rule.’

FRFI: Who is backing this military from outside Sudan?

Rashid: The major sponsors of the military are the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates. There is a huge presence of Sudanese troops in the Yemen, mainly comprised of troops from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the Commander of the RSF has recently declared that he has up to 30,000 foot-soldiers in Yemen (the official figure is 13,000). They are in the forefront, being used as a human shield for the other coalition troops of Saudi and the UAE. The Emirates have actually started pulling their troops out of the front now, they have retreated.

FRFI: Is there much demand from inside Sudan that the troops are pulled out of Yemen?

Rashid: Oh yes. The troops in Yemen are mainly from the RSF, the Janjaweed. Major General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the president of TMC is actually responsible for training and overseeing the Sudanese troops in Yemen. Major General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, Hemeti, is the RSF’s commander and deputy of the TMC. He commands and supplies the troops fighting in Yemen. So, both of them, president and deputy of the TNC, are responsible for the Sudanese troops fighting in this futile war.

The Saudi and Emirates believe that if the civilians win in Sudan then Al-Burhan and Hemeti would be brought to justice, first for the atrocities they committed in Darfur, then, secondly, they would not be in control of the troops in Yemen. If the Sudanese troops are pulled out, the whole project of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates would collapse. So, they want to keep them there for at least three years of the transition. This is their vested interest and not that of the Sudanese People’s Army.

FRFI: Can you tell us about the Sudanese Professional Association? Do they have a progressive anti-imperialist character?

Rashid: The SPA is a coalition of professional trade unions, and yes indeed they have a very strong anti-imperialist sentiment. The revolutions of 1964 and 1985 were spearheaded by Sudanese workers and professional trade unions. The first trade unions were the railway workers, formed in 1946. It was not formed just for workers’ related issues; colonialism and progressive politics were central for them. They conducted the first political strike against colonialism and this tradition continues in all the trade unions ever since, including farmers’ unions. The President of the Sudanese Farmers’ Union in 1964, Sheikh El Amin, who was a member of the Communist Party Central Committee, was appointed Minister of Health during the short-lived revolutionary government, along with the Secretary General of the Sudanese Workers Trade Union comrade martyr Elshafee Ahmed Elsheik, member of the Sudanese Communist Party Political Bureau, who was assassinated by hanging in the aftermath of the July 1971 aborted armed revolution attempt.

FRFI: Can groups organise openly in Sudan?

From 30 June 1989 the Muslim Junta suppressed all opposition, murdered and jailed comrades who were in and out of prison, thousands sacked from their jobs. We went underground for 16 years, but from 2005 after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, political organisations could mobilise in a relatively free manner. Yet detention and other means of curtailment of freedom were usually rife. For example, if they do not detain you, they just phoned and summoned you to a security office, where you sit from 9am to 5-6 o’clock every other day and this happened to me for two years. From 2008 till now, El Maidan, the official newspaper of the Communist Party has been confiscated over 70 times and stopped from being printed hundreds of times. The editors have been detained and charged. But our political mobilisation and work with the people has continued through other means.

FRFI: What has been the effect of the separation of the South on the rest of Sudan?

Sudan is one regardless of diversities. When the Muslim Brother’s Junta took over in June 1989, they wanted to consolidate a fundamentalist version of Islam through Sharia Laws, which is not acceptable to sections of Sudanese who are not Muslims and other secular sections in the society, so when the regime failed to accommodate these sections and preserve their rights, the south of Sudan chose independence by a referendum in 2011. This suited the Islamist Junta, who said they could now apply Sharia because all the remaining Sudanese are Muslims and no objection to the Islamic Laws could be raised now as it will be seen as Blasphemy. South Sudan has been kept underdeveloped and marginalised since independence, until oil was found there. We are hoping, with a Civilian Government, to create a sort of federation in the future.

FRFI What has been the role of women in the recent mobilisation?

Rashid: In ancient Nubian history there were twenty-seven sovereign female rulers. That shows the high standing women have in Sudanese society before misogynic and patriarchal culture came with the invaders and affected our superstructure and our intangible cultural heritage. This strong matriarchal tendency showed its face during this revolution defying all efforts to disenfranchise women and put them down.

During the two and a half months of the sit-in and seven months of protests we created a commune that cemented all the Sudanese communities, showing what it means to be one. That was what frightened the regime. Women are effectively sharing in leading the struggle. The protest and demonstration schedules are planned and publicised by the FFC. When, for example, a protest was called for at one o’clock, the women would call, ululating, as an agreed sign for the protest to start, people would start to congregate and begin chanting and moving. They participate in all organised activities within the sit-in and anywhere else, such as working in the sit-in clinics, distributing food and amenities, cleaning-up, securing the sit-in territory, arts and cultural activities, orations and public talks etc. The change in the new generation is unbelievable, led by the women, youth and even children; this is a start of a deep rooted revolution.

FRFI: What is the state of the Sudanese economy?

The economy: in a word, shambolic. The wars that took place in Darfur and the Nuba mountains were in agricultural areas and destroyed the economy, but the resources of Sudan are unbelievable. We have plans for their future development, The Freedom and Change Forces (FFC) and the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) have been working on projects for the future. There is now an atmosphere for change, but the SCP has to develop slogans that appeal to the majority of the people. ‘Do it now’ many comrades say, but the fact is that we want to have a country in order to dream of making it a socialist country. The geo-political situation is such that Sudan is surrounded by time bombs. Sudan was a surrogate for terrorist groups. It was a safe-haven for Bin Laden and Zawahri of Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab from Somalia, jihadis from Egypt, Muslim Brothers from Libya and others. The director of Sudanese Security flies every now and then to the CIA headquarters in Langley because that is the leverage Omar Bashir held over the US: ‘Look guys, I am holding the devils here. If I let them go you will pay the price.’ We must first get the rule of law and human rights established in Sudan.

FRFI: The mobilisations in London, Glasgow, Paris and round the world - have they made a difference?

Rashid: Oh yes. Since 1992 the Sudanese diaspora has been trying to put pressure on MPs, trade unions, the TUC, liberation and human rights organisations, but we couldn’t achieve much to put Sudan under the limelight in this massive way until 6 April with the huge demonstration and the 3 June massacre that drew the attention of the world. Now the phoenix has risen from the ashes again and those who think that they are going to crush it are gravely wrong. The young people of Sudan and the progressive forces are not going back until they have what they want. The whole world has some responsibility to apply its leverage in the situation.

FRFI: Are you asking for no military intervention, even from Africom?

Rashid: Correct. We tell the neighbours, ‘If Sudan is stable you will be safe. If Sudan is not stable it will spill over to you.’ Don’t even think about bringing any foot soldiers to Sudan under the guise of wanting to help us. All we want is that you do not support the regime and tell the Saudis, Egyptians and Emirates to stop shoving their noses in our affairs. This is the position of the Communist Party and the majority of FFC.

FRFI: Are the British selling arms to Sudan via Saudi Arabia?

Rashid: Pragmatic arms dealers will deal with whoever wants them. Like Tiny Rowland and the Lonrho group in the past, they will sell to anybody who will pay in Africa – never mind sanctions. There are 39 million Sudanese. Since 2003 the RSF (Janjaweed) and the regime have between them killed 450,000 people in Darfur and up to half a million people altogether. If we have an armed struggle the numbers will go up to millions as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – that pound of flesh we cannot afford. But blood will be shed in our civil, peaceful resistance and the people are prepared to pay the price for that. Of course, we don’t welcome any coup-d’état, even if it is for the benefit of the revolution, we prefer to get it by ourselves as civilians rather than have an intervention of the military, which is what happened in the past, we learn from experience that generally the military will not be easy to ween off power when they taste it.


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