June 10 — Sudan’s Transitional Military Council ordered its special military arm June 3 to massacre demonstrators who had been occupying strategic sites in the capital, Khartoum, demanding a civilian government.
Special troops known as the Rapid Support Forces killed more than 108 people, according to demonstrators. Bodies were pulled from the Nile River, whose two tributaries, White and Blue, meet in Khartoum.
That the TMC ordered a massacre shows that the struggle over Sudan’s next government has entered a new and more dangerous phase. History has shown that nearly all such struggles are decided by force.
The 2011 experience in Egypt comes to mind. A massive protest brought down the exhausted regime of Gen. Hosni Mubarak, leaving a power struggle among the military, the Muslim Brotherhood and an amorphous but mass pro-democratic movement. The Egyptian military pulled off a coup in 2013 against the elected president, who was from the Brotherhood. It slaughtered more than 1,000 demonstrators and subsequently jailed tens of thousands.
Videos from Khartoum this April showed supportive interactions between regular army troops and the people in the streets. The troops’ friendly attitudes may explain why the TMC used special forces to fire on the people.
A June 6 Associated Press article reported that troops who killed and beat civilians were “Rapid Support Forces, which grew out of the Janjaweed militias used by the al-Bashir government to suppress the Darfur insurgency in the 2000s.” These RSF are the Sudanese equivalent of death squads, such as those the CIA has trained and used in Central America, Iraq and elsewhere.
Darfur is part of South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in 2011 under U.S. sponsorship. This secession aided imperialist oil companies and only worsened conditions for the new country’s people.
The Sudanese military ordered additional repressive measures throughout the week as civilian protesters continued a campaign of civil disobedience. Protest leaders continue to demand that the TMC turn over the government to civilians.
The two sides: TMC and SPA
Popular protests against Omar Hassan al-Bashir — who was president of Sudan from 1993 until April 11 — grew to nearly a million in Khartoum alone. As has happened elsewhere when a long-term ruler has outlasted his shelf life and become a focus of mass anger, Sudan’s military leaders decided to oust al-Bashir.
Changing as little as possible, the generals replaced him first with his closest associates. As the masses rejected these equally hated superior officers and stepped up their protests, the military took over directly through the TMC.
The nominal head of the Transitional Military Council is Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who has offered since the massacre to resume negotiations with protest leaders. Protesters rejected holding negotiations while the repression continues.
The June 3 New York Times implied that the Rapid Support Force commander has the real power: “Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, widely known as Hemeti and seen as one of the most powerful figures in Sudan, consolidated his power by meeting with Prince Mohammed of Saudi Arabia.”
Besides illustrating the growing importance of raw force, this quote from the Times underlines the role of the reactionary Saudi monarchy in regional conflicts. (For background on Hemeti and South Sudan, see tinyurl.com/y3urobwa/.)
The coalition of organizations speaking for the mass movement opposing the TMC’s rule is known as the Sudanese Professional Association. Its main spokespeople have been doctors and teachers. Other organizations, for example, the Communist Party of Sudan, are also a significant part of the coalition.
Throughout the spring SPA has mobilized mass protests and even general strikes, while negotiating on and off with the TMC. It demands a greater role for civilians in the transition to a civilian-elected government.
The SPA leadership reacted to the massacre by calling on the masses to continue the general strike. At the same time the SPA warned against the use of violence.
The June 6 AP article cited “Amal al-Zein, a leader of Sudan’s Communist Party, who said she believed that only a division within the military could end the standoff, for example, if young officers overthrew their superiors on the military council.
“‘All members of the military council belong to the old regime, and that is why we are betting now on lower-rank officers,’ Ms. al-Zein said. ‘We are hoping patriotic policemen and military officers will act to protect the Sudanese people.’”
Under some historical situations, such a turn in the military has taken place. One example is the Portuguese army in 1974. Something like this also took place in Iran in 1978-79 after great sacrifice by the masses. It has been most likely to occur where the revolutionary forces make it clear that they are fighting for power, and will take steps to protect and defend any rebellious soldiers or units from their commanders.
Role of imperialism
Washington and London have disguised their roles in the Sudan struggle. The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum has criticized the massacre, as did the British ambassador. In words.
However, the main imperialist allies and clients in the region, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have been all-out financial and diplomatic supporters of the TMC generals. The Saudis support the slaughter of the Sudanese masses just as they themselves slaughter the Yemenis. Just as they would slaughter their own population should the tiniest rebellion even hint at challenging them.
Compared to Saudi aid to the generals, the words of the U.S. and British representatives mean little. As usual, Washington attempts to keep connections with elements on all sides that allow it. What they and the Saudi rulers fear is a collapse of Sudan’s military, as brute force is their constant backup plan.
Anti-imperialists must support Sudan’s mass movement against the TMC and demand no U.S., British or Saudi/Gulf state intervention in Sudan.