KHARTOUM, Sudan — Once a camel trader who led a militia accused of genocidal violence in Darfur, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan now sits at the pinnacle of power in Sudan, overlooking the scorched streets from his wood-paneled office high up in the military’s towering headquarters.
From his office in the capital, Khartoum, he can see the site where his unit, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, cleared thousands of pro-democracy protesters in a storm of violence that began on June 3.
The heavily armed troops burned tents, raped women and killed dozens of people, some dumped in the Nile, according to numerous accounts from protesters and witnesses.
The blood bath consolidated the vertiginous rise of General Hamdan, widely known as Hemeti, who by most reckonings is now the de facto ruler of Sudan. To many Sudanese he is proof of a depressing reality: Although they ousted one dictator in April, the brutal system he left behind is determined to guard its power.
“We thought this might happen,” said Alaa Salah, 22, the woman dressed in white who led chants from atop a car and brought the world’s attention to Sudan’s revolution. “For years Hemeti killed and burned in Darfur. Now Darfur has come to Khartoum.”
Alaa Salah during a protest against then-President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan in April.
Lana H. Haroun
Alaa Salah during a protest against then-President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan in April.CreditLana H. Haroun
For years, General Hamdan was an enforcer for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the brutal dictator who led Sudan for 30 years. When protesters filled the streets in April, roaring for Mr. al-Bashir’s ouster, the military toppled him.
[Read about the upcoming court appearance of Mr. al-Bashir, who is expected to face charges of corruption and possessing foreign currency.]
General Hamdan, claiming to support the revolution, abandoned his patron.
But when the protesters refused to disperse, demanding an immediate transition to civilian rule, the generals refused to budge. With power-sharing talks stalled on June 3, the Rapid Support Forces began their crackdown.
‘They Were Shooting Directly at People’: Scenes of Protest in Sudan
Security forces opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in Khartoum, Sudan, early Monday. The protesters are demanding a transition to civilian rule after the ouster of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.CreditCreditAshraf Shazly/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Sudanese doctors put the toll at 118 dead.
With international pressure building, General Hamdan, 45, wants to present himself as Sudan’s savior, not its destroyer.
“If I did not come to this position, the country would be lost,” he told The New York Times in a rare interview with a Western journalist.