Sudan's Struggle for Freedom Five Years and the Battle Is Still On

Amna Bihiry leads a protest in Khartoum on 30th September 2021 and holds the photo of her son Kisha Abdelsalam.
Amna Bihiry leads a protest in Khartoum on 30th September 2021 and holds the photo of her son Kisha Abdelsalam, who was killed during the massacare of 3th June 2019. | Photo (detail): © Wadah Omer

The people in Sudan are fighting the fifth year in a row after the revolution in 2018 for their freedom. Wini Omer spoke with revolutionaries in Khartoum about their hopes and reasons to keep fighting.

By Wini Omer

“Freedom, peace and justice - revolution is the decision of the people.” This was and still is the slogan of the Sudanese revolution for the fifth year. The Sudanese revolution that began in December 2018 sparked by the economic hardship and oppression of the Islamist regime that ruled for 30 years is still alive in its second wave, demanding real and radical change. Even after the military coup in October 2021, and the excessive use of violence against protesters, the streets are still witnessing the courageous cheers of the demonstrators. What does freedom as a political demand mean? How do protesters translate this concept into their everyday struggle for change? In this piece, I like to navigate these questions with revolutionaries in the streets of Khartoum. 

Reconceptualising Freedom 

The resistance against both the Al-Bashir regime and the late military coup was led by the resistance committees all over the country. Decentralised and well-organised groups of youth are on the frontlines for mobilisation, voluntary work in their neighbourhoods, and building alternative visions of the country and political landscapes. Resistance committees’ member Mohamed Abdelraheem thinks of freedom as a concept and a practice that shifts and transforms daily and has multiple definitions according to people’s social and political interests. 

After the fall of al-Bashir, Mohamed thinks, the revolutionaries moved from generalities to more detailed thoughts around political change, including their thoughts about freedom. The subjective element appears to be the dominant connotation here, but as soon as the settlement of 17th August 2019 between the military and the civilians was signed, big questions became more visible and more urgent. “The economic policies of the transitional government and the position on the military-civilian partnership and the aftermath of this partnership posed new questions. What does freedom mean? And whose freedom exactly is that exercised through these austerity policies? Who will be liberated according to the settlement and who will be enslaved? Which groups will impoverish and which ones will grow and prosper”, Mohamed asks. 

These questions of social justice and inequalities became evident as soon as the social and economic policies of the transitional government revealed themselves. “The word freedom itself is very general in its meaning and therefore misleading. Many were suppressed through the state's military and propaganda apparatus, as they were not specialists and they were not technocrats to speak about the economic situation of their lives!”, says Mohamed in agreement with many other activists.

Silencing the ordinary people, for the sake of the technocrats and well-educated employees’ visions of the economy has left citizens with many social and economic demands, but no responses from the transitional government nor the coup leaders afterwards. And therefore, nothing changed compared to the Al-Bashir regime. This has left Sudanese peoples unable to choose or to act as free citizens. 
  • Pro-democracy protests against the military coup in Khartoum on 6th January 2022. Photo (detail): © Wadah Omer
    Pro-democracy protests against the military coup in Khartoum on 6th January 2022.
  • 13th January 2022: Protests against the military coup, Khartoum. Photo (detail): © Wadah Omer
    13th January 2022: Protests against the military coup, Khartoum.
  • Barricades and burning tyres during the 13th of January 2022 protest against the military coup,  Khartoum. Photo (detail): © Wadah Omer
    Barricades and burning tyres during the 13th of January 2022 protest against the military coup, Khartoum.
  • The third anniversary of the revolution on 19th December 2021. A pro-democracy protest against the military coup in Khartoum. Photo (detail): © Wadah Omer
    The third anniversary of the revolution on 19th December 2021. A pro-democracy protest against the military coup in Khartoum.
  • Women supporting the 19th December 2021 protest against the military coup in Khartoum's streets. Photo (detail): © Wadah Omer
    Women supporting the 19th December 2021 protest against the military coup in Khartoum's streets.
  • 19th December 2021: A pro-democracy protest against the military coup in Khartoum. Photo (detail): © Wadah Omer
    19th December 2021: A pro-democracy protest against the military coup in Khartoum.
  • Opening of the Martyrs families headquarter in Khartoum on 19th December 2019. Photo (detail): © Wadah Omer
    Opening of the Martyrs families headquarter in Khartoum on 19th December 2019.
Mohamed elaborates on this point: “Today, freedom is seen as the right to life. The right to education, health and basic services, the right to political, union and social organisation. The right to administer our local resources and control the distribution of resources and to stop organised looting of resources by the militia and the military.” For Mohamed, freedom means the right of the Sudanese people to rule their own country, freedom gained as a political slogan and embodied today in the recent slogan revolutionaries chanting in protests: “Health and education are free and the people live in safety, the revolution is the revolution of the people and the authority is the authority of the people.”  

Thinking of the Less Privileged

For Rayan Mamoun, a feminist activist, the right to life and freedom to choose are key to her demand for freedom as a feminist. “Looking into realities of the Sudanese women, women have lost their lives because of the lack of autonomy over their bodies, and the continuous use of rape as a weapon of war by the government security forces, and to punishment the female revolutionaries for acting and practising their freedom of speech”, says Rayan. 

While the demands and the agenda of women were suppressed by both the political parties and the transitional government, there are two different political discourses in civil society. On the one hand, there is the focus on the political representation of women as the main agenda and on the other hand, there is the intersectional discourse, attempting to address women's different needs and challenges. 

Rayan's focus is on privileges and power relations. In Sudan, factors like ethnicity, class, social status and political affiliation, play a great role in determining women’s lives, their ability to access justice, and their choices in life in the first place. Women and girls were terrorized for resisting the military coup, being raped, detained, or even killed for choosing to stand against oppression. “Cultural and patriarchal notions that deprive women of the right to even decide not to have an early marriage, because they are  constrained by societal and cultural notions, but also they don't  have any knowledge about their rights, is what I am working against”, added Ryan. 

Sudanese women marched more than once since 2018, in many cities around the country to protest against the violations and to demand protection and dignity. “All this means achieving the freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of life choices. It makes me think of all those who are not equally privileged or minorities, who should rise and demand the freedoms that they have been deprived off. They should destroy everything that constraints their lives or coerces their choices as freedom is not limited to men, the rich and the powerful”, Rayan added. 

Many barriers stand against women gaining freedom and fundamental rights. But as the revolution continues, women also keep taking to the streets revolting for their freedom and dignity and equal access. 

“It is very important to consider that all social groups (editor's note: lower class, cultural and religious minorities, rural people, among others) that were subject to the ideological domination of Al-Bashir’s regime, all these social groups see freedom from his system as the future ground through which social and political changes can be achieved - based on freedom itself as a ground and a new format”, Mohamed concluded his comment.

As the revolution continues, the grassroots organisations are working constantly to develop their visions to build the state that guarantee the freedom for all its citizens and address all the grievances of the past, this strategic step is followed by the daily struggle to establish the power of the people and a fully civilian rule.