Sudan…New Crisis, Various Possibilities

Will Sudan Correct its Course or Slip Further into Danger?
Sudan's top army general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan speaks during a press conference at the General Command of the Armed Forces in Khartoum on October 26, 2021. (Photo by Ashraf SHAZLY / AFP)

Head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan presented in a televised speech on Tuesday a general framework of the country’s orientation during a new transitional phase.

This action completes the first transitional phase Sudan launched more than two years after a popular uprising that forced the removal of longtime president Omar al-Bashir in order to preserve the national state.

However, the past period has witnessed failures and obstacles for various reasons. These include the legacy of the previous regime and its failure to build a strong state, the conflicts among Sudanese political forces that participated in managing this phase, as well as the foreign interventions aimed at misleading the Sudanese state.

Failures have led to the deterioration of living conditions as well as the citizens’ inability to provide for their basic needs.

Many people took the streets to denounce this government’s failure and stress the importance of putting an end to the power struggles and the personal gains achieved.

Last week, mass demonstrations flooded the streets requesting the military establishment to intervene to control the political and economic situation in an attempt to save the state.

Sudan has been failing to maintain its territorial integrity and political control over all its regions, in addition to its escalating crisis with Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s unilateral construction of the Renaissance Dam without reaching a binding legal agreement with the Nile basin countries, and the border conflict over the Sudanese border area of Al-Fashqa are the main subjects of a bilateral dispute.

In light of these developments, attempts have been made to mend the rift between members of the Sovereign Council and to reach understandings that would restore calm and improve the worsening living conditions of Sudanese citizens.

Nevertheless, these attempts have failed, stressed Burhan who told a press conference that the military presented three options to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to resolve the country’s political crisis, all of which were rejected by the main opposition Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change (FDFC) alliance.

Prime Minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdok (EPA/OMER MESSINGER)

He pointed out that an FDFC minister and leader even incited a coup within the armed forces.

“The recent political division threatens Sudan’s safety and security,” the top general noted, adding that he discussed with Jeffrey Feltman, special envoy for the Horn of Africa, the means of resolving the differences between the political forces and the army.

“We also discussed with Hamdok the expansion of political participation until the last night before the events.”

During talks with Hamdok, Burhan highlighted the importance of a national consensus and expansion of the participant base, excluding the National Congress Party.

But all these efforts did not yield the desired results, he said, prompting the military to seize power from the transitional government to save the Sudanese state.

On Monday, the military dissolved Hamdok’s transitional government as well as the Sovereign Council, a power-sharing body of military officers and civilians that had been ruling Sudan since late 2019.

Burhan announced that the military would hold power until elections can be held in July 2023. Declaring a state of emergency, the top military official said a caretaker government of technocrats would convene until elections are held.

Since August 2019, a transitional government -- comprised of civilians and military officials -- had taken over the reins of power in Sudan.

Following Bashir’s removal, a government was formed under a 39-month power sharing agreement between the military and civilian groups.

The Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the FDFC signed the agreement, which provided for the establishment of a joint civilian-military sovereign council that would rule Sudan while elections were being organized.

A military leader would head the 11-member Sovereign Council for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian leader for the next 18 months, the declaration read.

According to the agreement, the opposition coalition was allowed to choose five members of the council and the military another five, with the two sides jointly choosing a civilian as an eleventh member. The agreement required that two members should be women, with one of them a Coptic Christian.

After signing the peace agreement in October 2020, Burhan issued a constitutional decree in February to add three new members to the council.

The decree stipulated the appointment of Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) chairman and leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement-Transitional Council (SLM-TC) El Hadi Idris, Head of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N Malik Agar) and Head of the Sudan Liberation Movement for Justice-Karbino (SLMJ-K) El Taher Hajar.

 

However, despite all the efforts made, the situation continued to deteriorate threatening a new civil war, which required intervention to save the country from the escalating events that threatened its stability and territorial integrity.

These developments raise many questions, most notably: What roadmap will the Sovereign Council adopt to ensure stability? What are the stances of various Sudanese parties on the recent developments? What are the future scenarios for the Sudanese state?

In order to answer these questions, the report reviews three axes as follows:

One: Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and an Obscure Roadmap

The close reading of Burhan’s televised speech reveals a roadmap for completing the transitional phase. It includes the following:

-           Dissolving all steering committees in all state institutions, unions, professional federations and general unions of national employers, provided that the decision is implemented from the date of its issuance on October 26, 2021.

-           Freezing the work of the Empowerment Removal Committee until its work is reviewed. The committee was established in implementation of a law approved by the Sudanese cabinet, based on the text of Article 8, clause 15, of the constitutional declaration. The attorney general’s office was charged with dismantling the system built by Bashir after his ouster in April 2019. It oversees investigations into crimes involving public funds and corruption by the former president and members of his extended family and old regime.

-           Forming justice councils to be able to manage the transitional phase. “The armed forces cannot complete the transitional phase alone. We need the participation of the Sudanese people,” Burhan stressed.

-           Ensuring members of the legislative council are from the youth of the revolution, in preparation for completing the transitional phase that ends with the formation of a civilian government.

-           Forming a sovereign council and a government including all components, appointing a new prime minister and appointing a minister from each Sudanese state in the next government.

-           Retaining all the privileges contained in the Juba peace agreement.

Despite the articles included in this roadmap, it remains unclear how it would be implemented as it lacks the mechanisms that the Sudanese state would pursue to form the councils to which it referred. Unless the parties reach understandings in this regard, the situation may worsen.

Military-aligned demonstrators gathered in numbers, chant "Down with the government of hunger" in front of the Presidential palace in Khartoum, Sudan, October 16, 2021. REUTERS/El Tayeb Siddig/File Photo

Two: The Sudanese Crisis and Reactions

Various international, regional and local reactions to the recent crisis were expected, although they all agree that the situation could not continue at the same pace. They indicated that Sudan is on the verge of a real catastrophe that brings to mind the civil wars it has suffered over the past decades. In this regard, Burhan said it was incumbent on the armed forces to act to halt “incitement to chaos and violence”.

However, local reactions varied. The Sudan information ministry, which is still loyal to the ousted premier, said that “the transitional constitution gives only the prime minister the right to declare a state of emergency.” Hamdok is still the legitimate transitional authority, it stressed, noting that the constitutional document does not give any party other than the Legislative Council the right to dissolve the transitional institutions.

Regional reactions focused on urging parties to exercise restraint and fully abide by the 2019 constitutional declaration.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit urged all parties to “fully abide” by the constitutional declaration signed in August 2019 and the Juba peace deal signed in 2020.

The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on all Sudanese parties to be responsible, prioritize the national interest and exercise restraint. Similarly, the Saudi Foreign Ministry statement reiterated that the Kingdom will continue to stand by the brotherly Sudanese people and support everything that achieves security, stability and prosperity in their country.

In a foreign ministry statement, the United Arab Emirates underscored the importance of preserving the political and economic gains that have been achieved as well as all policies that aim to protect Sudan’s sovereignty and unity, adding that it will continue standing by the brotherly Sudanese people.

At the international level, the governments of the United States, Britain and Norway condemned the “coup” in Sudan, saying they were deeply concerned about the situation in the country. They called on security forces to release those who were detained unlawfully, according to a joint statement released by the US State Department.

In early August, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had announced allocating $700 million in aid to support Sudan’s democratic transition. However, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the US is immediately pausing delivery of the $700 million in emergency economic support funds to Sudan.

Other international parties refrained from describing the recent events as a “coup” and issued statements similar to some Arab countries in terms of urging Sudanese parties to exercise restraint and abide by the agreements signed by all parties.

Russia is concerned with the situation in Sudan and urges all parties to exercise restraint, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “The people of Sudan must resolve the situation in the country on their own and we wish for this to happen as quickly as possible and without any loss of human lives,” he told a briefing.

These differences among international parties in describing the situation in Sudan were reflected in the UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday, which failed to issue a joint statement in this regard.

Speaking at his first news conference since announcing the takeover, Burhan said the military’s action did not amount to a coup. “The dangers we witnessed last week could have led the country into civil war,” he said, an apparent reference to demonstrations against the prospect of a coup.

“We do not want guardianship from anyone, and we know how to manage Sudan’s affairs,” he said.

Hamdok, who was arrested on Monday along with other members of his cabinet, had not been harmed and had been brought to Burhan’s own home, the general said. “The prime minister was in his house. However, we were afraid that he’d be in danger so he has been placed with me in my home.”

Third: Sudan and Possible Scenarios

Although Burhan’s step has sparked various reactions, yet it reassured the Sudanese people, who have been recently facing a danger threatening their state and its cohesion due to the division among parties.

This suggests three possible scenarios:

First, an optimist scenario. It shows that the country, led by the Military Council, will get through the critical phase and hold general elections.

This scenario could only be achieved if the state proves its ability to extend its hegemony across the country, collect weapons from all armed groups and restore control over the security situation, paving the way for a better economy and enhanced living conditions.

Burhan was keen to stress in his televised speech that the armed forces will cooperate with all parties to build Sudan, noting that the army has made all possible concessions to achieve the aspirations of the Sudanese people.

Second, a pessimist scenario. It shows that the country will face more turmoil and chaos and a possible civil war, in light of the spread of weapons and armed groups.  According to this scenario, the Military Council will fail to get through this critical phase because of mass pressure, the political forces’ opposing stance and the complicated Sudanese-Ethiopian relations.

In short, the ruling council will face more internal and external pressures that it will not be able to resist.

Third, scenario of an unchanged status quo. It indicates that the country will continue to run in a vicious circle of tension between the Military Council and the political forces that reject its decisions, supported by internal armed groups and external parties that have an agenda of interests. It means extending the transitional period to an unspecified date, during which Sudan will experience both calm and tension.

Finally, attaining any of these three scenarios depends on several factors, especially if Burhan actually works on “correcting the course of the transition,” as he said.

Some of these factors rely on the Military Council’s ability to manage its ties with the political forces and state institutions, while addressing the economic crisis.

Some other major factors are the international and regional stances on the situation in Sudan, as well as the interests of external parties that have links with Sudanese parties at home and their influence on the course of the actions and their developments.

In this context, Egypt seems to be playing the most balanced role in helping the Sudanese to overcome the crisis and achieve what the parties had agreed upon during the transitional period or even reach new understandings on how to manage this phase, which Burhan promised it would result in a stable state.

 

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Who is Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan?


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