What Hinders the Unity of the Sudanese Civilian Front?
Amgad Fareid Eltayeb
Since the commencement of the ongoing Sudanese war between the
Rapid Support Forces and Sudanese army forces, the unity of civilian political forces into a united front has been increasingly addressed in Sudan-related political debates. In fact, this discussion has been going on uninterrupted since the coup of October 25, 2021.
Indeed, one of the reasons for the instability of the transitional period leading up to the coup was the fragmentation of political forces. This fragmentation had several reasons, the primary of which was the unrelenting pursuit of control over the Transitional Government. This gave rise to the concept of the political incubator and the ruling coalition, which aimed to impose distinct political and administrative orientations on the Transitional Government, even if it meant halting and interrupting reform programs or Government decisions. Various civilian actors did not shy away from attempting to leverage the military component's influence or the populist language in the media to put pressure on the executive branch in situations and circumstances that had nothing to do with the nature of such debate. At times, the true objective of mobilizing the streets or organizing a mass demonstration with chants of justice and revenge for martyrs has been nothing more than to put pressure on the government to appoint a designated candidate for a local department of the Health Insurance Authority! The Forces of Freedom and Change (or the political incubator and the ruling coalition, as they self- designated themselves) have confused the reform tasks Transitional Government with their tendency to dominate the state's political apparatus in order to implement their political and ideological lines and programs.
Of course, the escalation of such conflicts hampered several government programs. It has also fostered the military's lust for dominance, as civilians have used them against each other. It has also resulted in the division and fragmentation of civilian political coalitions of the revolution, namely the Sudanese Professional Association and the broader coalition, the Forces
of Freedom and Change, from which many of its components departed, leaving it to nothing now but empty structures and a name disconnected from the original coalition, which was formed in early 2019 to lead and guide the revolution.
Several endeavours were launched subsequent to the 2021 coup d'état with the intention of reconciling and uniting the diverse political and civil factions that existed at that time. However, these endeavours were perpetually hampered by the intentions of their launchers who were attempting to unite others while maintaining control over the resulting entity. In an effort to rally the support of the political elite, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) engaged in a number of these initiatives while continuing to negotiate and reach a deal with the military to end the coup d'état and reinstate a framework of civil government that would ensure their return to power at all costs. As a result, these initiatives have come to be perceived by many as an effort to galvanize uncompelled support for the FFC political agenda and to impose a predetermined conclusion that certain leaders of these groups had previously reached with the military. Even the self-evaluation and self-criticism of the Alliance's journey was crafted to de-tarnish its public image, and stigmatize other individuals and actors through hasty assessments of facts and events, mixing of positions and dates, and confuse the public opinion with matters frequently unrelated to the actual debate of topics in order to divert attention and focus away from the main issues and shortcomings.
Following the outbreak of war, the international community heavily emphasized the lack of unity among Sudanese civilian forces, using it as a rationale for its evident inadequacy in addressing the Sudanese crisis. Lack of civilian front unity has become the preferred pretext for Western diplomats operating in the Sudan to justify their operational incompetence to address the entirety of the crisis in the country. This alibi, in reality, is a
pretended righteous statement that is deliberately rendered null and void; since civilians are not armed, they are not part of the direct ceasefire agreements, nor they were even invited to partake in its talks. The civilian dimension of this conflict is in no way considered in the international community's endeavors to end it.
Indeed, the political process that should take place among civilians is critical to restoring Sudan's stability and long-term sustainability of peace. However, it does not begin but concludes with civilian unification. On the other hand, the international community's lack of cohesion and united position in dealing with the crisis in Sudan, as well as the multitude of international and regional initiatives, constrained their effectiveness of pressure on the warring parties to end the lunacy of this war.
Eventually, the Forces of Freedom and Change responded quickly to this criticism from the international community, although erroneous, and declared the formation of the Civilian Front to Stop the War and Restore Democracy on April 27. It was successful in attracting a substantial number of grassroots organizations and national dignitaries to sign the proclamation that established this front. However, the front came infected with diseases of the past since its inception. Unwanted civilian players have been barred from participating, even after signing the Declaration of Establishment since its goal was not actually to unite civilians as much as it has been to generate blind political support behind a line drawn elsewhere.
The worst disaster came in its the statement in May 2023, in which false incidences of rape were fabricated and attributed to the Sudanese army in order to equate it in condemnation with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which were reported to unrestrainedly committing these kinds of abuses. In order to claim impartiality, the statement's writers fabricated reports of
crimes similar to the RSF's and attributed to the Army. However, the discovery of this fraud showed the Front's apparent political siding, resulting in a tremendous controversy in Sudanese circles, compelling the Front to withdraw the statement and apologize for it several days later.
This apology did not prevent many of the people and organizations that signed its inception statement from publicly withdrawing their support. The most recent was the withdrawal of the Bahri Resistance Committees last week, which declared in a statement that the withdrawal was the result of a grassroots vote for the committee members. According to reports, the current disagreement stems from the representative of the Forces of Freedom and Change's refusal to mention or condemn the crimes of the Rapid Support Forces in the draft political vision prepared by a drafting committee appointed by the Front following its meeting in Addis Abeba in mid-September.
Initiatives for the unification of Sudanese civilians multiplied and mushroomed. The African Union and IGAD adopted the manufacturing of this unity as a goal of their efforts. Former Prime Minister Dr. Abdullah Hamdok adopted the same slogan as a goal of his initiative called the Platform, and the former Sudanese Ambassador to Washington, Noreddine Sati, with a number of civil society activists, launched another initiative for the same goal. They were all preceded by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue doing the same with the support of the European Union. The initiatives to unify the Sudanese civilian front have multiplied until they themselves became in need to be unified, and coordination meetings among them have taken most of their time and efforts since their establishments until now. The international community mobilized its support and fund for these initiatives, without anyone stopping for a moment and wondering what this important goal in itself serves in terms of the priority of efforts to stop the war.
Nonetheless, these initiatives, having positioned themselves as agents for others, will convene on October 21 in Addis Ababa to initiate measures toward their unification as an alternative to the elusive goal of Sudanese civil society unification.
A question of the substance, not the platform, constitutes the primary obstacle to any endeavor to unite the civilian political front in Sudan. Particularly, what to do with Rapid Support Forces?
The issue concerning the malevolent structures and actions of the Sudanese army has been addressed both during the ongoing war and in the period preceding it. There exists a widespread consensus among civilians regarding the politicization of the Sudanese Army, necessitating a comprehensive reform to disengage it from political engagement, economic activities, and the removal of politicized cadres from its ranks. This is particularly crucial in addressing the influence of elements associated with the deposed Islamic regime, who are currently holding important decision-making positions within the army.
However, when it comes to addressing the question of RSF, it becomes evident that there are distinct disparities in perspectives. And unfortunately, this difference stems from an opportunistic approach to politics. Certain actors exhibit a preoccupation with the preservation of the institutional existence of the Rapid Support Forces, despite its distinct fascist nature. They aim via that to maintain or create their own political presence and influences either by capitalizing on ethnic and regional prejudices or by highlighting RSF’s illusive divergence from the Muslim Brotherhood. This flawed reasoning fails to see the roots of the Sudanese opposition to the government of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Sudanese actively resisted and ultimately overthrew the Islamists regime because of its infringement
upon their inherent rights and fundamental freedoms. Thus, what would be their stance when confronted with a militia that has historically committed atrocities and continues to encroach upon their rights to life, dignity, personal safety, possession of personal belongings, houses, and even their life savings and investments?
The answer to the question of what to do with the Rapid Support Forces cannot tolerate political wrangling. The Sudanese revolution that triumphed in overthrowing the Bashir regime in April 2019 gave the commander of the Rapid Support Forces, Mohammed Hamdan Daglo aka Hemiditi, and his militias the greatest opportunity to purify themselves of the crimes of the past and gave the same opportunity to the leaders of the Sudanese army, but the two failed to seize it.
The two factions engaged in every conceivable scheme to impede efforts to institute civilian government, only to unite in an alliance to overthrow it through the coup on October 25, 2021. Following the onset of this war, RSF revived its former fascist identity. It once more perpetrated nationwide acts of mass murder, pillage, and rape, which it has been doing for years in Darfur, Kordofan, and the rest of the Sudanese peripheries. Some actors hurried, opportunistically, to rationalize the atrocities committed by the Rapid Support Forces and divert attention away from them by referencing the inequities of the state of 1956 and inventing a narrative that portrays the RSF as striving to establish democracy and civil government. Though, Constructing democracy and instituting civilian rule in Sudan cannot be accomplished by displacing the Sudanese, plundering and occupying their houses, destroying their capital, or engaging in ethnic cleansing as what happened recently for Masalit community at the hands of the RSF in West Darfur.
These actors have been engaged in their quest to protect the RSF’s
institutional existence to the point of accusing anyone who refers to militia abuses of aiming at prolonging the war. They tried to accuse everyone who points to the militia crimes of siding with the Army but were actually trying to divert attention from their own political bias. They pushed this fraud by claiming that RSF’s positions are the closest to stopping the war via a negotiated solution. But they failed to tell those who listen to them about how this could be the case, while the militia is spreading the war to new areas that were previously secure, as happened in its attack last week on the El-Eilfon area, renewing its brutal attack on the cities of Al-Obaid and Zalingei, or continuing to impose a siege on the residents of Tuti Island to the point of enforcing exit and entry permits in return for money for those who are forced by circumstances to leave the island, to the rest of the RSF militia fascistic practices that reached the point where it made its exit from the homes of citizens and the civilian facilities it occupies an item to negotiate for in ceasefire talks.
Professor Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim, the Professor History at the University of Missouri, addressed this contradiction in an open letter to the Forces of Freedom and Change on October 8, titled "The call to stop the war begins with a cessation of its escalation," from which I quote: “Escalation is a watershed moment in the war, worthy of the likes of the forces of freedom and change (FFC), which adopted neutrality and chosen the slogan "No to war" against those who call for it, to put all efforts to prevent it from happening. The war cannot be stopped while it is extending to areas considered secure for those who have been displaced and are hoping for the war to end so they can return to their homes. Those displaced people are entrusted to the caller to put an end to the war, as he did not adopt this "no" in the face of the war, against those who said "yes" to it, except out of pity and compassion for the Sudanese who are suffering the consequences of a war they have nothing to do with, being victims of two generals who were overcome by their lust for power.
I wished if FFC made its primary objective to avert the war's escalation beyond Khartoum. Had the "No to War" forces held any viable presence, they might have been able to avert or at least mitigate the damage inflicted by the RSF upon the city of Umm Rawaba in the state of North Kordofan. RSF occupied the city, and after a dispute with its inhabitants, who negotiated with the RSF to withdraw and it did. But the RSF retook control of the area on September 14, following the army's withdrawal from the city. According to reports, the city descended into chaos, widespread looting, and terrorizing of its citizens after the coming back of RSF. Most of the shops in the city's southern market were reportedly destroyed and looted, and some citizens were reportedly arrested in retaliation for their perceived sympathy with the armed forces upon their presence in the city. Despite the RSF's pleas for people to go back to work and reopen businesses like clinics and marketplaces, reports from the ground show that most people remained camped out at home for fear of attack. In a city that the army left voluntarily without a battle, it was evident that those calling for an end to the war were unable to take advantage of the negotiating space that opened up between the RSF and the city to avoid the expansion of the war.” end quote.
Political theorist Hannah Arendt talks in her book “The Origins of Totalitarianism" about leaders who try to seize power by fitting reality to their lies and how their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion, fact depends entirely on the power of those who fabricate it. Perhaps this is what the leaders of the Sudanese political club need to remember in their quest for unity: that it is a means to defeat totalitarianism and not an end to produce or allow a new one. Fascism flourishes on the manure of others, ignoring it or trying to make momentary use of it.
Unquestionably, wrong can't be of service to the right. And deciding what
to do with the fascists is the first step toward reaching an agreement on how to construct a state of justice, democracy, and stability in Sudan.