The Battle For The Army General Command

The Battle For The Army General Command


KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Ahmed is a Sudanese expatriate working in Abu Dhabi. He was vacationing in his home country and decided to take part in the uprising that finally saw the downfall of dictator Omar al-Bashir. His choice for this participation was the opposition popular march to the national army’s general command, slated by the union of Sudanese professionals that led the popular uprising, for April 6.

April 6 is a day for all Sudanese to remember. It was the day in 1985 when the national army sided with masses of professionals and workers to topple yet another dictator, Ja’afar Nimeiri (1969-1985).

The idea was first to remind the national army of its duty towards its countrymen in the face of the brutal handling by the state security of the peaceful demonstrators who used no weapon other than chanting slogans like: “Freedom, Peace and Justice, The Revolution Is The People’s Choice”, and “Just, Down Down With the Regime,” and “Peaceful, Peaceful, Against the Thieves”!

The march was scheduled to take off at 1 PM. It was now 12 and there was no sign yet of possible demonstration at the Abujizeer Square (where opposition marches usually started from or ended up to).

Ahmed kept looking at his watch every now and then. Half an hour passed and there was no sign of the demonstrators. And he kept sending SMS messages to his friends that there was nothing unusual at the place and that the many people who moved around the place were no more than usual shoppers looking at merchandize displayed by vendors on the ground. But the heavy security was quite visible at the place. Toyota pickup trucks were loaded with security elements, clad in riot gear. Wide tents set by the authorities were also packed with security men waiting for the marchers to come from the western part of the city.

Then came half past one O’clock, a quarter to one O’clock, ten minutes to one, three minutes, one minute and there was no sign of the marchers and Ahmed kept sending messages that the entire thing had fizzled. No use!  But exactly at One O’clock all the people around Ahmed started to shout at the top of their voices “Freedom, Peace and Justice, Revolution Is The People’s Choice!” and “Just, Down, Down With the Regime!”. And everybody started to hurriedly head east, towards the Army General Command. And Ahmed was carried away by this quick current until he, unawares, found himself at the giant gates of the Army General command.

How orderly and precise the marchers were! One O’clock means One O’clock. Stay calm and move about as ordinarily as you can until zero hour. Any other behavior could doom the whole thing.  

The security at Abujinzeer Square had no choice but to move fast after the marchers, but to no avail. The marchers were moving fast through the many narrow Old Khartoum lanes that could not permit easy movement of the security trucks.

Westwards from Abujinzeer Square, the security tried hard to stop the marchers from gathering at the Arabi market and the Jackson transport terminal. But the experienced demonstrators suddenly flared up and poured down, non-stop, east towards the Army General Command

Dozens of similar sudden flare-ups occurred in Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman (to the west) and Khartoum North. Heavy throngs came rushing from the different corners of the Capita City and encircled the Army General Command in no time. The troops inside were taken by surprise as they found themselves surrounded by a sea of men and women, crossing bridges and in case there were no bridges, just trekking to the place. The junior officers and their soldiers were swept by the human flood and had no choice but to repeat what the marchers were saying.


Achilles Tendon

Ironically, the biggest of human throngs came through the Airport Avenue (officially called Africa Avenue). The irony was that the state security headquarters lay on that wide avenue and security officials left it without patrols or roadblocks, arrogantly thinking that nobody would dare to tread through it. And the heavy crowds coming from the southern parts of Khartoum (proper) found it open and went through it and on the railway line that parallels it and went on to find themselves facing and surrounding the southern fences of the Army General Command and, quite amusingly, into the State Guest House, where Bashir used to receive visitors and hold meetings.

But because the demonstrators, ever since they started their movement in December, had vowed to avoid sabotage and behave peacefully, they went into the place just out of curiosity, the Army officers in charge taking them in tours around the place, answering questions and patiently receiving comments!

Come 3 PM, the wide General Command became just a tiny spot in this human ocean that clogged the roadways leading to the General Command, its surrounding spacious yards and the other nearby roads, avenues and river bridges.

The security forces entrenched around the nearby Armed Forces Mosque fired tear gas at the crowds. Feeling the heat of the suffocating tear gas, the Army officers on duty were provoked and opened fire at the security. The security had no choice but to pull out of the place. This move had allowed march organizers to rearrange the crowds and provide for administrative, security and information measures in anticipation of more crowds pouring in from around the city.

At 8 O’clock Sunday morning a joint force from the operations police force, the state security operations division and the popular police force staged an attack on the crowds from three axes. The idea was to press the demonstrators from these three axes, leaving the eastern flank empty for the demonstrators to try to escape through and there they would easily fall into the hands of the security that sought to make as many arrests as it could.

But when the security reached the gates of the Land Force Command, the officers and soldiers opened fire at them, forcing them to retreat and escape through the adjacent Khartoum University Avenue.

Marchers then started to fortify their barricades, count and treat their injuries, set field clinics and receive food and water supplies from companies and citizens from around the city.

But the Army Intelligence on April 7 night managed to storm and control the Land Force H.Q and arrest the officers and soldiers who defended and protected the marchers. The same night saw yet another failed attempt to break the sit in, followed by yet another failed attempt to do so. In this attempt a force from the security and the police operations section in collaboration from the regime’s popular security and students security got in to break the sit in but were forced back by the infantry and marine forces and the marchers themselves.

On 9 April a unit from the so-called regime mujahideen (crusaders) unit, posing as army intelligence troops, tried to get through and control the marine force gateways. But the vigilant marine forces understood the trick and asked them for IDs. After some moments of bickering, they opened fire on the marine force. The nearby infantry joined the marines in the fight and forced these mujahideen back.

By that battle, nearly all army units at the General Command found themselves in one shoe with the demonstrators.

Images and video footages continue to show army officers and soldiers mixing with their fellow countrymen in the sit in, sharing them food, beverages and patriotic singing.


We Are Here To Stay

The marchers then started to build tents to shade them from the blazing sun and to tell the military that they will continue the sit in until their demand for a civilian government is attained. They continued to call upon their fellow citizens from around the country to come along and give a boost, a plea the public complied to in tens of thousands. The marchers’ attempt to tighten the noose on the military and beyond it the government forced Bashir to accept to quit.


Come April 11

Early morning of April 11 the Sudanese received media alerts about an important statement to be broadcast on the national radio and TV. And the curious public stayed glued to their media outlets. After a long wait First Vice President and Defense Minister, Lt. General Awad Ebnaoaf read from a written statement that the High Security Committee (set by Bashir to handle the riots) had decided to “dislodge the head of the regime” and had kept him “in a safe place.” Cries of joy were heard around the city and tens of thousands rushed to the Army General Command to celebrate.


More Eye- Blinks Come Through

But the marchers and beyond them the Freedom and Change Forces (an opposition grouping of political parties and trade unions that led the struggle) did not celebrate and considered General Ebnoaf’s statement a fiasco. They wanted all the military to take its hands off the country.

Then very soon another drama emerged : The  Transitional Military Council (TMC)  Ebnoaf had chaired elbowed him out for no clear reason and said it will be chaired by yet another Army Lt. General , Abdelfattah Alburhan, instead of General Ebnoaf.

A few names of the TMC then surfaced. Here the Freedom and Change Forces singled three Council members as unwanted for varying reasons. These were Lt. General Omar Zainala’abdeen, the head of TMC political committee whom the opposition said was no more than the secretary of the so-called Islamic movement in the army. The other two were police General Altaib Babiker and state security General Mohammad Jalal, both of whom they accused of  brutal treatment of the demonstrators.

And because the opposition was adamant about its position and because of the mushrooming sit in at the gates of the Army General Command, the TMC only very shyly removed the three men. That was the second eye blink


Trying to Maneuver

Then TMC began sending messages that it would not talk to the Freedom and Change Forces alone and began contacting other political forces accused for cooperating with the defunct regime. That was by way of side- stepping the forces that led the uprising. Here the Freedom and Change Forces called upon the masses for more demonstrations around the country and in the cities and towns neighborhoods. Night demonstrations, it said. A call that the TMC really feared, because night demonstrations are uneasy to disperse.

Giving it a second thought the TMC said yes, the Freedom and Change Forces are the makers of the change and that it recognizes them as such and was ready to talk to them. That was the third eye blink!

But the slippery TMC very soon said it would rule the country for two years and will, in the words of its Chairman, Gen Burhan, it would form a “government of technocrats!”

Because a so-called technocrat can be loyal to military rule, the Freedom and Change Forces vetoed the move and pressed for a civilian government in which they can have a say in, all the time calling for more demonstrators to join the sit in.

Then the TMC only reluctantly said it would share the three levels of government with the Freedom and Change Forces. Then a lot of bargaining ensued where the TMC said it must have the biggest share in the state presidency and alluded that it must have a say in the formation of the executive.

Here the Freedom and Change Forces cleverly stepped in with a constitution identifying the jurisdictions of the different levels of government. It coupled this move with a call for more marches to the Army General Command. Hundreds of thousands answered this call on Thursday May 2 and Friday May 3. The opposition said had fortified further the barricades on the roads leading to the sit in grounds, for fear of possible foul play from the military.

The TMC on Saturday May 4 was reportedly scratching its head to figure out a reply for these opposition constitutional proposals. It remains to be seen whether the TMC would concede another eye-blink or seek a new maneuver.




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