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Sudan hovers between hope and fear on first anniversary of protest movement 

December 19, 2019 at 4:05 pm

A young Sudanese boy is seen at a protest demanding a civilian transition government in front of military headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan on 5 July 2019 [Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency]

As Sudan celebrates the first anniversary of the beginning of the protests which led to the fall of the three-decade old regime of Omar Al-Bashir, it also completes the first 100 days of its new government led by a coalition of army generals and the Freedom and Change movement. Four months after the signing of the historic constitutional arrangements on 17 August, the streets of Khartoum have been closed again, but not for protesters; this time, it’s to celebrate that momentous occasion. The famous bridge on which demonstrators once stood and chanted anti-regime slogans has been given a makeover, while trains carrying cargo and passengers again begin to go into and out of the capital.

Although most Sudanese have not witnessed any tangible changes to their daily life, they appear to be hopeful that the moves to dismantle the old regime will pave the way for democracy and Sudan’s re-entry into the international community. They are also hoping that improved foreign relations will bring investment and infrastructure projects with much-needed jobs and development.

Last week, the transitional government moved to dissolve unions and civil societies which sprung up during Al-Bashir’s rule. This brings an end to the unpopular institutions that required leaders to be members of the now-defunct National Congress Party. Dissolving the former ruling party and its assets has met with popular approval.

READ: Al-Burhan forms committee to dissociate Al-Bashir’s regime in Sudan

The new administration has brought mixed results for the peace negotiations that were made a priority of the transitional government. Three conflicts in different areas of Sudan continue to plague the efforts by the new government to reallocate funds to civilian projects instead of security and military expenditure. The talks taking place in Juba were halted after disagreements between the army faction within the transitional government and the various armed groups represented by the Sudan Revolutionary Forces (SRF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (North, the SPLM). The hiatus in the talks has led to delays in installing local and regional parliaments. The armed groups argue that no constitutional or legislative arrangements should be made until a peace treaty is signed. The ruling sovereign council chose to ignore the agreement reached in April between the Freedom and Change movement and the armed groups.

When asked about the achievements of the traditional government, Freedom and Change leader Tayseer Al-Nurani believes that Sudan has a different standing in the eyes of the international community, a clear reference to the recent visit by the Prime Minister to get American sanctions removed. Al-Nurani believes that it is still early days, but that Sudanese diplomacy will soon be able to convince the US Congress and others of Sudan’s determination to achieve a more democratic and just society. “It’s been thirty years of a regime that has stripped the country’s wealth,” she explained, “so there is no way they can take part in this process. The Americans have strong lobbies but Sudan needs to work with Congress. I am sure they will be able to break the deadlock.”

Others are far more sceptical about the changes. Demonstrations last Saturday attended by hundreds of thousands of people demanded the release of political prisoners and ultimately for the fall of the regime. The crowds succeeded in blocking most of the capital’s major roads, with speeches and demands for justice for around 23 major public figures imprisoned without charge.

Among the prisoners being held is Professor Mamoon Homeida, the former Health Minister for Khartoum State under the Bashir regime. He was arrested in Ethiopia en route to an international medical conference and now languishes in the federal Koba Prison without any charges being brought against him. His daughter, Dr Susan Mamoon, is spearheading a campaign for her father’s release and that of other political prisoners. “He was arrested just after a message on WhatsApp that my father was fleeing the country with money of the country,” Dr Mamoon explained. “We want justice. We have written so many letters to the sovereign council and all have been ignored. All we are saying is that if he has committed a crime then give us the evidence for this.”

READ: Sudan’s Bashir faces charges of killing protesters

A statement by the Freedom of Change movement about the release of prisoners appears to have been premature. Yesterday, in dramatic scenes in Koba Prison, guards refused to release Mamoon Homeida despite holding a vital release document from the Attorney General. “He was rearrested,” said his daughter, “on charges of selling an unspecified machine to an unspecified person on an unspecified date at an unspecified time.” Her frustration was obvious.

A year after the revolution, the mood in Sudan is one of hope as well as fear. “Much of what has been done by the government should have been done some time ago,” said Professor Abdu Mukhtar of the Islamic University in Omdurman. “I am hopeful, but I have some reservations. Some ministers are not up to the job and the legislative process should be accelerated.”

The celebrations last night went on not only in Khartoum but in Atbara where the first uprising and demonstration took place. There is no doubt that the mood in Sudan has changed, but quite what the next 100 days brings will depend largely on foreign aid and help from neighbouring countries.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.