More than a decade after the Arab Spring gave hope of a wave of democracy in North Africa and beyond, the violence that has erupted in Sudan squashes hope in that troubled nation of a democratic future.
PARIS — A few months ago, when we still wanted to believe that the Arab Spring was not completely dead, we were careful about mentioning Sudan and Tunisia. News was coming in from Tunisia, where that wave of democratic revolutions had begun more than a decade ago, that the North African country had taken a worrying authoritarian turn with President Kaïs Saïed. And now in Sudan, violence has erupted over the past two days between two military branches that has left dozens dead.
Sudan, a huge country bridging both the Arab and African worlds, joined the second wave of democratic uprisings in 2018. The country had been under the rule of an Islamist dictator, Omar Al-Bashir, for three decades. The impressive demonstrations led by all segments of society led to Bashir being overthrown by the army in 2019.
Since then, Sudan has been trying to find a path between the demands of its active and well-structured civil society and the army, which refuses to yield power. On Saturday, a showdown broke out between two armed forces. Among the victims were many civilians and aid workers caught in the crossfire.
Two strong men at the head of a country is one too many. The same goes for two armies.
The confrontation was triggered by the Rapid Support Forces, a militia led by General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, better known as Hemeti; a man accused in the past of abuses in Darfur and of murdering protesters in Khartoum.
UAE and Wagner Group links
Hemeti is also linked to the United Arab Emirates, to whom he provided men in exchange for payment to fight in Yemen, and to Russia's Wagner Group mercenary outfit, with whom he has business ties.
It's a fight to the death for power.
His target: another general, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, the head of the regular army, who first came to power during the removal of the dictator in 2019. He then regained control in 2021, with the approval of his friend, Egypt's strongman leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Since then, he has renegotiated a compromise with the civilians, but the process is at a standstill.
In Sudanese cities today, it's a fight to the death for power between two men, two military clans.
“Kandaka,” or Nubian queen, became a symbol of the pro-democracy protests in Sudan.
Born in Tunisia
But these new conflicts risk undoing four years of democratic uprising. Sudanese civil society is very strong, with powerful professional organizations, such as those of doctors and engineers, but it has always been up against a military force that does not want to surrender its power or economic advantages.
For over a decade, aspirations for freedom, born in Tunisia in 2011, have faced numerous obstacles. Islamist control, conservative counter-revolution, civil wars, disillusionment of populations — indeed, the reasons for failure are numerous.
In Tunisia, as in Sudan, civil society has not had the necessary strength or coherence to succeed — and two more countries join the growing list of democratic experiments that have failed.