Powering the uprising: Sudan’s Resistance Committees

Activists guard a barricade on 2 November – photo via the Karray Resistance Committees Coordination

When Sudan’s generals arrested the civilian members of the government and seized power on 25 October, they were confronted by a huge popular uprising. Mass strikes and civil disobedience spread across the country over the following days, and on 30 October huge protest marches engulfed most of the major towns. The driving force behind this new wave of the Sudanese revolution is the Resistance Committees, neighbourhood-based organisations which played a crucial role in mobilising the 2019 uprising. Middle East Solidarity spoke to Sudanese activist and writer Raga Makawi about the Resistance Committees and the demands they are raising. 

Who is organising resistance on the ground to the military and militias?

It is mainly the resistance committees. Even the Sudanese Professionals Association has taken a back seat and seems to have reduced its role to backing up the resistance’s positions through adopting their stances and republishing their demands through its social media platforms. 

To what extent are the Resistance Committees independent of the Forces of Freedom and Change coalition which dominated the civilian component of the Transitional Government?

It is difficult to say. There was in the past two years a clear organizational and mobilization role for the Resistance Committees’ youth alongside their political affiliations. This, however, was not as widespread and was notable in neighbourhoods associated historically with traditional parties, such as the Umma Party in Omdurman and Bahri (Khartoum North) with the Democratic Unionist Party. Similar phenomena were taking shape in Khartoum’s new middle class neighbourhoods such as Jabra where the Resistance Committee was politically affiliated with the Sudanese Congress Party. 

It is not clear to what degree these parties have put in the political effort in terms of developing agendas, whether financial and institutional, or officially invested in the committees or their cadres to develop their capacity. These political groups haven’t published a political agenda of any sort since the 1980s and do not speak to the needs of the youth. The void that they created is what pushed the youth to find alternative political spaces and institutions. 

The parties’ inability or unwillingness to harness the committees’ new political clout away from formal and traditional forms of power might also mean that their engagement with them is surface level. 

The question that needs to be asked and answered at this stage is to what degree is their mobilization on the ground shaped by the internal politics of the transitional process, which is now removed from the political direction of the street. 

What do you mean by ‘traditional’ parties or forms of power in the Sudanese context? 

I am referring to a moderate form of political Islam that shapes everyday behaviours. In the case of the Umma Party, the Ansar religious sect (which goes back to the time of Mohamed al-Mahdi in the late 19th century) preceded the formation of the party. The party borrows its political base and social cues from the sect as well as other social norms such as conservatism when it comes to gender equality and women’s rights, racial and ethinic differentiation and the fusion of political and religious authority. 

What are the demands being raised in the current mass mobilisation and how are they being formulated? 

The three coordinated committees of Greater Khartoum; Khartoum, Bahri and Omdurman have published a joint statement outlining their main demands, which I have translated below. Since then they have been republished and adopted by subcommittees, civil society groups, the Sudanese Professionals Association, the Communist Party and various unions. 

  • Overthrow the military coup and hand over full power to civilians
  • Hand over all members of the military council to urgent and immediate trials on charges of instituting a military coup.
  • No dialogue or negotiation with any of the members of the Military Council and members of its Security Committee, and reject any interference by foreign powers.
  • Dissolve all armed militias and reconfigure a national armed force, within a specified period and in accordance with a national doctrine aimed at protecting the country’s borders and the people’s rights to freedom, peace and justice.
  • Remove all armed and police forces from the political process once and for all, by criminalizing the practice of politics by the military. 
  • Form all the structures of the transitional authority within a specific period, under the supervision of the relevant professional and academic bodies.
  • Complete sovereignty of the Sudanese State with regard to all economic, political, and security decisions.

At an organizational level, a road map was proposed by the Greater Khartoum Resistance Committees together with the Communist party, the SPA and leftist groups which discussed the possibility of creating a political body to lead the uprising comprising 40 percent membership from trade unions, 50 percent from the Resistance Committees and 10 percent agreed public figures. These formulas were proposed by the SPA but are yet to be acknowledged or agreed by the Resistance Committees. 

Other examples from organizational efforts outside Khartoum and in the various states have proven to be much more advanced as well as democratic. Two take the lead, Sinnar and Karray (outer Omdurman) Resistance Committees. Karray proposed a governance model based on popular authority whereby a legislative council will be formed from an elected RC and union constituency. The RC’s election/selection will be decided on by members of the RC together with the neighbourhood general assembly traditionally known as housing committees. The manifesto outlines regulations and principles of elections as well as roles and responsibilities. See them here 

When did the Resistance Committees first emerge and who organised them? 

The ideas of the Resistance Committees historically were explored as early as the 1990s. The idea was to provide the opposition with a closely knitted organizational front. The Communist Party had a long history of encouraging the idea of communes as a form of democracy based on the Soviet experience and as a response to the state’s excessive and violent crackdown on multiple forms of political representation. It was also part of a more inclusive democratization narrative where people sought to substitute politics from above and big man politics with micro governance systems where they redefined their relationship with the state and its institutions and tried to find ways to hold it accountable at a local level. 

In 2013 and 2014 when the first uprisings took place, The National Consensus Front, of which the Communist Party was a member, sought to deal with popular detachment from politics through building political organization in the workplace for unions and neighborhood committees. They worried that the weakness of the two main coalitions active at the time – Sudan Call and the National Consensus Front  – combined with the proliferation of liberal civic agendas funded by Western aid money would increase the rift between them and the popular masses. At that point the Resistance Committees were composed of members representing their political institutions and served as a dormant though extended group of the affiliated political bodies. 

It was only in December 2018 and forward that the Resistance Committees emerged in their current form and organizational outlook, and started expressing political agendas and demands away from mainstream politics and politicians. 

What you can do: 

  • Sign our open letter from trade unionists and activists against the coup in Sudan https://www.change.org/NocoupinSudan
  • Rush protests to the Sudanese Embassy in London, calling on the military to immediately cease all forms of repression and restore civilian rule. https://www.sudan-embassy.co.uk/contact/
  • Pass a resolution in your trade union branch condemning the coup and demanding that the British government breaks all links with the Sudanese military

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