Sudan’s Nonviolent Revolution is Being Undermined by the US

By Stephen Zunes who thanks the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict for supporting his research.

NVI's longtime Director, Michael Beer, has provided advisory support for Dr. Zunes in his Sudan research.

Reposted from Inside Arabia 

Sudan’s Democratic Revolution is Being Undermined by the United States

Sudan’s Democratic Revolution is Being Undermined by the United States

Sunset over the Blue Nile river and downtown Khartoum with its Corinthia hotel and GNPOC Tower, Khartoum, Sudan (Photo Arik Alojants)

Last year’s nonviolent pro-democracy revolution in Sudan which brought down the brutal 30-year dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir and the subsequent military junta inspired the world. Few popular uprisings in history faced such extremely difficult circumstances and few displayed the kind of courage, tenacity, and effective strategy by pro-democracy activists which led to their victory.

Unfortunately, the United States has been pursuing policies which almost seem designed to destroy Sudan’s fragile democratic experiment.

Since August 2019, Sudan has been ruled by a sovereign council made up of six civilians and five members of the military, along with a cabinet of liberal civilian technocrats headed by Prime Minister Hamdok, a former economist with the United Nations. Elections are scheduled for 2022 to give time for civil society, decimated under the Bashir regime, to reemerge and strengthen. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and other rights have been restored.

For the democratic revolution to succeed, the civilian-led government must have legitimacy in the eyes of enough Sudanese.

The Sudanese people have twice before—in 1964 and then again in 1985—risen up in unarmed civil insurrections which toppled dictatorships and established democratic governance only to have the military again seize power several years later. Few people believe the military will not try again. For the democratic revolution to succeed, the civilian-led government must have sufficient legitimacy in the eyes of enough Sudanese for the people to be willing to defend it if threatened. Even if the military is unable to completely overthrow the civilian leadership, chronic economic problems could lead autocratic elements in the armed forces to further assert their influence within the ruling coalition.

A critical factor will be whether the civilian-led government is able to revive the economy which, even prior to the pandemic, was struggling with inflation, a weakening currency, and a foreign debt more than twice the country’s annual GDP.  Jonas Horner, a Sudan specialist with the International Crisis group noted, “If the civilians within the government look like they are unable to respond to Sudan’s myriad problems, that leaves space for other actors to pour into the vacuum.”                               

The single biggest obstacle to Sudan’s economic recovery is the continued US economic sanctions.

The single biggest obstacle to Sudan’s economic recovery is the continued US economic sanctions, which—as is the case with U.S. sanctions against Iran—not only impacts trade with and investment from the United States, but from other countries and multilateral entities as well. Despite Sudan now being led by secular civilians inexorably opposed to terrorism and Salafist extremism, Washington still officially lists Sudan as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Most absurdly, the United States is holding Sudan’s transitional government responsible for crimes committed by Al-Qaeda, not only when al-Bashir was providing the terrorist group sanctuary in Sudan between 1991 and 1996, but for terrorist attacks which took place in 1998 and 2000 after they had been expelled.

Prime Minister Hamdok, in an address before the UN General Assembly this past fall, noted: “The Sudanese people have never sponsored, nor were supportive of terrorism. On the contrary, those were the acts of the former regime which has been continuously resisted by the Sudanese people until its final ouster. These sanctions have played havoc on our people, causing them untold misery of all types and forms. We, in the transitional government, call on the United States of America to take Sudan off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism and not to continue punishing the Sudanese people for the acts committed by that vicious regime, especially that our people have been victims of and courageously resistant to.”

Sudan’s inclusion as a state sponsor of terrorism requires the US to block loans from international financial institutions.

In addition to prohibiting any economic assistance, Sudan’s inclusion as a state sponsor of terrorism requires the United States to block loans and other assistance from such international financial institutions as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, prohibits US citizens from engaging in financial transactions with the government without approval of the Treasury Department, denies individuals or companies tax credit for income earned, and bans duty-free imports, among other restrictions.

Furthermore, if a country is on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, they no longer have diplomatic immunity from families of terrorist victims who file civil lawsuits in the United States. US policy is that the civilian government of Sudan must pay billions of dollars in compensation to these families in order to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism regardless of the fact they no longer sponsor terrorism. The paradox for Sudan is that they can’t be immune from being sued as long as they are on the list and they can’t be removed from the list unless they pay damages from the lawsuits.

Sudan agreed to pay $30 million USD to the families of sailors on the USS Cole killed in a 2000 Al-Qaeda attack.

In one step towards getting themselves removed from the list, the government agreed to pay $30 million USD to the families of sailors on the USS Cole killed in a 2000 Al-Qaeda attack on the Navy destroyer in Aden Harbor, along with wounded survivors. More significantly, the United States has demanded that the civilian-led government pay up to $10.2 billion USD in compensatory and punitive damages for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, though negotiations are under way that could significantly lower the amount Sudan would need to pay.

Sudan’s projected budget revenue for 2020 is only $12.63 billion USD. The civilian-led government has few options, however. The International Monetary Fund ranks Sudan as the world’s 14th poorest country out of 186 nations. (Meanwhile, the United States – the world’s wealthiest country – refuses to pay compensation for crimes committed by its government against Iraq, Vietnam, or other countries, including Nicaragua, which the International Court of Justice ruled in 1986 that the United States needed to pay reparations for damages from attacks against its civilian infrastructure.)

Despite desperate needs in health, education, and infrastructure, as much as 70% of the country’s budget went to the armed forces.

Despite desperate needs in health, education, and infrastructure, as much as 70% of the country’s budget while under military rule went to the armed forces. With a huge backlog of domestic needs now facing the civilian government and a foreign debt more than twice its annual GDP, Sudan is still required to repay. It is hard to imagine how Sudan could afford to give this kind of money to the United States.

Punishing Sudanese for the crimes of others is nothing new. Following the 1998 embassy attacks, the United States bombed a large pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum North, falsely claiming it was a chemical weapons factory controlled by Al-Qaeda. While no one was killed in the precision nighttime missile attack, the destruction of the facility—which produced over half of Sudan’s vaccines and antibiotics—likely contributed to thousands of deaths in the subsequent months.

A critical factor in stabilizing civilian rule in Sudan is ending the rebellions in Darfur, the Blue Nile, and South Kordofan regions.

A critical factor in stabilizing civilian rule in Sudan is ending the rebellions in Darfur, the Blue Nile, and South Kordofan regions where tenuous ceasefires are now in place but frequently threaten to break down. There are many complicated factors to be worked out, but peace will also cost hundreds of millions of dollars in order to demobilize and reintegrate rebel fighters, reform the security sector, and provide economic support for these desperately poor regions, which the previous military regime spent huge sums to suppress but almost nothing to develop. Meanwhile, there are more than two million displaced people from these conflicts needing assistance. According to Magdi el-Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute, “The great risk is that Sudan cannot even afford a peace process.”

Most immediately, ongoing US sanctions have made it difficult for the Sudanese to fight the coronavirus. In April, the World Bank approved a $1.9 million USD emergency fund for 25 developing counties along with plans to spend as much as $160 billion USD through mid-2021 to fight the pandemic. However, the US policy of vetoing international financial institutions from providing even humanitarian support forced the World Bank to exclude Sudan from this critical funding effort to fight the pandemic.

The US policy of vetoing humanitarian support forced the World Bank to exclude Sudan from its funding effort to fight the pandemic.

Cameron Hudson of the Atlantic Council has noted lifting the sanctions is a “crucial ingredient in Sudan’s long-term recovery and in its hopes of ushering in a civilian-led, democratic regime.” However, according to Hudson, the process of removing Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism “involves an interlocking network of legislative processes, legal rulings, financial settlements, intelligence assessments, and, most of all, politics, to unwind this ultimate tool in America’s sanctions arsenal.”

To further punish Sudan’s efforts for a democratic transition, the United States announced in February that it was ending migration visas from Sudan, effectively making immigration from that country impossible.

Even prior to Trump, the United States has long supported autocratic regimes in both the Middle East and Africa.

Even prior to Trump, the United States has long supported autocratic regimes in both the Middle East and Africa and has maintained particularly close relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. These countries are strong supporters of the conservative military officers who ruled Sudan between Bashir’s ouster and the August 2019 agreement allowing for a civilian-led government, and whom many believe would still like to see the military regain control. A large bipartisan majority of the US Congress supports sending $1.7 billion USD annually to prop up the Sisi dictatorship in Egypt and supports large-scale subsidies for arms transfers and military training to the wealthy absolute monarchies in the Gulf, while refusing to provide any relief for the impoverished democratic Sudan.

The Sudanese not only suffered over 30 years of brutal dictatorship, the United States is effectively punishing them further for having overthrown that dictatorship. The Sudanese people are being held responsible for the crimes of a military regime against which millions struggled for decades at enormous sacrifice and finally succeeded in removing last year. The resulting economic crisis is crushing the optimism Inside Arabia reported on just a few months ago, on February 26.

It’s unclear why there is so much hostility coming out of Washington for Sudan’s democratic struggle. Trump’s fondness for authoritarians is well-known. Depicting Arab, African, and Middle Eastern countries as chronically violent and teeming with angry extremists with a propensity toward terrorism helps reinforce the perceived need for the United States to intervene militarily and to back authoritarian governments and occupation armies. Though there’s no direct evidence to suggest this is conscious policy, downplaying pro-democracy movements and undermining democratic governments does play a function in justifying such policies.

Perhaps acknowledging Arab, African, and Muslim peoples embracing a passionate desire for freedom and democracy doesn’t fit the Western narrative.

During a background briefing at the US embassy in Khartoum back in January, this writer got the strong impression from officials there that they assumed Sudan’s democratic experiment would fail, essentially seeing the country as too poor, too divided, and with too many problems to overcome through democratic governance. This underscores that perhaps acknowledging Arab, African, and Muslim peoples having agency, thinking strategically, engaging in effective nonviolent action, and embracing a passionate desire for freedom and democracy simply doesn’t fit into the Western narrative. Regardless of the motivation, the United States seems to be doing what it can to get this remarkable democratic experiment to fail.

It may be difficult to mobilize public opinion in the United States to force a change in policy amid the pandemic and ongoing struggles against racial injustice and other inequities domestically, yet international solidarity in support of the Sudanese people is no less important now than it was during their struggle against dictatorship.

Dr. Stephen Zunes is a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, where he serves as coordinator of the program in Middle Eastern Studies. Recognized as one the country’s leading scholars of U.S. Middle East policy and of strategic nonviolent action, Professor Zunes serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus project of the Institute for Policy Studies, an associate editor of Peace Review, and a contributing editor of Tikkun.

For a quick post about a mural in Sudan thanking Stephen Zunes and NVI's longtime Executive Director Michael Beer, please see:

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Kuttab Brothers Debate the Future of Palestine

June 28, 5:00 PM Jerusalem time, 10:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Kuttab Brothers Debate the Future of Palestine:

Where are We Now and Where are We Going?

Register Here!

The situation in Palestine is becoming increasingly dire. Daily ferocious and deadly attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continue, alongside the blockade of humanitarian aid and medical care for those most in need. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, ongoing violence from settlers and the Israeli army against Palestinians persists, including harming civilians, land confiscation, and destruction of property. In Israel (1948 territories), Palestinians are facing unprecedented levels of discrimination and violence. 

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Joining us to answer these questions and many more are two brothers who have dedicated their lives to Palestinian liberation and peace.

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Jonathan Kuttab: Jonathan Kuttab is a leading human rights lawyer. In 1979, he co-founded Al Haq, the first international human rights legal organization in Palestine. Later, he co-founded the Palestinian Center for the Study of Non-Violence (now Nonviolence International) and also founded the Mandela Institute for Prisoners. Jonathan is a Palestinian Christian, past chair of the Bethlehem Bible College, and serves on the board of the Sabeel Ecumenical Theology Center in Jerusalem. Jonathan was part of the 1994 legal team for the Cairo agreement that resulted in the Oslo II Accord. He was a visiting scholar at Osgoode Law School at York University in Toronto in the Fall of 2017 and is a founding director of Just Peace Advocates Mouvement pour une Paix Juste, a Canadian-based international law human rights not-for-profit. Jonathan is a resident of East Jerusalem and a partner of the Kuttab, Khoury, and Hanna Law Firm in East Jerusalem.

Daoud Kuttab: Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and media activist. He is the former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Daoud Kuttab is currently the director general of Community Media Network (CMN), a not-for-profit media organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. CMN is registered in Jordan and Palestine and administers Radio al Balad in Amman and He is a regular columnist on Palestinian issues with Al-Monitor, Arab News, and writes frequently in the Washington Post, LA Times, Al Jazeera, New Arab, Newsweek, The New Republic, and other publications.

Born in Jerusalem in 1955, Daoud studied in the United States and has worked in journalism since 1980. He has received several international awards, among them: the CPJ Freedom of Expression Award, the IPI World Press Freedom Hero, the PEN Club USA Writing Freedom Award, the Leipzig Courage in Freedom Award, the Next Foundation Peace in Journalism Award, and the Japanese Peace Award for producing Shara'a Simsim, the Palestinian version of Sesame Street.

Join us for an insightful and compelling discussion on the current state and future of the Palestinian movement, political leadership, and the quest for a viable solution to the occupation. We will be taking a limited number of questions from the participants. 

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Direct Action by Solidarity Activists to Break the Siege


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This will be hosted by Sami Awad. Our impressive speakers updated us and answered our questions!

Freedom Flotilla-Ann Wright

Rabbis for a Ceasefire- Ilana Sumka

Host- Co-Director of Nonviolence International, Sami Awad

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Stop Arms to Israel

NVI is supporting efforts to pressure governments, most notably the USA, to halt its weapons transfers to Israel so as not to contribute to further war crimes and human rights abuses.

Control Arms (which has recently spun-off from NVI) issued a statement that calls on governments to abide by the Arms Trade Treaty.  US Pres. Trump withdrew from the ATT and the Biden administration has shamefully refused to re-sign.  NVI is proud to have supported Control Arms and the Arms Trade Treaty and encourages all to support this valuable citizens' network and this humanitarian disarmament treaty.

May 2024 - #Stop Sending Arms - Control Arms Statement on the Israel - Palestine Conflict

1. Control Arms, in partnership with the Ceasefire Now coalition of 688 NGOs, calls attention to the role of transferred weapons, parts, and ammunition in facilitating the atrocities taking place in Gaza, and demands a halt to these transfers and the immediate establishment of a ceasefire.

2. Israel’s bombardment and siege are depriving the civilian population of the basics to survive and rendering Gaza uninhabitable. Today, the civilian population in Gaza faces a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented severity and scale caused by systematic, deliberate destruction of the basics of life. Palestinian armed groups have indiscriminately fired rockets into Israel without concern for the protection of civilians and with open disregard for international humanitarian law (IHL). 

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Here is another coalition Letter to US State Department calling for a Halt of Weapons Transfers to Israel

For more information on Control Arms, here is a link to Control Arms work seeking to halt weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen. Otherwise, one can go to the website

Nonviolence Can Heal National Traumas, by Jonathan Kuttab

Dear reader,

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and more generalized trauma are not only personal and individual in character but often afflict whole nations and peoples. Frequently historical in nature, trauma can be passed down intergenerationally. 

One of the greatest examples of such trauma afflicting  humanity is that of the Holocaust, compounding the historical experience of centuries of persecution, hatred, and discrimination against Jewish people. This is a trauma that made it easy for many to succumb to the doctrines of Zionism, offering Jewish empowerment via Jewish supremacy in a Jewish-dominated state as the only cure for their ongoing suffering. It has made many easy prey for fascist doctrines, of belief in the value of violence and military overkill as the only path to survival. It has also made it difficult for many to take seriously any path towards peace and reconciliation that is not firmly rooted in their military power and supremacy. And while many cynically exploit the traumas of the Holocaust for political ends, there exists a genuine phenomenon of authentic fear that cries out for healing and needs to be addressed.

That rabbit hole of domination and “deterrence” will likely doom Israeli Jews to eternal strife and enmity with their neighbors, leading to ever increased militarization since in their traumatized state no amount of military power will ever be sufficient, and any attempt by Palestinians to resist that domination is only likely to reinforce the trauma. Similarly, all peace efforts will be viewed with deep suspicion and reticence, particularly if they require concessions that seem to reduce Israeli military domination or appear to make Israel weaker or more vulnerable to the risk of future attacks.

As a Palestinian, I am keenly aware of these traumas. I realize, however unjust it is, that our liberation is tied to the healing of our oppressors from the traumas of the past, for which we are the current victims.

Rubble from a destroyed school in Palestine

I am also aware that armed struggle by Palestinians, however legitimate under international law—and even if it were directed solely at armed soldiers and settlers—still risks reinforcing rather than healing the trauma.

In addition to this, we cannot forget that the Palestinians also have a long history of trauma, are now being traumatized, and are in great need healing, especially when the current genocide stops and the difficult process of rebuilding Gaza commences. Tens of thousands of orphans, bereaved families, over 70,000 wounded, and millions who have lost their homes require not only justice but also time and space to undertake a long process of healing.

I am also deeply conscious of how attractive the call to violence can be for oppressed and traumatized peoples. The events of October 7—apart from the attacks on civilians at the music festival and the kibbutzim as well as the taking of civilian hostages, which are properly to be condemned in no uncertain terms—were also viewed by many Palestinians as a brilliantly successful military operation whereby resistance fighters armed with primitive hand held weapons simultaneously breached the sophisticated walls imprisoning Gaza in 30 locations, captured two army bases, including the headquarters of the Gaza Battalion, killing 340 soldiers and capturing about 40 others, and carried the fight into the territory held by their enemies (rather than their own). Despite the massiveness of the Israeli retaliation and the utter destruction of Gaza, the events of that day will likely hold an appeal to those who preach armed resistance for many years to come.

So we clearly need to resist the siren call for violence, especially in our pursuit of justice. But what can we do to bring about some measure of healing to these deep traumas that are currently feeding the cycle of violence and without the healing of which, no peace is possible?

NVI's fiscal partner, Holy Land Trust along with FOSNA held an extensive series of trainings, attended by over 70 Palestinians in the West Bank, to work on the process of dealing with ongoing trauma. We are also committed to pursuing such healing globally. 

Another conversation between NVI's new Co-Director, Sami Awad and Gabor Mate “From Pain to Healing: Healing Collective Trauma in Israel/Palestine” deals with this problem as well. It is this healing process that is urgently needed by all sides, and it is one area that supporters of nonviolence, can be part of the solution.


Jonathan Kuttab, Co-Founder and Board Member

P.S.The Gaza Freedom Flotilla is delayed in Turkey, but another boat is headed from Sweden and is currently near Eurovision raising awareness of the ongoing blockade and siege of Gaza.


(Art Credit - Kayla Ginsburg - from CJNV)

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