At nighttime on Saturday, the shadowy regime enforcers emerged from their crevices. They moved against protesters at an anti-regime sit-in near the Engineering College in Khartoum. They opened fire on the unarmed civilians, injuring several in moments of chaos captured on video. But the demonstrators stood their ground. Rather than disperse, they treated the wounded at a nearby mosque and kept control over the street.
On Sunday, the security forces came with tractors, attempting to push the demonstrators out from in front of the ministry of defence headquarters. Protesters, many of them children, locked hands and formed a ring to prevent them from moving in, chanting “freedom” and “revolution” in dramatic moments captured on video. “We are not there yet,” says Jihan el-Tahir, among the hundreds of thousands of protesters taking part in Sudan’s popular uprising. “We are still hanging in. And we are not going back until real change happens.”
Sudanese protesters stunned the world last Thursday by triggering the downfall of the country’s longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir. They ousted his successor, a greying general named Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, 24 hours later, and the regime’s intelligence chief, known as Salah Gosh, a day after that. They’re now negotiating with Lt Gen Abdel Fattah Burhan, head of the country’s ruling military council and de facto head of state, for a roadmap towards a possible democracy.
But the protesters also vow to stay in the street until their demands for a civilian-led transitional government and a path towards democratic rule are fulfilled. The Sudanese Professionals Association, an activist network that includes doctors, teachers and jurists, has taken the lead in presenting the demonstrators’ demands, urging protesters to stay the course.
They want a dissolution of the National Intelligence and Security Service, the dreaded secret police, as well as a dismantling of the pro-regime “shadow” militias Bashir used in his ethnic wars and against protesters over the decades.
The want a ban on Bashir’s National Congress Party and a transfer of its properties to the state, as well as the release of all political detainees, judicial reform and press freedoms. They have also demanded accountability for the allegedly dirty deals the regime cut using public resources and funds.
“We hope that everyone will head immediately to the areas of the sit-in to protect your revolution and your accomplishments,” the organisation announced in a statement.
Activists have repeatedly noted that they closely watched what happened in Egypt and other countries in the aftermath of the 2011 uprisings, and hope to avoid their mistakes.
“We are not going to be fooled by this kind of superficial change of regime,” says Ms Tahir. “The regime hasn’t changed yet and we are fully aware of this. All these past experiences have shown us. And now people really do know what to do, and that is one thing: to be on the street until the regime falls.”
This round of protests began a week ago but Sudanese have been assertively agitating for change since December. Now the summer is coming, and the Muslim month of Ramadan, a time of fasting and family, begins in early May. Some worry the momentum may be fading.
“Some of the youth are really tired,” says Sara Soliman, 33, a UK-educated Sudanese activist in Khartoum. “People come early in the mornings and switch places with those that slept overnight. They don’t want to empty the space because then the military will take over.”
But standing in the protesters’ way are not only the armed forces and Bashir’s shock troops, but reactionary Arab states including neighbouring Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which rolled back democratic gains during the Arab uprisings of 2011 and now back Khartoum’s junta.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain – all staunch western allies – issued statements of support for the ruling military council and called for stability and security in the Nile River and Red Sea country of 41 million.
Arabian Peninsula states have large investments in Sudanese agriculture. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi also rely on Sudanese fighters to pursue their controversial years-long war in Yemen. “They just don’t want Sudan to take the military from Yemen,” says Ms Soliman. “They don’t care about the lives of the Sudanese people.”
That puts the western-backed Arab states at odds with those on the street.
General Burhan has offered a two-year transitional period overseen by a civilian prime minister but with the military as the ultimate power – a scenario protesters consider too similar to the military-guided transition that followed the 2011 Egyptian uprising, which was ultimately crushed.
“This coup d’etat was not part of our plan, and it’s not going to be satisfactory to what we’ve been aiming for,” says Ms Tahir. “We’re aiming to change the regime and we’re aiming to uproot this system and we’re not going back until this happens.”
Ms Tahir vowed to remain at the protest sit-in site “until this regime really falls”.
She spends nights at the protest site, always on guard for attacks by regime gunmen. “I was there during the attacks,” she says. “It was horrible, traumatising. There were really down moments. But we are many. We managed to keep the momentum.”