What’s Next for Sudan’s Revolution

How It Started—and How to Prevent It Turning Violent

Anti-government protesters in Khartoum, April 2019 Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / REUTERS

On April 11, 16 weeks of non-violent popular protests in the streets of Khartoum and other major Sudanese cities culminated in a military takeover. The demonstrators had called for an end to economic austerity and the 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir. Forced to choose between firing on the vast crowds, many of them sons and daughters of the country’s middle class and even of some army officers, and disobeying orders, soldiers chose the latter. The vice president and minister of defense Lieutenant General Awad Ibn Auf announced that Bashir had been removed from power.

That, however, was not enough to win over the opposition Coalition for Freedom and Change. Ibn Auf was Bashir’s ultra-loyalist heir apparent and he made no reference to conceding to the demonstrators’ demands. Rather, it appeared that a cabal of Bashir’s security henchmen had simply taken over.

The coup makers quickly ran into trouble. They could not, it turned out, run the old system without Bashir. Only the ousted president knew how the political patronage machine worked and could balance the various actors against each other. The army chiefs made things worse for themselves by dissolving the ruling National Congress Party and putting many of its veteran Islamist leaders under house arrest. That created a void of experienced political operators in government and disrupted the network of party bosses, tribal chiefs, army officers, militia commanders, and crony businessmen that had run the country. The generals knew they needed to keep the multitudinous, mutually suspicious, and avaricious paramilitary chiefs within the circle of power, but they couldn't work out a bargain with them at the same time as negotiating an arrangement with the opposition.

Faced with these impossible circumstances, Ibn Auf resigned the next day. He was replaced by another senior officer, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who was sworn in as leader of a transitional military council. Burhan’s principal qualification for the job appears to be that he was unknown outside military circles until

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