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Opinion: Sudan must not become another Egypt

Sollich Rainer Kommentarbild App
Rainer Sollich
June 3, 2019

The conflict between Sudan's ruling military council and protesters is worsening, with reports of deaths and injuries in Khartoum. After months of peaceful protest, demonstrators now deserve Europe's full support.

Sudanese demonstrators gesture as they gather outside the military headquarters in Khartoum
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Shazly

For months, the protests were largely peaceful. But now the situation has escalated and what many had feared has happened: security forces have attacked demonstrators. People have been killed, while others have been left injured. Protesters have now cut off communication with the military council.

Rainer Sollich
Rainer Sollich is part of DW's Arab department

This outbreak of violence comes after weeks of unsuccessful talks. The army wants to retain ultimate authority in any future interim government — and apparently beyond that.

But the opposition has insisted on a civilian majority rule, with genuine prospects for democratic development — instead of a pseudo-democracy controlled by a repressive military regime.

Both sides now need to exercise maximum restraint to avoid any further escalation. Neither party will win if the situation spirals out of control, just months after the ousting of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in April. Such a situation would plunge another country in the region into chaos.

Sudan is among the world's poorest countries — in part because oil-rich South Sudan split off in 2011, but also due to mismanagement and corruption. The rising cost of bread at the end of last year served as a trigger for the protest movement. From the outset, the demonstrations — strongly supported by the middle class — have largely been peaceful, an admirable development.

Arab Spring gravediggers

However, neither the military nor the protest movement forms an entirely uniform front. Clashing interests on both sides could complicate the situation at any time, and push the situation into chaos.

Every single provocation bears the risk of escalation. That's why all demonstrators, who even in this developing situation have consistently called for a purely peaceful protest, deserve unqualified support — including from Europe.

But there are influential forces in the region that have zero interest in Sudan's successful transition to democracy, least of all the regimes in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt — the undeniable gravediggers of the Arab Spring.

These countries have consistently backed Sudan's military, and Sudanese soldiers have supported the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen. And these regimes are well aware that successful democratization in Sudan could also give a boost to opposition forces in their own countries.

Read more: The Sudanese military: A pawn of the Saudis?

In Egypt's Rabaa massacre in 2013, hundreds of people were killed as the military moved to expel the Muslim Brotherhood from power and prevent any further democratic experiments. Today, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's ruling regime is more repressive than ever. A similar development in Sudan must be avoided at all costs.

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