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Will civil society be able to stop the war in Sudan?

July 19, 2023 at 9:13 am

Demonstrators clash with security forces as they intervene in demonstrators to prevent them from marching towards the presidential palace during demonstrations demanding the civilian rule in Sudan’s capital Khartoum on May 12, 2022 [Mahmoud Hjaj – Anadolu Agency]

It is very difficult for most people, no matter where they are from, to imagine that anyone would call for war to continue in a country already exhausted by decades of conflict and crises. Such a call is not natural.

However, this is a war through which one group is trying to abort the December 2018 revolution in Sudan and return themselves to power, even if the cost is enormous in terms of innocent blood being spilt and the ruination of the country. They are blinded by the desire to take revenge on the people who overthrew their discredited regime by a relatively peaceful revolution.

Their obsession is such that the describe those who reject the war as “unpatriotic traitors”, even if they are senior officers in the Sudan Armed Forces. They also threaten political and trade union officials, as well as resistance activists and civil society organisations calling for an end to the war. My own oft-stated rejection of the war is in alignment with the feelings of the majority of Sudanese citizens.

Allowing the war to break out in the first place was the height of irresponsibility. That alone amounts to a crime and those responsible for starting it and fuelling it should be held to account.

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No voice is louder than the voice calling for the war to stop and the guns to fall silent. This position does not mean stabbing the Sudanese army in the back or allowing it to be defeated and destroyed, nor does it mean supporting the Rapid Support Forces in this war. It simply means the rejection of one Sudanese person killing a fellow citizen and the destruction of the country. It means rejecting war across Sudan, and refusing to let fighting be a substitute for dialogue to resolve political and social differences, no matter how serious and complex they are.

Calling for an end to the war does not mean calling for foreign intervention to solve Sudan’s crises. They will not be resolved from abroad. The solutions lie within the country and through the contributions of its people. However, this does not mean rejecting foreign support to help persuade the army and the RSF to stop the war.

Rejecting war means sticking to the principle of demobilising and disarming all militias and armed groups, including the RSF, and reforming the security services and military. Sudan should have a united, professional army to cover all military activity in the country, which is committed to protect the constitution within the framework of democratic civilian rule.

The slogan “No to war” is embodied in the courageous work of the youth and women across Sudan, as well as the resistance committees with “emergency rooms”, “safe passages”, the consortium of NGOs, the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate and other initiatives. They are all working under the hail of bullets and bombs to advance humanitarian work and aid for ordinary people; to restore the health sector; and to make it a successful agricultural season in areas and states relatively safe from the fighting.

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Rejecting the war does not mean a return to the framework agreement and the course of the political process as it was before the outbreak of the conflict. That would be a folly which would simply replicate the conditions that led to the war in the first place.

Civil society has a major role to play in stopping this war through a unified voice and platform. The failure to achieve this is unforgivable, almost equal to the crime of starting the war. Nevertheless, any new political process after the fighting stops must include discussions about a national mechanism that includes the leaders of all political parties, trade unions, armed groups, resistance committees, youth, women, civil society and national figures. The exception must be the henchmen of the ousted regime and those who advocate the continuation of the war.

This inclusive process should choose the transitional leadership — the interim head of state and prime minister — on the basis of integrity, eligibility, competence and political and executive ability; it should not involve any political concessions or quotas. The mechanism must continue by undertaking the required legislation, oversight and accountability. The political and party leaderships have a place in this national mechanism, while the senior military officers must stay within their institutions and be part of the National Security and Defence Council.

Sudan’s public arena is full of initiatives that seek to unite civil society groups on a broad front that works to stop the war and restore the democratic civilian path within an open political process. Some of these initiatives provide steps for proposing a declaration of principles, or a vision of how to work jointly to unite civil society groups against war. This is positive action that deserves praise and encouragement. I believe that what is required now is to discuss how best to arrange an inclusive meeting to unite civil society efforts against the war.

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To do this it is necessary to learn from and avoid the mistakes and pitfalls of the experience of the Civil Front to Stop the War and Restore Democracy. No group should be excluded, regardless of any previous political positions, as long as it now stands against the war.

It is important for participating groups to have legitimacy now, and not to invoke legitimacy or authority from an earlier stage, in the sense that they are based on a tangible support base, no matter its size, albeit not just a diplomatic signature. In this regard, my conviction is that the trade union movement consisting of the elected leaders of all unions, federations and management committees is the most appropriate foundation nucleus for this work.

Transparency must be present in every step. The process must be free from any external influences, whether international or regional.

The all important first step is that a committee representing all concerned parties should be established to prepare the groundwork. The success or failure of this effort will depend on such a committee being allowed and able to act with impartiality and transparency to achieve the stated aims.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Arabi on 16 July 2023

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