Azaz Shami is a Sudanese American human rights advocate.
The peaceful revolution currently taking place in Sudan is not the first attempt to free the country from the grip of the military junta. It is part of a series of attempts over three decades that have been crushed by bullets and met with bloodshed, leaving citizens heartbroken and bereaved.
But not without hope. The Sudanese people are resilient. Time and time again, we have stood up, dusted ourselves off and learned from our mistakes. We have organized and drew from our heritage of collaboration, communal values and civic action. We have built our networks tirelessly and pushed back against one of the most notorious regimes in the region, eventually taking us to the brink of change.
The recent uprising, too, was met with a crackdown and live ammunition. Protesters were taken to detention, beaten and tortured — some even died as a result. Yet we continued demonstrating, and after months of popular protests, the Sudanese military toppled authoritarian President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Awad Ibn Auf, a Bashir ally, then became head of state — but only for a day. On April 12, Ibn Auf bowed out as the protests continued, and another military leader, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, assumed power.
This change in leadership, however, does not mean that the battle for freedom and democracy in Sudan is over yet. The old junta has been replaced by a new one that could hold us hostage yet again.
The country is currently led by a transitional military council that contains members who have previously been implicated in atrocities in Darfur and other human rights violations. Though the council had promised to name a civilian prime minster and cabinet, it has clashed with protesters over the terms of a draft constitution, warned against demonstrations blocking roads and suggested that Islamic sharia law must be the basis of new legislation.
The new Sudan that my fellow Sudanese and I envision is democratic and prosperous, a source of stability in the region and a source of security for its people. It is a Sudan that utilizes its resources for development rather than for sale to the highest bidder. A Sudan that is an ally for global efforts toward development and international peace.
Yet it is becoming increasingly clear that the military leaders in power are not in favor of this true democratic transition.
In mid-April, the African Union gave the military council 15 days to establish civilian-led rule before it would revoke Sudan’s membership. The bold move was well received by Sudanese protesters, who felt for the first time that they are not alone, but fell on deaf ears in the military council. On May 1, the African Union extended it is ultimatum for an additional 60 days. It does not look as though the military leaders will turn in their powers anytime soon.
It’s time for the United States and the international community to step in.
The United States has been involved in Sudan in the past and has supported others in the region as they have pushed for democracy. Policymakers might think it is best to allow the transition to be led by the Sudanese people — but it is not being controlled by these democratic forces. The military is clinging to power, and regional players also have a stake in what happens in Sudan. The ugly face of polarization might soon emerge, setting back our push for freedom.
This is where Congress can help. It should call for an end to human rights violations and accountability for past abuses. A bipartisan resolution recently introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) is a good start and will provide a boost to people’s voices. Congress should swiftly pass the resolution to put pressure on Sudan’s military council and send a signal that the world is watching.
Economic support and aid are also necessary indeed to help Sudan out of its rot — but this must not be done prematurely. Any economic support must be contingent on handing power to a civilian-led government and ensuring that the mandate of the transitional military council is constrained so that it cannot usurp power.
Finally, U.S. policymakers need to use their platform and leverage, on Sudan’s leaders and those of other regional powers, to usher a genuine peaceful transition of power to a civilian-led interim government. Ensuring that the military council hands over power to a civilian government is key to helping guide Sudan into a hopeful, democratic and prosperous new era.