There is an almost hysterical level of mistrust in Sudan which in the view of some observers is crippling the country’s attempt to reach an agreement about its future. For some that future has little to do with an understanding of policy and ideology, and everything to do with who can be trusted to deliver freedom, democracy, change, justice and the ideals of the revolution.
Requests by the ruling Military Council to open the railway bridges and road blocks on routes to the sit-in at the Army headquarters has refuelled mistrust, discontent and fears that the demonstrations will be broken up prematurely. This is despite public assurances by the Council that they were not calling for the end of the sit-in nor would they take any measures to force people to vacate the area.
However, it is abundantly clear that protestors will respond only to their leaders despite some having a limited understanding of the issues or principles at stake. For example, few supporters of a four-year civilian transition period can rationalise a legal basis to appoint an unelected body to govern the country for a full four years before elections are held, the central demands of the protest group leadership. Despite being an apparent breach of the democratic principles to which protestors aspire, “the four year” option is the position of the group of people that the Sudanese, especially the young, now trust to deliver on promises.
“Well, it is only natural that the people should have sovereignty and executive control of the country and not the army,” said Ibrahim Omer, echoing the statements of the leading Sudanese Professional Association. “We don’t trust the army; it is a copy of the old regime.”
The alarming level of distrust in all forms of authority means that the energies of protestors are focused on not being deceived rather than making attempts to uphold consistently the principles of the revolution. Few acknowledge or accept the contraction of imprisoning up to 200 former members of the ousted regime, including ex-President Omar Al-Bashir, without charge, and some even advocating punishment that supporters of democracy almost universally condemn.
“Bashir should be executed,” insists Amna Osman, a young student losing patience with the military’s hold on power. She believes there is enough evidence available to allow the ex-President to face capital punishment, and admits openly that she is finding out about the rudiments of politics for the first time and, like many young people, is in the process of forming views about issues that the young have never really considered. “During Bashir’s time, young people were encouraged to think about careers as doctors or engineers; nobody ever talked openly about politics or becoming a politician.”
It is this mixture of inexperience, misinformation, ignorance and lack of transparency created by Bashir’s 30-year rule that has infected the average Sudanese citizen with a deep mistrust of authority. Such is the hysteria of mistrust that protestors converged on Monday at Kober’s federal prison demanding to get a glimpse of the incarcerated ex-Head of State in apparent disbelief of the numerous statements and assurances of the Military Council.
A video clip records a prison officer swearing by God that Bashir and his cohorts are indeed locked inside the prison. Having lived in a climate devoid of transparency, the scenes outside the jail are the result of a nation having functioned for decades in the absence of the Rule of Law. A simple public court appearance would have allayed their fears. However, it is the Army rather than the courts that will decide on the fate of the imprisoned members of the old regime. Meanwhile, silence and inaction over what are essentially extrajudicial detentions of once prominent figures reveal the challenges that the people of Sudan face in establishing principles of universal justice.
Nevertheless, the recent stoning altercation and injury of more than 60 members of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) brought into sharp focus the contradictions in calling for peaceful change through the use of non-violence whilst using force against a perceived enemy. To its credit, the protest leadership was quick to recognise the inconsistency and condemn the use of violence.
This happened despite attempts by aggressors to blame the violence on provocation by the victims. “We were only shouting ‘silmiya did el-haramiya’ [peaceful against the thieves] and they [the PCP] provoked us by drawing weapons, so we pelted then with stones,” explained a “peaceful” man with ripped clothing to an impromptu social media camera-phone operator.
The irony of provoking members of the Popular Congress Party by calling them “thieves” was lost on the protestors, but reveals the complex nature of mistrust and disinformation. In fact, the PCP has been in opposition to Omar Al Bashir’s government for nearly twenty years. One of its members, teacher Ahmed Al Khair, is a revered martyr of the revolution having been tortured to death in police custody.
Hence, whilst the slogans of the revolution have been a uniting force, they have also made targets and enemies of those who supported as well as opposed ex-President Omar Al-Bashir. Without a nuanced understanding of the differences between varying ideologies and political viewpoint, Sudan’s climate of distrust created by the Bashir’s 30-year rule may continue to threaten the stability of the country, perhaps long after an agreement between the sides has been reached.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.