Scorching heat and fatigue challenge Sudanese protesters
Thousands sleeping outdoors as they maintain vigil demanding end to military rule
Protesters hold posters bearing the portrait of a prisoner in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, on Thursday. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images
Protesters whose weeks of demonstrations played an important part in forcing Sudan’s autocratic president Omar al-Bashir from power are battling scorching heat and fatigue as they press for the country’s new military rulers to hand over power to civilians.
An area of some two square kilometres outside the defence ministry in central Khartoum has become the focal point for protests since thousands converged on the area on April 6th trying to persuade the military to side with them.
Thousands of protesters have been sleeping in the square as they maintain a vigil to keep pressure on the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which took charge of the country after Mr Bashir’s removal on April 11th, to hand over power to civilians.
Unusually given that the population of 40 million is predominantly conservative Muslim, most of the protesters are women, who appear to outnumber men by two to one.
The protesters want the military to help dismantle the Islamist establishment that Mr Bashir had set up during his 30 years in power and return to barracks. “We will stay in the field until a civilian government is formed,” said 21-year-old Aballah Awad, a university student. “We will not allow the Islamists to take back control of the country.”
The TMC has offered some concessions to demonstrators, sacking some officials and announcing the arrest of others, including two of Mr Bashir’s brothers. They have also issued regulations on financial disclosures.
But the council, while willing to accept a civilian government, insists that ultimate authority will remain in its hands until elections are held.
Demonstrators have prepared for a long fight. While the TMC has ruled out the possibility of using force to break up the protests, demonstrators are not taking any chances.
Young men and women have used scrap metal and rocks to set up a security cordon around the protest site, organising round-the-clock guards who check people and cars passing through.
Dressed in yellow vests and wearing signs, some “security committee” members are scattered around the encampment, operating checkpoints as an extra safety against what they view as potential saboteurs or supporters of Mr Bashir’s Islamic Movement.
Young doctors staff a mobile clinic and a pharmacy from a tent set up in the area. Demonstrators complain that the area, located next to some of the country’s most sensitive military and security installations, lacks restaurants or supermarkets to buy supplies.
Street vendors have tried to fill in the vacuum, going around selling everything from national flags now in high demand to bottled water.
Activists also deliver food and water donated by wealthier Sudanese from a fund set up to keep the vigil going. Demonstrators often share their food and drinks with soldiers guarding the compound. Protesters have also been given access to about 10 toilets at a nearby government building.
Demonstrator numbers dwindle during the day as temperatures soar to above 40 degrees. As many go to work or to school, those who remain behind take shelter in a number of tents scattered around the protest area, while others go home to shower, change their clothes and get some rest.
But the crowds start converging on the encampment in the afternoon, where singers mount impromptu stages or watch soccer matches on mobile trucks.
Huge crowds joined the protesters outside the defence ministry on Thursday afternoon and again on Friday, in a show of popular power.
Sara Ali, a 24-year-old doctor, acknowledged that protesters feel some fatigue after nearly four months of demonstrations, including nearly two weeks outside the defence ministry, but says most are willing to continue.
“We have brought down the tyrant, Bashir, and it will not be hard for us to force the military council to heed the protesters’ demands or to step aside,” she said. – Reuters