A month after a coup ousted civilian leaders in Sudan, protesters demanded a return to civilian rule. And the military seems to be walking back its power grab.
The military has reinstated the civilian prime minister, but as recently as today the streets were once again filled with protesters calling on the military to stop its involvement in running the country.
How Sudan got to this point
The past few years have been full of ups and downs for Sudan. In 2019, popular protests prompted a coup that ousted longtime leader Omar al-Bashir and a transitional government was formed.
Then last month the military pulled off another coup and put many civilian leaders under arrest, including Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. That’s when tens of thousands took to the streets to protest. Dozens of them were killed as a result.
To deescalate the standoff with protesters, the military signed a deal with Hamdok. He was released from detention and reappointed as Sudan’s prime minister. Hamdok says he accepted the deal because he didn’t want more protesters to be killed.
What the protesters are asking for
Sudan’s problems are both economic and social — and they run deep. A lot of people had hope in 2019 after al-Bashir was ousted. They hoped the 2019 coup would liberalize the country, bring lasting peace in the regions outside Khartoum and make it more democratic.
But many Sudanese say that feels like a far away goal, maybe even impossible. Zainab Adel and Nawrz Salah have joined the protests for years. They’re both young women who say their hope is being tested.
“I don’t know how to express my feelings,” Adel says. “I don’t want to live here.”
Salah says that after what’s happened recently, she is afraid the pace of change in Sudan will be slow. Maybe, she estimates, the country she dreams of will develop in 10 years.
That estimate comes in part because the deal that Prime Minister Hamdok signed with the military is a power-sharing agreement. Under the deal, Hamdok is prime minister, but Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan continues to lead the transitional government.
How the deal could shape the future of Sudan
At Thursday’s protests, tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered across the country to to reject the deal. Protestors in Khartoum said they also had no problem rejecting Hamdok as well.
At the moment, this a battle between pragmatism and idealism, with Hamdok seeming to have taken the pragmatic route. His argument is that the military has the weapons, so there is no way to sideline them without more bloodshed.
On the other hand, the protesters are more idealistic. They want the military to be fully removed from the government and answer to a civilian commander-in-chief.
Walking past burning tires and barricaded streets, protester Mohammed Hajj said they weren’t angry at Hamdok or even at the security forces that have killed dozens of protesters. But, their goal was clear: If Sudan is to change, the military must leave power.
“This movement is not about anger,” he said. “We are trying to build a better future for our children. We are not even thinking about living that that future.”
Previously, Hamdok has been able to guide the majority of young protesters to accept pragmatic deals that are stepping stones on Sudan’s path to democracy, but what’s clear that at the moment, is that he is out of step with the protesters on the streets of Sudan.