‘If There’s A Deep State; There’s A Deep Revolution’

Sudan and the Lights Above the Tunnel

“The light is not coming from the end of the tunnel, but will come from above it,” This is how revolutionary groups in Sudan describe the radical promise of whom they call “Tribes of the Upper Tunnel” or “The Tunnel Republic,” as their greatest hope in the revolution.

Those young men and women stay in the sit-in areas for long hours; some of them sleep there or by the bridge that they knock on with woods and stones, not bothering with the latest political developments. This extreme idealization and commitment have become synonymous with the Sudanese youth. Today the deafening silence is witness to the brutality used in dispersing the sit-in site, leaving dozens of casualties and hundreds of injuries.

People’s disappointment in the allies of change in Sudan is only making the revolutionary youth more popular; the young women and men are the ones leading the calls for a democratic shift.

In Khartoum, the Freedom and Change alliance (FFC) — a broad coalition of political parties and trade unions is demanding a civil government. The question that comes to mind is, why do they insist on it? What are their motives?

We can find the answer in statistics; the youth in Sudan make up about sixty percent of the population; if the total population is estimated to be around forty million, this leaves us with approximately twenty million young people. Economic deterioration is taking its toll on them every day.

Majid complains about the people in charge of the economy: “Kizan (a Sudanese word that describes former president Omar al-Bashir’s regime and members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan, the National Congress Party (NCP), and the Transitional Military Council) still runs things,” he says. He also thinks that the revolution didn’t quite achieve its tasks yet. He follows with a popular saying, “if there is a deep state; there’s a deep revolution.”

Majid and his generation’s commitment to the revolution stem from their feeling that after decades of crisis in the country, there is no other way left to have economic opportunities or even have their basic needs met.

Civil wars in Sudan — primarily, the conflict in South Sudan (1983 – 2005), the Darfur war simmering since 2003, and the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile – had a profound effect on the economy. This provided the regime with a pretext to allocate most of its budget to security and defense. And it didn’t stop at that — Parallel economies rose; gold mining, which the RSF (Rapid Support Forces; paramilitary forces formed by al-Bashir comprising former Janjaweed and tribal men to fight the rebels in Darfur) benefits mostly from, negotiations to curtail sanctions and trade of woods and other crude materials in war regions. All that comes alongside the political decisions made with a disregard to the country’s economic needs, such as participation in the Yemen War. Still, the most severe blow came right after the establishment of the oil-rich South Sudan. Between 2005 and 2011, the regime planned its state budget on oil (2005-2011). Right after the separation, about seventy percent of oil incomes vanished from budget.

Demanding a civil government involves a serious economic reform. The key to this is ending the war. Peace in Sudan is a complicated issue and getting there will require a reduction in the security budget and creating an environment that allows development and prosperity. Peace itself means establishing new markets for construction, agriculture, and trade of different goods and services in impoverished regions that lack the most basic of rights.

But although ending the war is essential; still, it’s not the only demand. A lot of issues need to be addressed: the independence of judicial powers, civil service neutrality after decades of al-Bashir’s rule, and restraining Islamist movements. Solving this will generate more jobs and open the doors for investments which were usually monopolized by regime loyalists.

Following al-Bashir’s announcement of austerity measures in 2013, many cities saw widespread protests that were brutally crushed; 185 people were killed, and countless others were arrested. Many young men and women felt defeated, and the country witnessed a massive wave of immigration; either legally through airports, or illegally across the Mediterranean waves; dreaming of a better life in Europe.

Restored Hopes

During the revolution and right after, the youth of Sudan gradually began to revive hopes, but the negotiations between the FFC and the Transitional Military Council (TMC), — and the latter’s stalling — pushed them to fidget, and to openly refuse the statements and measures of the FFC, before the TMC terminated the negotiations and things came to a tragic end. The TMC is formed from a group of high-ranking officers who served in al-Bashir’s security committee, led by former army inspector General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy General “Hemedti”; RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

The TMC is fearful of handing power to a civilian-led government. They mostly worry about accountability for war crimes and violations in Darfur and different regions in Sudan. For instance; Hemedti and his forces are accused of violations in Darfur, and now they also bear responsibility for the atrocities committed when they ordered the sit-in dispersed.

TMC menaces with the ghost of security; they threaten everyone that if it weren’t for them, chaos would reign: “if you try us, there will be chaos.” This is akin to blackmail. The threat also extends to regional and international players who don’t want to risk any chance of turmoil that might add more to their problems beside terrorism and immigration; two critical factors in diplomatic relations with Sudan. The situation became more threatening after the last developments in the sit-ins, which the TMC is responsible for.

Now, the Ethiopian prime minister is leading an initiative to have the TMC and FFC reach an agreement and commence a transitional period. The FFC backed the Ethiopian effort, but the TMC is still hampering. In the midst of all that, the FFC — pressured by the demands of the neighborhood committees and youth — declared a million-man protest on June 30th to demand a civil government.

Majid, who is now in Atbara in the north of Sudan, went live on Facebook (before the government disconnected the internet) while protesting; “There is no Eid while our brothers are killed,” he said.

A diplomatic solution to all of this requires significant work, and the youth clearly explained their position: “we will continue our revolution.” This brings forward an important issue that should be carefully considered by policymakers; those young men and women have their demands; a civil state, a stable economy, and political freedom. But if both the RSF and TMC took control and brought things to an end, the TMC won’t be able to use its threat card, but instead, will have to deal with almost twenty million angry and desperate young men and women who would not allow anyone to bash their dreams; they will fight back.

Mohamed El-Ajami is a Sudanese journalist. Born and raised in Libya, he began working as a citizen journalist during the Libyan Revolution of 2011, then freelanced for several websites, including Correspondents and Huna Sotak. He has also worked for several media outlets and slowly transitioned towards working in TV news broadcasting, and since 2016, he is based in Amman, Jordan, working as a news producer for Libyan channels 218TV and 218 News. @melajamy

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