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Issue #1856      February 13, 2019

Sudan’s people’s movement

The current uprising in Sudan is no sudden development and has been in the making for a number of years.

However, it has now reached a qualitatively new stage and become a country-wide mass movement to end the despotic rule of Omar al-Bashir, who has been president of Sudan since the army coup of 1989. It is a movement that shows no sign of abating despite the brutality of the response.

The uprising began last December 16 with strikes and demonstrations in the town of Atbara in the north of Sudan, a railway centre with cement factories and other industrial workplaces.

It then spread the following day to an agriculture centre in the south-east of the country, al-Gadaraff.

In both these towns the traditions of workers and peasantry trade unionism is still live and strong.

At the beginning, protests were economic. The demand was for wages that met the spiralling costs of basic necessities, of food and fuel.

Drastic levels of inflation have been present for some time but by December it was clear to all that the regime had no plan whatsoever to resolve these difficulties.

By December 19, the demonstrations had become country-wide, with a mass peaceful march in the capital Khartoum to present a petition to the president.

It was the brutal response to this march, the shooting dead of dozens of demonstrators and the arrest and torture of hundreds more, that changed the nature of the demands.

From then on the slogan of the marchers changed to “Just fall – that is all.” No negotiations. The regime must go.

The scale and persistence of the demonstrations, now into their seventh week at time of writing, has amazed everyone.

They are locally organised and spontaneous. Every village and urban district now has committees made up of a dozen or so people from the neighbourhood who maintain contact through hand-written leaflets and notices that indicate the time and place of the next demonstration and the slogan of the day.

This is how the hundreds of thousands of people are assembled. The demonstrations are peaceful. They challenge the military forces of the regime with chants of: “Do not shoot,” “You are our people,” “How much are your wages?”

The demonstrators are also young. As well as trade unionists, many are or have been students, now unemployed. They represent a generational rejection of the regime and all it stands for.

The current regime was established in 1989. It might be described as semi-fascistic. Its grip has been based on the use of “unofficial” militias that policed neighbourhoods to enforce an authoritarian Muslim fundamentalism.

Overall was a Ministry of Social Planning that sought to transform society by making access to welfare and education dependent on conformity and obedience.

The ministry was led by Ali Osman Taha, deputy of the late Hassan al-Torabi, head of the Islamic Movement, and previous vice president for Bashir, who still retains as his position of the Godfather of the shadow militia.

As in other such regimes, trade unions were brutally suppressed and puppet unions established – though, as also happened in fascist Spain and Portugal, some of these “unions” have more recently been internally transformed into centres of protest.

The regime has now degenerated into a massive kleptocracy, siphoning off billions of dollars into offshore accounts and presiding over a bankrupt economy, a crisis intensified by the loss of the main oil fields in South Sudan.

It has relied in recent years on subventions from Saudi Arabia and in return has sent forces to fight in Yemen.

However, the regime’s previous friends have become increasingly unwilling to bankroll it further and Bashir’s recent visits to Qatar, Syria and Russia failed to garner any support.

At the same time the “coalition” of parties that supported him, largely tokenism, is beginning to break up – with 22 announcing their departure.

This leaves Bashir all the more dependent on the paramilitary forces of the deep state.

It is this paramilitary sectarian state which the young, above all, now reject. The more the regime propaganda denounce the protests by claiming they are organised by communists, the more the youth are rallying to the party.

Two main political formations have now emerged. There is the Congress of National Consensus Forces made up of the Communist Party, Ba’ath party of Sudan and the Professional Association comprising the trade unions, professional associations of lawyers, teachers and doctors, women’s organisations and peasant organisations.

The other is Sudan Call, which is made up of the centrist National Umma Party, the armed resistance movements from Darfur (where some territories still remain out of regime control), the Congress Party and a number splinter groups from the Democratic Unionist Party under the name DUP Opposition Group, along with civil and democratic organisations.

The four alliances are currently working closely together under the umbrella of the declaration for Freedom and Change.

But it will be the people, now organised as never before in the newly established local committees and assemblies, who must decide the future.

On January 28, seamen and dockers blockaded the country’s main access point for international trade, Port Sudan.

Major demonstrations are called for today and at some point a general strike will be declared.

Solidarity from trade unionists and the labour movement in Britain is important for all those fighting the dictatorship in Sudan: demands for the release of political prisoners (including 17 members of the Communist Party’s central committee) solidarity with strikers and the end to any support for the regime.

Britain trains elements in the Sudanese army. The EU pays Sudan to police its western and northern borders.

This is a people’s movement for change. It deserves support. Its courage and organisation should hearten progressives everywhere.

* Rashid Elsheikh is a leading member of the Sudanese Communist Party.

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