The hopeful path to peace in Sudan evaporated almost overnight as members of Sudan’s military junta suddenly cocked their rifles and aimed them at a sit-down demonstration by hundreds of civilians.
Over 30 Sudanese peaceful protestors preparing for the Muslim ritual Eid al Fitr – Festival of Breaking the Fast – lost their lives in an instant. Audio from civilian radios posted online captured the sounds of crying, shouting, and nonstop gunfire.
The question on everyone’s lips has been: What changed? What unleashed this deadly assault on quietly seated pro-democracy demonstrators?
Some analysts suspect the influence of ‘outside agitators’ – namely the autocratic leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – who had tried to maintain ousted president Omar al-Bashir in power but, failing that, would fuel a counter-coup under the leadership of Sudan’s restive military junta.
These countries had faced their own “Arab Spring” years back and were unwilling to see another pro-democracy movement rise in this major center of influence, reports Simon Tisdall of The Guardian news.
Only a week before, negotiations appeared to be nearing a settlement between Sudan’s ruling military junta and the civilian leaders of a movement that was now numbering in the thousands. But the talks stalled over a core demand that civilians assume immediate leadership of the country until elections could be held.
The Sudanese military leaders turned to their allies in the anti-democratic governments of Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia and help was forthcoming.
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman promised $3 billion in aid, Tisdall reported, while the powerful Emirati crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, vowed to help “preserve Sudan’s security and stability”.
Al-Sisi, who publicly pledged to honor the “will of the Sudanese people”, is believed to playing both sides of the struggle, seeing Egyptian interests in the Nile water disputes as a possible outcome for backing the generals.
Egypt has already given the Sudanese junta significant assistance. The African Union, which Egypt currently chairs, set a 15-day deadline for the military to hand over power when Bashir fell. The deadline was extended to three months, however, when al-Sisi intervened.
While some in Sudan’s pro-democracy movement had anticipated foreign meddling, the brutality of the attack leveled at civilians with tear gas and live rounds of ammunition were shocking.
“This is a critical point in our revolution. The military council has chosen escalation and confrontation … Now the situation is us or them; there is no other way,” said Mohammed Yousef al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, which has spearheaded the protests.
Meanwhile Washington, while publicly urging dialogue, has shown little interest in supporting Sudan’s democratic renaissance.
Similarly, Britain, the former colonial power, appears uncaring and unengaged.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, one of the main pro-reform groups, has called on Sudanese people to take part in “total civil disobedience” to topple the military council and for people for take to the streets to protest.
Amnesty International has called on the UN Security Council to consider imposing sanctions on members of the Transitional Military Council (TMC).
The TMC “has completely destroyed the trust of the Sudanese people and crushed the people’s hope for a new era of respect for human rights and respect for the right to protest without fear,” they said.
Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general, condemned violence and reports of excessive use of force by Sudanese security forces on civilians. He urged all parties “to act with utmost restraint”.
And on Twitter, a tweet signed Mehairy J. Blige read: “We are trying to overthrow one government but instead we are facing four. Our own and the gulf “allies” funding and organizing these massacres.”