For such a young revolution, the Sudanese uprising already has many potential anniversaries. On 11 April, it deposed the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir after almost 30 years of rule. Twenty-four hours later, on the 12th, it dispatched his successor, Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf. And then came 3 June, a day marked in blood on the uprising’s calendar, when the army and the Janjaweed militia launched a dawn massacre across the country targeting peaceful protesters.
But that was not enough to halt the revolution, a movement determined to secure a civilian government. After 3 June the leaders of the protest faced two options: continue a war of attrition against a government whose default setting was kill first and victim-blame later; or stem the bloodshed, sign an agreement, then pray that the military could be persuaded to hand over power slowly, like a stubborn child with a rattle. They took the second route.
Another key date now looms. The trial of Bashir is scheduled to start on 17 August. On the same day, a signing ceremony between the transitional military council (TMC) and civilian leaders is set to be witnessed by foreign dignitaries. There has been little coverage of Bashir’s trial, a consequence of an eventful few months during which it has become clear his removal was only the start. It seemed hugely consequential at the time, but in hindsight it made barely a dent in the ex-president’s military-security complex. Few would have believed, when the news of his removal broke, that Bashir in jail and on trial would be reduced to a footnote of the revolution.
But again, Bashir is not really gone. He has only been replaced by those who stood in the shadows behind him, in the form of the military council. So the Sudanese can be excused for being jaundiced. His imprisonment is less a punitive measure than a face-saving exercise. There are no Mubarak-and-sons-type pictures of him behind bars in hessian, camera lights flashing in his bewildered face. The TMC could not even stage that. Instead the only pictures of Bashir that have emerged are those where he is clean-shaven, dapperly dressed, flanked by security guards and a scampering entourage. When his mother died, he was released to attend her funeral. The motorcade that escorted him was one I don’t even remember seeing when he was in power.
The charges he faces are a perfunctory gesture towards accountability. After 30 years of ethnically targeted massacres, extrajudicial torture and executions, Bashir has been charged with a single count of corruption based on a stash of cash found in his house when he was detained. This isn’t some clever attempt to nail Bashir on a technicality, like the IRS with Al Capone, because the meatier stuff won’t stick. It is an extension of his amnesty. The trial has already been delayed once; it is likely to be put off again.
So as a measure of the success of the revolution so far, 17 August does not augur well. The shadow of the Arab Spring looms. A cynic could point to the fact that in Egypt Hosni Mubarak is at home, acquitted of all charges, and his democratically elected successor, Mohamed Morsi, is dead, ground down by poor treatment in solitary confinement. But when regimes are so entrenched, when state capture is so complete, there is no clear, swift outcome. The word revolution itself may not apply. The prospect is more of a piecemeal erosion followed by rebuilding.
Even though the lives lost haunt the agreement between civilians and the military council, there is already a sense that, while the main gate to the presidential palace may be closed for the time being, windows of political change are opening.
Before Bashir’s removal there was virtually no politics as such. After it, even though the site of the sit-in has been scorched, that energy has not been destroyed. It has merely been spread out into a street movement that proved, in the middle of an internet blackout, that it can group and regroup by word of mouth. The energy can be found in the heart of residential neighbourhoods, where mismatched house furniture is dragged on to the street and makeshift stages and sound equipment set up for activists to speak. It can be found online, where the protests’ martyrs are eulogised. It can be found in the lone individuals who chant “Civilian!”, maintaining the demand for a people’s government, in the faces of military leaders and their security guards as they make their way around Khartoum. The tension seems untenable. There are only two choices for the military government now: go down the Egyptian path and rule by way of utter brutality, sleeping with one eye open all the time in a police state, cursed by insecurity; or compromise.
When Bashir was in power, whenever one of his ministers was caught being incompetent or corrupt and had to resign, he was fond of rubbing the people’s noses in the fact that his cohort would face no real punishment. He called resignations “a jihadi’s rest”, and the ministers were simply reassigned to be corrupt elsewhere. The same could be said of the Sudanese uprising: it is resting until it is called upon again. The revolution’s chant has changed from “Just fall” to “Our martyrs have not died, they live with the revolutionaries.”
• Nesrine Malik is a Guardian columnist