Why Sudan rejects hate-baiting dictators

the Monitor's Editorial Board

One liberating moment in a democratic revolution occurs when enough people reject a dictator’s frequent attempts to convince them they have enemies. In recent weeks, protests in Sudan have provided a prime example of this. Its revolution is only half complete after Thursday’s ouster of strongman Omar al-Bashir. The military that sidelined him still clings to power. Yet the Sudanese have revealed a mental freedom from a dictatorship’s pattern of manufacturing hate.

Mr. Bashir was able to hold power for 30 years by finding many foes, whether they were non-Arabs in Darfur or Christians in the south or any of Sudan’s tribal, social, or religious groups. For him, war and division were tools to keep power, persuading enough Sudanese that he alone was the protector of Africa’s third-largest country by area.

Again and again, however, the protests that began in December have shown a new desire for inclusion, not exclusion. When a Sudanese security official claimed a Darfur rebel was behind the violence of one protest, the protesters responded by saying, “The entire country is Darfur.”

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When a young woman stood atop a car and sang to a crowd about Sudan being for all Sudanese of any race or tribe, they sang along with her. The crowd itself was unlike any protests of previous decades in Sudan. It was unusually large and included a cross-section of society, notably women. A video of Alaa Salah singing has since gone viral.

Just as significant is how most of the country’s rival opposition groups have ceased seeing each other as enemies. In January, they joined in unity by drafting a Charter of Freedom and Change, a document similar to Charter 77 that was the basis for Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution three decades ago. 

The charter for Sudan calls for a civilian-led transition to democracy, a plan rejected so far by the military’s leaders. Yet just as lower ranks of the military began to side with the protesters – a reason for the coup against Mr. Bashir – the unity of opposition remains a powerful force against the regime’s divide-and-conquer tactics. “Young Sudanese seem to have understood that when citizens do not publicly oppose the use of ethnicity, religion, or regionalism by politicians, the entire country pays the price,” states Nasredeen Abdulbari of the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington.

If Sudan has an enemy, it may not have been Mr. Bashir or, now in his place, the military top brass. Rather the Sudanese know the problem was their willingness to believe in enemies. They have chosen instead to find unity around a collective hope for peace and democracy. The regime itself, even without Bashir, is proving that it is its own worst enemy. It too shall fall.

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