No, it’s not over for the Sudanese revolution

The counter-revolution has struck and temporarily cleared the streets, but it has not broken the revolutionary spirit.

Khalid Albaih cartoon
On June 3, Sudanese security forces attacked and cleared protesters' sit-ins in Khartoum and a number of other cities [Khalid Albaih/Al Jazeera]

For those of us who have watched closely the events in the Arab world since 2011, what happened on June 3 in Sudan was expected. Sooner or later, the counter-revolution was going to strike.

As bodies are being pulled out of the Nile River and shocking stories are surfacing of extreme torture and rape, the brutality of the crackdown is yet to be revealed in full. Officially, over 100 people have been confirmed dead; in reality, the death toll is probably much higher and we may never know the exact number, as the criminal forces who committed the massacre have taken measures to cover up their crimes.

Watching this massacre unfold from abroad has felt surreal, like a nightmare that we cannot wake up from. We, in the diaspora, have also been living the revolution, albeit vicariously, and today we are also grieving in pain.

Over the past two months, friends kept video calling from the sit-in, with tears in their eyes, showing me an endless flood of people of all ages coming together to celebrate one thing – freedom. Seeing these scenes of unity and courage made me proud. After Omar al-Bashir was toppled, I too was euphoric: finally, my political cartoons on Sudan could focus on someone other than a dictator.

However, in the back of my mind, I knew they were not going to let us have our freedom so easily. The June 3 massacre in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities felt like a deja vu. Over the past eight years, we have seen Arab tyrants bound on keeping power at any cost taking countless lives in the same exact brutal manner in plain sight of the international community

Just like other democratic movements in our neighbourhood, the Sudanese revolutionaries are now facing the unholy alliance of extreme wealth and extreme fear of democracy, which the Emirati-Saudi axis represents. Using populism, the rise of Islamophobia in the West, total control over the media in the region and online troll armies, it has systematically and intentionally tried to undermine civilian demands for democracy and freedom.

Today, it is using the carnage in other countries to sow doubt and fear with the most divisive question: “Do you want your country to become another Syria or Yemen?”

Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAEbacked the formation of Sudan’s “Transitional” Military Council (TMC) and are following the Egyptian post-2011 script: get rid of the old regime and Islamists, dismantle sit-ins, silence all dissidents, call for an election, win said election, and maintain power forever.

They are now grooming al-Bashir’s successor. We now have General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemeti – both have supplied the Sudanese soldiers to fight the devastating Saudi and Emirati war in Yemen.

Al-Burhan, representing the traditional top brass of the army, was made the new face of military power. He was appointed the head of the military council after al-Bashir’s loyalists were forced to resign, and now seems set to become the Sisi of Sudan. 

But unlike his Egyptian counterpart, al-Burhan has a powerful deputy who could end up threatening him. Hemeti is Sudan’s version of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). He is young and power-hungry and portrays himself as a man of the people, a young and energetic leader who can change the system from within. And just like MBS, he is ruthless.

For years, Hemeti fought for al-Bashir in the conflict in Darfur, where his forces, part of the Janjaweed militia, committed countless war crimes. He was rewarded by being made the head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) before turning on his patron in April and helping to get him deposed.

On June 3, it was the RSF that led the murderous crackdown on the protesters’ sit-ins. The fact that the regular military forces had to withdraw to their barracks is quite telling about who really holds power in Sudan right now.

If the RSF is not reined in, Sudan risks slipping into a civil conflict similar to the one in Syria. There are already reports that security forces and the RSF are leaving weapons behind to encourage civilians to arm themselves and give them an excuse to launch an even more brutal repressive campaign.

But the Sudanese revolutionaries know better. Despite the violent tactics of the TMC and the meek response of the international community, they have persevered in their peaceful resistance. Far too many people have lost their lives fighting for freedom and dignity. Despite the anger and pain of losing friends and family, there is no turning back and there is no changing ways at this point.

The Sudanese people will continue to peacefully rebel not only against their own tyrants, but also against foreign forces, both in the east and the west, who tell them Sudan cannot be a democracy. Whoever thinks we will accept a continuation of al-Bashir’s regime or worse is dead wrong.

As one friend told me just before she lost her internet connection: “[we will] keep pushing, keep uplifting the people’s spirit, we can’t turn back, not after we got here.”

We will continue fighting. In fact, on the ground, the Sudanese revolutionaries have already found new ways to circumvent the internet blackout and media censorship, communicating and organising through bulk SMS and leaflets, walking door to door to raise awareness about civil disobedience and promote Sudan Bukra, the volunteer-run TV channel broadcasting much-needed coverage of the revolution. The diaspora is also doing its duty, amplifying reports from the ground and campaigning abroad.

At this point, the international community has a choice: either to stand on the right side of history and back the Sudanese revolution or continue supporting murderous tyrants under the wrong assumption that they will bring stability and stop migration.

It should be clear by now that replacing old dictators with younger ones will not solve the region’s problems. If we are to go by what young London-educated Bashar al-Assad did in Syria and what even younger MBS has done in Yemen, then we cannot expect anything different from their peer Hemeti (who already has a proven track record of brutality in Darfur). 

For our part, we, the Sudanese people, have already made our choice: We will not let our country be another Syria or Yemen and will not stop fighting until we have a free, democratic, and egalitarian Sudan.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.