Sudan experienced two inspirational popular uprisings that brought down military dictatorships, but the ‘Arab Spring’ passed it by. This paper analyses social movements and armed resistance within the dualistic structure of Sudan’s centre and periphery. A pattern of alternating military and parliamentary government has been superceded by a militarised political marketplace, in which patrons and clients bargain over temporary loyalties, alongside secessionist movements and a residual urban civic activism. The paper examines the popular uprisings of 1964 and 1985, examining their short-term success but long-term failure, and reviews the last 20 years’ of abortive efforts to stage a ‘third intifada’, noting the difficulties of simultaneously pursuing civic uprising and armed insurrection, and of aligning the objectives of liberal democracy and ethnic self-determination.