Before Tunisia’s uprising last month and the subsequent revolt in Egypt, Sudan in 1985 was the last Arab country to kick out a repressive president through popular protests.
With the benefit of a quarter century of hindsight, the Sudanese intifada’s civilian leaders warned the organisers of the 18-day demonstrations in Egypt that their work was just beginning.
“Egypt is a very strong regime, a strong army, strong security, strong civil service, business and it’s all pro-NDP (Mubarak’s ruling party),” said lawyer Amin Mekki, who helped organise the 1985 uprising in Sudan.
“So you can easily be fooled and go back to work but then how do you get the people back together in the spirit of today?” he said.
Sudan’s transitional government was largely made up of the lawyers, doctors and other professionals who led unions to rebel against Jaafar Nimeiri. The government also included members of Sudan’s army leadership who — like in Egypt — eventually sided with the demonstrators despite being part of Nimeiri’s regime.
The transitional government held elections after just one year, reducing a three-year transitional period after pressure by Sudan’s political parties. But the Prime Minister of that government, Doctor al-Jazouli Dafallah, said that was too soon.
Egypt’s new military rulers said at the weekend that they would keep control of the country for six months, or until parliamentary elections are held following amendments to the constitution.
Dafallah, sitting under a photo of him being released from Kober prison and lifted high on the shoulders of protesters in 1985, said they should have insisted on a longer transitional period to allow freedoms to take root after 16 years of autocracy.
“We were very suspicious of the military … but with hindsight we found that the military were not really interested in continuing in government.”
He said that with just one year to prepare, the political parties were not ready to take over power in the 1986 elections, which led to popular discontent and an Islamic-military coup after just three years.
Similarly in Egypt, political parties need time to form platforms and the activists need time to organise themselves too.
“As long as the people keep united and stay alert with their experience and organisation, they keep the context so that the military knows if they don’t carry out the will of the people the uprising is still there, the army won’t deviate,” he said.
But Sudan’s elderly revolutionaries warned the new movement in Egypt that they must organise and not allow others to take the lead, something many of them said they regretted doing in 1985.
“They must organise themselves into a group call it any name,” said ex-Justice Minister Omer Abdelaati, who read out the speech leading to the mass protests which brought Khartoum to a standstill in 1985. “A pressure group against any coming government, even the military council, to remind them that Tahrir Square is still there.”
But he warned them not to antagonise the army, as for now there was no one else to take on the burden of power.
“They should stay (on the streets) until they get the basic demands, lifting emergency law, allow bureaucrats to take over from the cabinet and run the government,” he said. They should help write a new constitution, the biggest priority.
But all warned the protesters to have patience as 30 years of one-party rule could not be undone overnight.
“You’ve waited 30 years — why damage whatever you’ve built in just six months because you don’t yet have the experience,” said Mekki. “Prepare yourselves for elections in a year or two and go back and carry your banner to form new institutions.” Reuters