Sudan’s Shuttered Capital Pauses Before a Fresh Day of Protest

Sudan’s Shuttered Capital Pauses Before a Fresh Day of
Protest 1

Schools, banks and shops shut in the capital, Khartoum, and other cities in response to a call for civil disobedience from pro-democracy groups, a day after a military coup.

After a night of unrest, Sudan’s capital fell quiet for a brief time on Tuesday with schools, shops and banks shuttered in response to a call by pro-democracy groups for civil disobedience to protest against the military seizure of power that has threatened to derail a transition to civilian rule after decades of brutal dictatorship.

But by midday, large crowds of protesters began flooding back into the streets in Khartoum and other major cities ahead of an expected address by the military chief who led the coup. Government officials said there was still no information on the whereabouts of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and four other civilian government ministers who were detained by the military on Monday.

“It is indeed very worrying,” said Monim El-Jak, a government adviser.

The persistent protests even after the coup demonstrated the resolve of many Sudanese to resist rather than return to military-led, authoritarian rule, even if they are frustrated over the slow pace of the country’s democratic transition and by growing economic hardships. The scenes have been reminiscent of 2019, when thousands of protesters came to the streets in a revolt that ultimately ended three decades of dictatorship under Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

On Monday, the country’s top generals dissolved the government under which military and civilian officials had shared power in an uneasy alliance for the past two years. At least four people were killed and more than 80 injured on Monday after security forces fired on protesters who gathered outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Committee.

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Stringer/EPA, via Shutterstock

Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the military chief who also led the now-dissolved Sovereignty Council overseeing the democratic transition, said the moves were meant to protect the country’s security and future. But the coup came just weeks before General al-Burhan was supposed to surrender his position to a civilian — which would have put Sudan under full civilian control for the first time since 1989.

The coup leaders promised to appoint a technocratic government that would prepare the way for an election in July 2023, a pledge met with deep skepticism by many Sudanese after the events of Monday. He made clear that the military intended to stay firmly in charge until that vote.

“The coup in Sudan is unlikely to pass off smoothly,” said Murithi Mutiga, the project director for the Horn of Africa at the International Crisis Group. “Memories of the corruption, repression and general misrule in the al-Bashir years are too fresh in the minds of many Sudanese for them to accede without resistance to a return to the old order.”

Demonstrators demanding a return to civilian rule and the release of the detained officials burned tires and barricaded roads with large bricks and stones in the capital, Khartoum, overnight and in the early hours of Tuesday, with some bringing makeshift beds to sleep in the streets.

But the streets of Khartoum and other nine major cities turned quiet after clashes and protests overnight, according to witnesses, with stores and businesses largely closed in observance of the call for civil disobedience.

Sudan TV, via Associated Press

In Omdurman, the city neighboring Khartoum, hundreds of protesters defied orders to stay indoors, flooding the streets at night as some mosque loudspeakers broadcast calls for people to join the revolution.

Some of the protesters who had gathered outside the army headquarters in Khartoum said the military pursued them as they retreated, prompting them to put up roadblocks in their areas.

“We went back to our neighborhoods but the military followed us,” said Iman Ahmed, a protester who said she saw dozens of wounded people at the military headquarters on Monday. “We put up barricades to stop their vehicles from entering.”

The government’s Culture and Information Ministry said on Monday in Facebook posts that workers at both federal and state government offices, central bank employees and members of the Khartoum tax workers’ union, among others, would boycott work.

Doctors in parts of the country announced that they had withdrawn from military hospitals and would only provide emergency services inside government hospitals. The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of trade unions, said that pharmacies in Khartoum would take part in the civil disobedience, except to deal with emergencies, “until the defeat of the putschists.”

The group had said earlier that military officers had prevented employees from the central blood bank from preparing blood for injured civilians.

On Tuesday, there was a call from the Sudanese Laboratories Committee for people to donate blood wherever they could.

-/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The military takeover was condemned internationally, with the U.N. Security Council expected to discuss the issue in a closed-door emergency meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

Sudanese nationals abroad and diaspora groups have also been protesting in front of embassies in cities such as London and Paris.

The United States froze $700 million in direct assistance to Sudan’s government on Monday and demanded that the detained civilian leaders be released.

“The United States rejects the dissolution of the transitional government in Sudan by security forces and calls for its immediate restoration without preconditions,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a Twitter post.

Three Western diplomats said on Tuesday there was a split inside the military between senior generals and officers who did not want to return to the days of shooting at their own people and those who were in favor of the military coup.

The internet remained significantly disrupted, according to Alp Toker, director of the internet monitoring organization NetBlocks.

“For many Sudanese, the digital blackout will evoke painful memories and a sense of fear that hard-won freedoms can be easily lost,” he said.

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