Before rival factions of the army began clashing, the people of Sudan were already facing multiple crises: rising inflation, escalating unemployment levels and mounting hunger.
And then on Saturday, they woke up to heavy gunfire and explosions as the army battled with a large paramilitary force in areas across the capital, Khartoum, and other cities. The clashes came after 17 months of military rule, civilian protests and interminable political wrangling over how the northeastern African nation will transition to democratic rule.
“The generals are fighting over resources and influence,” said Bassam Mohamed, 23, an engineering student who resides in the southern Jabra neighborhood of Khartoum. Mr. Mohamed, who has regularly participated in protests against the military, said he and his brother had been worried and had sheltered at home all day. During an interview, sporadic gunshots could be heard in the background.
“We are fearful,” Mr. Mohamed said. “The situation will get worse in every possible way in Sudan, especially if the clashes develop into a civil war.”
Other Sudanese said they had been anticipating the unfortunate turn of events. In recent weeks, tensions had been simmering between Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the chief of the army, and Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces, a powerful paramilitary force.
“I am not surprised at all,” said Galal Yousif, a Sudanese artist in Khartoum. “Unfortunately, on the one side is a militia force and on the other side is a general who is making the national army into a militia so that it could help him stay in power.”
The latest clashes, he said, undermine the efforts of all the Sudanese people who went into the streets to fight for democracy during the 2019 popular uprising. “It is like it happened for nothing,” he said.
Others were caught off guard by the violence. Nisrin Elamin, an American and Sudanese citizen, had arrived in the country only two weeks ago with her 3-year-old daughter to conduct academic research. It was her child’s first trip to the country. They were awakened on Saturday morning to the sound of heavy gunfire.
“We just looked out the window and there was this cloud of smoke over Khartoum,” said Ms. Elamin, who had just broken her Ramadan fast when she spoke over the phone Saturday evening. “We were hearing these kinds of missile-like sounds. It shook the whole building.”
Ms. Elamin said her plans had now been upended. She said her family has been without electricity since Saturday morning, and was relying on their building’s backup generator to keep their phones charged.
Others couldn’t believe it was really happening despite rumblings over recent days. Huda, who asked that her full name not be used out of security concerns, said she had long heard rumors of a potential conflict, but that what happened on Saturday was bigger than anything she could have imagined.
She said her family has been “imprisoned” because their home in Khartoum’s Arkaweet neighborhood sits between two major flash points — to the north is the embattled airport, and to the south is Soba Camp, where much of the fighting began.
At times, the sounds of gunfire and explosions were so close that, Huda said, it felt as if it was coming from next door. Several bullets had landed in the open-air courtyard in the center of her house. No one was hurt, because she, her husband and their children hid in interior rooms all day, with the gates and doors shut.
“We’re not even able to look around outside of the house,” she said, “because you don’t know what is going to happen next.”
The sense of uncertainty only grew as night fell. Makuoi Agany Dong, a 21-year-old living in southern Khartoum, has watched the situation deteriorate on television and social media all day after waking up to the sound of gunshots so loud that he immediately knew something was wrong. When he stepped outside, “the whole city was just war,” he said.
Mr. Dong, who left South Sudan as a teenager to pursue an education, said the fighting was especially upsetting for him as a young person. He said doesn’t know whether he is expected to report to his job as a translator and security guard at the Russian Embassy in the morning, but that he does know the fighting isn’t over.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “there might be war again.”