Universities continue push for change in wake of coup

Sudanese universities and academics, having played a major role in the push for change in Sudan, last week rejected the military takeover of the country, vowing to continue their protest action until a civilian government is in place.

“The Sudanese Professionals Association [or SPA, formed in 2016 as an alliance of professional groups], which led anti-government protests, includes staff from the universities,” Hassan Elhag Ali, a professor of political science at the University of Khartoum told University World News.

Among the backers of the revolution were the University Professors Association and other professional groups made up of doctors, engineers and teachers.

Ibn Auf, the first vice-president and also the Sudanese defence minister, announced the arrest of long-time president Omar Hassan al-Bashir on 11 April. At the same time he announced the release of all political detainees, the suspension of the Sudanese constitution, the institution of a three-month-long state of emergency, and the creation of a transitional military council to lead the country for two years, after which elections would be held.

Ibn Auf is blacklisted by the United States for his role as the army’s head of military intelligence and security during the Darfur conflict.

Al-Bashir himself is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Darfur in western Sudan. A former army general himself, al-Bashir seized power in 1989 through a military coup.

Civic action

The SPA umbrella association has become a notable feature of the protest action which began on 19 December last year over a government decision to triple the price of bread, but quickly evolved into nationwide demonstrations against Bashir’s rule.

As a result, academics were arrested, higher education institutions and universities were closed and the lives of several Sudanese, including university students, were claimed in clashes with security forces.

The association has consistently demanded an end to al-Bashir’s reign and the formation of a transitional civilian government for a period of four years, to be followed by a general election.

“The Sudan uprising continues,” said Sara Abdelgalil, the SPA spokesperson, adding that all professionals, including university professors, have committed themselves to a pathway towards freedom and change. “And, towards a civilian government,” she said.

In a joint statement issued under the body known as the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a coalition of civil society groups including the University of Khartoum Alumni, the University of Khartoum Professors’ Initiative and the Sudanese Professionals Association vehemently rejected the declaration of the regime’s internal coup d’état forces hours after the Sudanese army confirmed it had toppled the long-time president.

Reproducing the ‘same faces’

“The regime’s forces … have executed an internal, military coup d’état, through which they reproduced the same faces and institutions that our courageous people have revolted against,” the statement said, adding that protests would continue.

“We invite our resilient and resourceful people to continue the revolution,” it said.

“We categorically reject what was declared in the statement of the regime’s internal coup d’état forces,” said the protest organisers, adding that they would continue to hold their sit-in at the army headquarters in Khartoum and other main posts across the country.

The University of Khartoum Professors’ Initiative described the statement as "frustrating and disappointing, and does not meet the demands of the people and their aspirations stipulated in the Declaration of Freedom and Change and therefore we reject it completely".

Students also rejected the military’s actions. In a post on its Facebook site, the Sudanese Student Association (SSA), a collective platform of students aimed at toppling the regime and restore rights, also objected to military rule and vowed to continue protest action.

"When will the military … understand that their place is in the military barracks, not at the top of the regime?"

"The sit-in continues until the handover of power to a transitional civilian government with competencies and far from the brutal regime … Down, down with military rule," the SSA said.

In a 12 April Facebook post, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD) said the number of victims of the military rule had risen to 16 since its “theatrical” coup. "This confirms that it's just an extension to the regime and its militias which have been killing peaceful protestors throughout the past months."

Universities' past protest action

Ali said Sudanese universities, especially the University of Khartoum, have in the past played a significant role in promoting political change.

In the October revolution of 1964, the staff of the University of Khartoum were instrumental in igniting the revolution, which toppled the military regime headed by General Ibrahim Abboud, who had seized power in 1958.

“Again, in the uprising that overpowered Field Marshal Gaafar al-Nimeiry in 1985, the role of the staff of the University of Khartoum was significant,” Ali said.

During the current demonstrations, he said, university staff from other institutions joined those from the University of Khartoum.

“In this regard, I wish to highlight the role of some members of the staff from the Sudan University of Science and Technology, who issued a statement urging President al-Bashir to step down,” Ali said.

Staff from other universities such as Gezira, Neelain, and Gadarif also joined the call, issuing similar statements.

As pressure mounted on Bashir to leave, the association became a common feature, running a series of protests since December 2018.

On 6 April, thousands of protesters began a sit-in at the military headquarters in Khartoum, with police and security forces using excessive force to try to disperse the demonstrators who called for the removal of al-Bashir's government. The demonstrations intensified earlier this week, leading to the military ouster of al-Bashir.

After three decades of iron-fist rule (Bashir came to power in 1989) the 75-year-old Sudanese leader bowed to pressure and stepped down on 11 April in the wake of widespread anti-government protests.