Filed under: International Coverage
Interview conducted by Perspektive Selbstverwaltung (PS)
Sudan’s Resistance Committees are neighborhood assemblies that began taking shape in 2013 and have been fundamental to the organization and mobilization of Sudan’s popular protest movements.
Back in December 2018, within the context of the “Arab Spring,” the people of Sudan took to the streets to protest the thirty-year long reign of dictator Omar Al-Bashir and the country’s dire living conditions. Al-Bashir fled the country in April 2019 as a result of this uprising. The Sudanese army then took control, dissolving the government at all levels while installing a military rule. They disregarded the demands of the protest movement.
Later that year, an agreement was reached that foresaw a power-sharing agreement between civilian and military representatives during a 39-month long transition period to civilian democracy. The revolutionary movement has opposed this, calling for a fully civilian administration.
When on the 25th of October 2021 a second military coup sabotaged the transition to civilian government, the Resistance Committees were once more a central force in organizing protests demanding civilian rule and far-reaching reforms. While the transitional government was indeed reinstated a month later, the experience prompted a broader loss of trust in authorities and political parties, ultimately changing the resistance movement itself.
The resistance movement is now decentrally organized, with the Resistance Committees at its heart demanding fundamental changes to the distribution of power and resource. The relationship of the movement to the military meanwhile is clear: “No negotiations. No power sharing. No Compromise.”
On the 4th of July 2022 we were fortunate enough to speak to Muzna Alhaj after she was part of a panel in Berlin discussing the current state of the revolution. Alhaj is a member and organizer in a local Resistance Committee in Sudan’s capital city Khartoum. The following interview is part of a series of interviews that we conducted with several revolutionaries in Sudan. This interview was conducted through email correspondence.
Protest on June 30 2022 demanding justice for the 2019 Khartoum Massacre.
In your presentation in Berlin on the 4th of July you said that in this phase of the revolution, since October 2021, the Resistance Committees (RC) have become the main political actors. What potential do you see in them now and what role do you think they can play in a post-revolutionary society?
The Resistance Committees are grassroots groups that emerged from within the local communities. They are made up of residents of the neighborhoods all over Sudan, so I see no greater potential than having the people themselves speaking and defending the causes that matter the most to them. The RCs are the seeds of a future local governance system, where the people have control over the local authority and resources, in order to be able to utilize them for their development needs. Currently, the RCs are the main resistance force in this phase of the military coup that was staged on 25 October 2021. They are organizing weekly protests, enduring all the killing and the violence, in addition to producing their political visions in form of political charters and drafting statements and organizing forums about the current political issues.
In a post-revolutionary society, the RCs have multiple scenarios to choose from. Whether they will continue as RCs and become pressure groups that monitor the authorities and push for the societal demands just like what they did during late 2019-2021. I would imagine that some of the members will choose to join the Transitional Legislative Council or simply depart to another level of political practice, allowing the opportunity for new generations of rebels to join the RCs.
You also told us about the charters by different Resistance Committees and said that you are in the process of merging them into one common charter. Can you already say, what will be some of the main points in it?
Khartoum Resistance Committees drafted the Charter for the Establishment of People’s Authority, while 16 Sudanese states drafted the Revolutionary Charter for People’s Authority. Both charters provide a vision for the transitional period, addressing how Sudan should be ruled, tapping on the issues of decentralized local governance, social justice, economy, foreign policy, state violence, security sector reform and the military civilian relationship. The Revolutionary Charter for example attempts to deconstruct the post-colonial institutions in Sudan like the Armed Forces and the tribal ‘Native Administration’ system.
After this is done, the plan is to reintegrate the trade unions in the revolutionary process by presenting the unified charter to them. Do you think they can or will accept a program that the Resistance Committees have elaborated? Are their political positions represented in the charter, as it is? Or, will there be a process of adapting the charter to find compromises with the unions?
I believe the trade unions and different professional associations can find common ground, allowing for an alliance with the RCs. The manner in which the Khartoum RCs addressed their vision for trade unions was criticized, and that was necessary for the maturity of the ideas of the RCs. After all drafting these charters is a continuous learning process.
Definitely, there are common political positions between the RCs and the trade unions, for instance the Revolutionary Charter proposes the establishment of Local Legislative Councils that include representatives of the trade unions alongside residents’ representatives.
Women are playing a significant role in the protest movement in Sudan. In your presentation you also mentioned the role of women in the revolution and how this changed in comparison to the start of the revolution in 2018. You said their participation increased a lot, but that things still aren’t perfect. What do you think is needed to have more women participating in the movement, reflecting their share in society? And more important, what is needed so that they also feel welcome and safe within the movement?
Women need safe spaces, they must feel safe but also need to work to make the different organizations and forces of the movement accommodating for women’s participation. It’s a fact that women’s participation and sacrifices within the movement are not comparable to their share in political participation. However, in society women are very active and present: in all civil society organizations, working in a myriad of fields, whether through feminist groups or through other civil society organizations.
It’s important that women start seizing the spaces that they need and stop demanding men to share platforms and organizations with them; they need to find their own spaces and avoid seeking men’s approval. Now more than ever, the number of women taking leadership roles within the movement is increasing, but it’s not close to enough.
Do you think that the participation of women in this revolution will have a lasting emancipatory effect on the role of women in society? What will change, or is already changing in that respect?
I don’t have an answer to this question, as the role of women in society is subjected to multiple factors, not only to their role in the movement. Even though we thought that the revolution had prevailed in 2019, the leading coalition of the Forces of Freedom and Change completely sidelined women despite their immense role in the revolution. Post-coup, the situation is now worsening day by day for women. More and more stories about systematic state violence against women are finding their way to news outlets and we are witnessing a massive deterioration that will set women’s rights back to the al-Bashir era. So, establishing a new transition doesn’t guarantee that women will be granted “roles” in the future, especially in terms of political participation.
What’s the general impact of the current global economic crisis, such as rising prices and oil and wheat shortages, on people’s lives and on the revolution?
People were already suffering the ramifications of the “economic reforms” implemented by the Transitional Government 2019-2021, as a result of debt relief under the HIPC-initiative of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It was represented by lifting subsidies from the main goods like fuel, cooking gas, electricity and wheat. The situation has become worse, not only because of the war in Ukraine, but because the coup leadership is maintaining itself through robbing the Sudanese citizens by increasing fuel prices way beyond the international prices, in addition to increasing the prices of all public services and essential goods to sustain itself after the suspension of international development funding.
Inflation and increased poverty have a direct impact on the revolution, a positive and a negative one. Positively, the economic crisis will encourage more people to join the side of the opposition and be vocal about their demands for better life conditions and even potentially join the protest movement. Negatively, those who are active in the movement will be obliged to work longer hours or to dedicate their time to looking for a job in the light of the high unemployment rate, exceeding 60% in Sudan. People will be busy providing basic needs for themselves and their families and will not be able to focus on protesting and toppling the coup regime.
In our conversation you mentioned that the economic situation was an important factor reigniting protests in 2018, which quickly developed into a broader protest against the regime as a whole. What role are economic demands playing in the Resistance Committees today? Is the distribution of wealth and economic influence part of the discussions about what post-revolutionary Sudan should look like?
The economy is still the main reason why protests ignite in Sudan, some protestors are just more aware of this than others. Of course, the socio-economic class differences between protestors is a determining factor for their demands, but at this phase of the revolution everyone is prioritizing the power/wealth duo. The main slogan of the revolution now is “Power is the people’s power, wealth is the people’s wealth; army to the barracks and Rapid Support Forces dissolved.” So, there is a mutual agreement that in a post-revolutionary Sudan the wealth should be redistributed and the people in their local communities should be in control of their own local natural resources.
Of course the Resistance Committees also prioritize issues like justice, because their comrades have been and still are being killed. They want justice for them, and naturally as younger people they want freedom, to be able to be themselves and live as they wish.
The info-event in Berlin had the subtitle: ‘What does international solidarity look like?’ In your presentation you said one thing people in Europe can do is to put pressure on their governments. As we talked afterward, you clarified that you do not expect anything good from either the US or EU governments. Mostly, you just want them to keep their hands off of Sudan, for example, by ceasing to finance the Janjaweed-Militia, as Germany is still doing for purposes of “border control.” Besides that, what do you think solidarity from below could look like? What can people in Europe and other Western states do to directly support grassroots movements like the Resistance Committees in Sudan?
Networking, sharing experiences, exchange of knowledge and tactics, providing media coverage, conducting research and monitoring the human rights situation and violence against protestors in Sudan and exposing these violations. Other forms of necessary support would be supporting the legal aid initiatives and pro bono lawyers who are defending detainees and representing the families of the martyrs and rape victims and also supporting the initiatives that handle the medical treatment of the tens of thousands of injured protesters.
 Note by the editors: A system introduced by the British colonial occupier in which a colony is administrated partly by locals. This is to save costs, to pacify local rebellious forces and to make local elites complicit in the colonial system.
 NbtE: HIPC: “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries”
 NbtE: And with that, out of politics.
 NbtE: Rapid Support Forces. RSF are the government troops who repress protests.
 NbtE: More on this in the second interview with the Safe Road Initiative in Sudan.