Mahgoub El-Tigani*, Sudan Tribune
It is the Sudanese most adorable memory: the popular uprising that alone in the second half of the 20th century was the first ever to topple with trees leaves and peaceful demonstrations a military dictatorship that, as always, was determined with all its might and state authorities to stay in power.
The Sudanese October occurred with no precedence in any 20th century country. It came before the Iranian Revolution and the Polish Solidarity. It was never spontaneous, as some wrongfully claim. Were it so, it would have replicated itself every year or day for the causes of the uprising never ceased to occur! The public strike by the Sudan Civil Service, the army officers and soldiers’ rebellion, and the well-organized confrontations between tens of thousands of unified demonstrators and the government regular forces could never have been spontaneous. October was a fresh, creative, and most promising revolutionary initiative.
Nothing stops revolutions from occurrence. Despite the notorious colonial ventures of the French republics in our third-world nations, the French Revolution was only put into a form of sustainable control by regular democracy and capitalist growth at home. What stopped the succeeding American Revolution was the sustained democracy and capitalist development. By the same token, nothing will stop revolutions from occurrence in third world countries other than regular democracy and sustainable development, whether socialist or capitalist.
October was a legitimate product of a highly calculable process of political change in which both objective and subjective conditions were insistently inviting the uprising. The street was determined, unionized, and supported by progressive parties. The middle-class strong parties, the Khatmiya and Ansar, were already alienated with some of their distinguished leaders, for example Ismail al-Azhari and al-Imam al-Siddig al-Mahdi, harshly persecuted by the military leadership of the state. The South was burning with revolution led by strong leaders, especially William Deng and the SANU politicians and the Anya-Nya.
Foreign relations were shaking with conflict across the borders, deteriorating with the African neighbors who never ceased supporting the African southern Sudanese, and falling apart with the Liberation Movement of the Arab nationalist regimes led by Nasser. The tone of the time was disturbed by the Cold War Era, vigorously disputed by the Liberation Movement supporters especially the Sudanese Communist Party and its historic alliance with trade unions, professional associations, the non-aligned movement, and the Nkrumah striving for an anti-neo-colonialism AOU that later on emerged a few years after the Sudanese Glorious October.
Revolutions never come about by military decree "to install a Socialist State by a single-party-single-candidate" tyranny, as the Ja’far Nimeiri military junta and his Arab nationalist young officers tyrannically imposed in 1969. Nor would any revolution materialize with the Nimeiri’s twin, Omer al-Bashir and Hassan al-Turabi’s primitive politics in the service of a false Islamic Caliphate. Revolutions occur with highly sophisticated calculations, struggles, and determination by the largest sections of the populace who would cease to see their fortune in the existing regimes and then break daringly into the streets to manifest their will and to change power relations for social justice and the good life - a huge massive movement to which any band of rulers would have to give up to stand powerlessly before the just and fair trial for all their evil deeds.
The October Revolution, as Sudanese love to call it, was not fully executed to the extent of accomplishing its promising ends. The popular zeal for change was oppressedd; the people’s chosen representative government was usurped; and a quick come back was rushed to enable reactionary programs to take over only to pave the way to the May military coup in 1969.
During the October 1964 massive demonstrations, the tension was at his highest between people and the military rulers. It was one of these Fridays in Khartoum North. The streets were almost empty following General ’Irwa’s, the minister of interior, famous ultimatum to the masses to stay at home in a dusk to dawn curfew to avoid immediate gunfire by the armed forces. The Khartoum University students and faculty had already initiated an open discussion on the need to stop all military operations in the South, followed by an immediate junta step-down and a civilian peace-making government to establish regular democracy in the country. The death of al-Qurashi, and many other demonstrators, was alreasy flaming the streets with massive demonstrators.
One of these days, the Khartoum North Wataniya Cinema was filled as usual with the Khartoum North workers whose best entertainment was a cowboy fighting injustices, an Indian movie with everything real or imaginary, or an Egyptian movie that made them laugh as never before at Isma’il Yasin and Hassan Fayiq bickering with their in-laws Riyadh al-Qasabgi and Zinat Sidqi.
That Friday night did not go, however, as the sight-seers planned: the whole place was suddenly clouded with smoke, gunshots, and some fierce fighting was vaguely going on: "Is the movie suddenly changed to a cowboy show?!" many exclaimed ? But the suffocating climate decisively told the real story: it was a strong confrontation between people and the armed forces in the neighboring streets. That night ended with a number of casualties. And the news about similar confrontations in Omdurman and Khartoum between peaceful demonstrations and the armed forces were all over the place.
Saturday, Sunday, and Monday: the situation was largely escalated to an over-all confrontation. Atbara, Medani, al-Obayid, and Kassala witnessed strong confrontations in the streets. Schoolgirls and schoolboys were in the front lines, chanting "La ’Abboud ba’d al-yoam" (Down, down the ’Abboud Rule). The Sudanese women were in the front lines; Um Doaka was one of the earliest martyrs of the demonstrations. The Sudanese Women’s Union played a major role in the street confrontations.
In a memorable street confrontation at the Republican Avenue, the Union’s President Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim stood in front of a military group and asked them to fire at her. The regulars did not shoot. This encouraged many demonstrators to enter into an open dialogue with the armed forces asking them to join the demonstration or simply "Don’t shoot your people! Don’t!" These confrontations were later on wrought into beautiful songs and lovely hymns by Mohamed al-Mekki Ibrahim and other poets, and some of them became famous anthems by the peoples’ singers Mohamed Wardi and Mohamed al-Amin.
The Sudan’s Police was positively acting towards people. They did not shoot at them with gunfire. They did not rush to arrest them. They sometimes abandoned certain stations to avoid confrontation with the demonstrators. A decisive factor that compelled the military generals to step down was the rebellion by many young army officers and non-commissioned officers of whom the young officers Hashim al-’Atta and Farouq Hamada-Allah played a significant role rejecting the generals’ determination to crush October by force and virtually joining the demonstrations - a historic split in the ruling military body that was repeatedly experienced in April 1985 by a large group of army regulars influenced by Fathi Ahmed ’Ali, and the April 1990 led by Osman Baloal, Mohamed Osman Karar, and many others.
"It was perhaps the most civilized popular movement of the century," most foreign diplomats said or reported to their states about the October 1964 Revolution of the Sudan. This is particularly true since no single robbery was reported in the abandoned markets of the Three Towns throughout the sever days or so non-stoppage uprising and public strike. The only incidence in which some demonstrators wanted to burn to earth a bar in the Khartoum market was immediately stopped when the bulk of the demonstrators protected the bar! "Not a ingle attack was reported against an embassy," admiringly reported many foreign journalists.
The October agenda were lately forwarded in repeated memorandums and a general call for public strike by the Sudan’s Bar led by Amin Mekki Medani, Sid Ahmed al-Hussain, and Hamza al-Nasri among other members, the Doctors’ Union led by Mamoun Ahmed Hussain, ’Ali Fadl, and their colleagues, and the workers-led Tajamu’ al-Niqabi of Mahgoub Sid Ahmed, Ali al-Mahi al-Sakhi and the other unionists. The same entities never abandoned the struggle: harassed, persecuted, and many severely tortured or even assassinated by the next Akhwan Muslimeen dictatorial rule, the Sudanese streets continue to work for the popular movement with no hesitation or stoppage generation after generation.
These continuous struggles are the most important element of forcing popular change more than any military action or civil wars did. That is why it is important for the DarFur and the Beja peoples to stop military action, organize their lines, and join the peaceful demonstrations.
For the Sudanese, the street confrontations versus arrogant rulers always meant great sacrifices more than the non-controlled acts of massive destruction that civil wars produce, devastating life and victimizing civilians with the heaviest costs of war while most of the military personnel return safely to well-guarded camps. Civilian struggles are the bravest, long-enduring, most promising, and fulfilling actions of popular movement. The demonstrators are probably the most powerful professors that teach arrogant rulers the harshest lesson, how to kneel solemnly before the royal highness of the rebellious dahmaa (beleaguered mob).
It is widely recalled al-Zubair Mohamed Salih, one of the NIF 1989 military coup leaders, announced in a visit to the Northern Province that the "June Revolution came to rule people, not to ease their troubles. If you people can’t live without medicine and food, we will be happy to rule over the one third survivors who would sustain living without them!" Opposed to these arrogant statements, the Sudanese never ceased to demonstrate, confront persecution regimes, and struggle for the regular democracy and just peace for eternity ?
Each nation has its own tradition, ways of change, ideological mode, and political change: the October Uprising is the Sudan’s adorable legacy. And it is October and the people of October that would survive to bring about a successful all-Sudanese popular change in the final analysis.
*Member of Sudanese Writers’ Union (in exile) and the president of Sudan Human Rights Organization Cairo-Branch