Nonviolent Rebellion Causes Sudan’s Decades-Long President to Fall from Power
By Teresa Sfeir
The months-long demonstrations have paid off. Long-time Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir was overthrown on 11 April, after 30 years in power. On 16 April, he was taken to the notorious Kobar prison, which has housed thousands of political prisoners. On 17 April, Sudanese armed groups declared a three-month ceasefire in areas under their control in the Southern Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.
The demonstrators’ elation quickly turned to anger when Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, the defense minister and a confidante of Omar al-Bashir, rose to power. Ibn Auf has been accused of war crimes in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. As soon as he rose to power, Ibn Auf demanded the release of political prisoners, a two-year transition period led by a military council, the suspension of Sudan’s constitution, the dissolution of the government and nightly curfews beginning at 10:00pm. Ibn Auf was ousted two days later.
The military council made some concessions to appease protesters, such as removing the country’s three highest-ranking public prosecutors, appointing a new intelligence chief, and inviting protest organizers to decide upon a civilian prime minister. Protest leaders stated that demonstrations will not stop until the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) hands over power to a civilian-led authority ahead of elections.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued two arrest warrants for Omar al-Bashir, one on 4 May 2019 and another on 12 July 2012. He is one of the ICC’s longest-standing fugitives, having committed crimes against humanity that include war crimes and genocide. Hundreds of thousands of people in the Sudanese region of Darfur have been tortured, maimed and killed since 2003. Bashir’s security forces, including the Sudanese army, the Janjaweed militia, the police and the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have undertaken many of these crimes.
The fact that al-Bashir has evaded arrest all these years is a betrayal to the Darfuri victims. It is now vital that the transitional military authorities in Sudan hand over al-Bashir to the ICC so that justice would take its course.
Theological Reflection and Recommendation
Demonstrators insisted on not returning evil for evil, despite the fact a considerable number of them have been tortured and killed. They willfully chose not to return the physical or material harm they received. They continued to call for freedom and justice while chanting “Peaceful! Peaceful!” Onlookers had voiced their concern that Sudan might become a second Syria if the protests continue. This was not the case, however, because civilians, many of them military trained, refrained from using force.
We should submit to our rulers (Roman 13:1), but submission is not equivalent to obedience. One might willfully submit to an authority without necessarily obeying all its instructions, especially when they oppose God’s instructions. Our full obedience is due to God alone, for only He is all knowing and unerring. Scriptures record several instances when God’s people disobeyed the law in order to obey God. Hebrew midwives disobeyed the law to murder infant Hebrew boys in Egypt (Exodus 1:15-18). Daniel disobeyed King Darius’s decree in his prayers to God (Daniel 6:7-9). Peter and John preached about Jesus, although they were commanded not to do so by authorities (Acts 4-5). This means that the Church can speak up actively yet peacefully against any prevalent injustice that rulers inflict on their people.
It seems that Sudanese believers are still unsure whether they should have an active role in the nonviolent demonstrations or whether they should restrict their involvement to fasting and prayer. While there is much power in fasting and prayer, we also ought to be salt and light. Just like Daniel, we are salt when we show consistent allegiance to God. We do not fall into the trap of changing our discourse with the shifts of power. We are light when we actively serve our community, when we are in the world but not of it.