Bashir trial will be sham, but Sudan revolution lives

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019 00:00 |
Sudan’s deposed military ruler Omar al-Bashir sits in the defendant’s cage during the opening of his corruption trial in Khartoum, yesterday. Photo/AFP

Nesrine Malik

For such a young revolution, the Sudanese uprising already has many potential anniversaries. On April 11, it deposed president Omar al-Bashir after almost 30 years of rule.

Twenty-four hours later, it dispatched his successor, Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf. And on June 3, a day marked in blood on the uprising’s calendar, the army and the Janjaweed militia launched a dawn massacre across the country targeting peaceful protesters.

But that was not enough to halt the revolution, a movement determined to secure a civilian government. After June 3, the protest leaders faced two options—continue a war of attrition against a government whose default setting was kill first and victim-blame later or stem the bloodshed, sign an agreement, then pray the military would be persuaded to hand over power slowly. They took the second route.

Another key date was August 17 when a signing ceremony between the transitional military council (TMC) and civilian leaders was witnessed by foreign dignitaries.

Bashir’s trial has kicked off, but there has been little coverage of it, a consequence of an eventful few months during which it has become clear his removal was only the start. Few would have believed, when the news of his removal broke, that Bashir in jail and on trial would be reduced to a footnote of the revolution.

But again, Bashir is not really gone. He has only been replaced by those who stood in the shadows behind him, in the form of the military council. His imprisonment is less a punitive measure than a face-saving exercise. There are no Mubarak-and-sons-type pictures of him behind bars in hessian, camera lights flashing in his bewildered face.

The TMC could not even stage that. Instead the only pictures of Bashir that have emerged are those where he is clean-shaven, dapperly dressed, flanked by security guards and a scampering entourage. When his mother died, he was released to attend her funeral. 

The charges he faces are a perfunctory gesture towards accountability. After 30 years of ethnically targeted massacres, extrajudicial torture and executions, Bashir has been charged with a single count of corruption based on a stash of cash found in his house when he was detained. This isn’t some clever attempt to nail Bashir on a technicality, like the IRS with Al Capone, because the meatier stuff won’t stick. It is an extension of his amnesty. 

When regimes are so entrenched, when state capture is so complete, there is no clear, swift outcome. The word revolution itself may not apply. The prospect is more of a piecemeal erosion followed by rebuilding.

Even though the lives lost haunt the agreement between civilians and the military council, there is already a sense that, while the main gate to the presidential palace may be closed for the time being, windows of political change are opening.

Before Bashir’s removal there was virtually no politics as such. After it, even though the site of the sit-in has been scorched, that energy has not been destroyed. It has merely been spread out into a street movement that proved, in the middle of an internet blackout, that it can group and regroup by word of mouth.

The energy can be found in the heart of residential neighbourhoods. It can be found online, where the protests’ martyrs are eulogised. It can be found in the lone individuals who chant “Civilian!”, maintaining the demand for a people’s government. 

The Sudanese uprising is resting until it is called upon again. The revolution’s chant has changed from “Just fall” to “Our martyrs have not died, they live with the revolutionaries.”

The article first appeared on The Guardian

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