The Islamist Establishment of Sudan vs. the Street

By Brad Phillips Published on November 4, 2021

Back on December 19, 2018, the little known Sudan Professional Association (SPA) emerged as the organizing force behind a wave of protests and civil disobedience in Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of courageous Sudanese took to the streets of Khartoum, Omdurman, and elsewhere in Sudan to press for their rights.

To this day, the demands of “the Street” remain unmet and include:

  • Civilian government. The military must go to the barracks. The job of the military is to defend the constitutional rights of Sudanese under the direction of a civilian-led government.
  • The old system must go. The Islamist authoritarian police state which has characterized the last 32-years in Sudan must end, and be replaced by a representative, religiously neutral government.
  • Religious freedom and basic human rights must be respected.
  • Justice must be served on those who perpetrated war crimes, human rights abuses, genocide, and grand corruption.

Abortive Reforms

In August 2019, after eight months of sustained protest, former dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir was removed. A series of brutal crackdowns were perpetrated by the Islamist-controlled military. At last, a “power sharing” agreement and transitional authority known as the Sovereign Council was established.

There were many promises made to address some of the demands from the Street. These included free elections, civilian rule, a non-sectarian representative democracy, and a commitment to justice for victims of the former regime.

Flies in the Ointment

Sadly, some fundamental flaws in the arrangement were overlooked by Sudan’s stakeholders. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo Hemeti were both high-ranking members of the Islamist National Congress Party regime. A Sudan Armed Forces military officer could only acquire such ranking and position after first having demonstrated his strict allegiance to the Islamic Movement. Gen. al-Burhan, a close relative of Dictator al-Bashir, was the third-ranking official in the old regime. Hemeti was also a close ally of al-Bashir and the founder of the notorious Janaweed (recently re-branded Rapid Support Force). Both men represent a significant power base within the Islamist establishment.

These two men committed war crimes and atrocities together in Darfur, executing the genocidal policies that led to the ICC indictments of al-Bashir and Ahmed Haroun. In fact, all of the military represented within the Sovereign Council are “cut from the same bolt of cloth.” The National Congress Party, although officially banned, has simply been reincarnated as the military Junta now led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

The People Striking Back?

Now in 2021, with the October 25 Sudan coup and collapse of the Sovereign Council’s power-sharing agreement, “the Street” has struck back.

October 30 marked the first “million man march,” organized once again by the SPA. And, once again, peaceful protests were met by military force, leaving more than 180 persons injured and at least 11 dead. In the days following this mass street protest, many Sudanese remain in the streets. But the military Junta is looking to justify its actions by presenting its own narrative of what happened.

Don’t Get Fooled Again

Those who supported the August 2021 power-sharing deal may be excused for their naivete in trusting al-Burhan and others from the NCP regime. But will they make the same mistake and once again fall for the same old tricks?

The U.S., United Nations, World Bank, European Union, and African Union have joined in a chorus of international condemnation of the Sudan coup, even freezing billions of U.S. dollars in bailout and financial assistance.

Other stakeholders such as the Saudis and Emiratis remain more ambiguous in their reaction, declaring their commitment to support “stability” in Sudan.

A So-Called “Civil War”

General al-Burhan has put out his own narrative. He claimed that the need to “prevent civil war” justified:

  • The arrest of Prime Minister Hamdok and other civilian leaders.
  • The dissolution of the Council of Ministers and Sovereign Council.
  • Shutting down the media, the internet and mobile networks.
  • Deploying the military in the streets. And
  • The declaration of a state of emergency.

P.M. Hamdok, according to al-Burhan, is being held at his home, along with his wife, “for his own protection.” General al-Burhan claims the civilians were so divisive they were leading Sudan to war. Now, if the stakeholders will allow it, al-Burhan has pledged to support democratic elections … in 2023. In the meantime, he plans to establish a “technocratic” Prime Minister and Cabinet. In this Cabinet, he will include some “cooperative” “non-partisan” members of the Civilian component — perhaps even Hamdok himself.

Will the Cover Story Fool People?

This is al-Burhan’s story. To me, and hopefully most of the readers of this article, al-Burhan’s narrative is ridiculous. But, this tactic has worked well before for al-Burhan over the past two years. He learned well from his teacher Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Simply deny responsibility for war crimes and atrocities, scapegoat and blame others, shuffle the Cabinet decks, absorb and neutralize members of the opposition, promise future justice, and use terror and force as necessary to silence all dissent, hold power and “stabilize” Sudan for its stakeholders.

The Saudis and Emiratis have been unwavering in their support for Sudan’s Islamist establishment. They backed al-Bashir up until his removal. They then quickly pivoted and offered their support to al-Burhan and Hemeti.

Will America Get Fooled Too?

But will Sudan’s Islamist establishment and their backers convince the USA and other stakeholders to fall for the same ruse again? Will they convince us, to unlock billions of U.S. dollars in bailout funds to revive their failed kleptocratic state and cover their genocidal crimes?

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In the coming days, I expect they will argue to put the old deal back together, offering a new and improved power-sharing arrangement — perhaps with more “cooperative ” civilians.

Will we be fooled again, and partner with the old Islamist establishment, which has not only terrorized its own but has been the world’s number one factory of political Islam?

Or, will we remember the words of the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior who warned us that the NCP regime (and I would add their remnants in Sudan’s Islamist military junta) “is too deformed to be reformed.”

This time we have no excuse.


Bradford Phillips is founder and President of Persecution Project ( serving the persecuted and suffering in restricted areas of East Africa since 1997.

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