Sudan — transition to democracy ‘take two’

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok looks on during a deal-signing ceremony with top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (unseen) to restore the transition to civilian rule in the country in the capital Khartoum, on November 21, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
One month after staging what can only be described as a coup, Sudan’s chief military commander, Gen. Abdul Fattah Al-Burhan, reinstated ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and agreed to recommit to the 2019 Constitutional Charter and to a “partnership” between the military and the country’s civil powers. Between the October 25 coup and Sunday’s signing of a political agreement between Burhan and Hamdok more than 40 civilians lost their lives while the country descended quickly into chaos and economic paralysis.اضافة اعلان

One thing is sure, the military’s compromise came as a result of a bold rejection by the Sudanese people of a return to authoritarian rule and an attempt by the military to break free from a commitment to hand overrule to an elected civilian government following a period of transition. The military tried to put the blame for the coup on Hamdok and his government, but following daily protests and international condemnation, it was forced to bring Hamdok back and free political prisoners.

The military control of the so-called Sovereignty Council reflects an innate fear of civilian rule that may result in forming fact-finding panels to judge crimes against humanity committed by the former regime, which relied on the military and armed militias loyal to ousted president Omar Al-Bashir. Those who are in charge of the military now, including the chief of the notorious and powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemetti), may well be implicated in war crimes if Bashir is handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In addition, and as with most dictatorships, top generals have benefited economically in the past 30 years and will resist moves that would deny them such benefits.

But even as Hamdok is reinstated and will now form a representative Cabinet of technocrats, the military is still in charge and could step in at any given moment to disrupt the transition. The political deal recommits to a transitional period that would culminate in holding elections in 2023, and that is a long time in politics. The deal also calls for an investigation into the killing of protesters since October 25, and that could complicate things for the military as well as the civilian government. It also reinstated an empowerment removal committee that was created to dismantle the Bashir regime and restructure its security services and institutions. The military is weary of the powers of this committee and the extension of its investigations.

While Sunday’s agreement was welcomed by the US, the EU, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, among others, some key opposition powers in Sudan rejected it, describing Hamdok as traitor to the cause and of committing political suicide. Chief among these powers is the military’s old partner, the Forces for Freedom and Change, which is a coalition of political movements and parties that played a key part in toppling Bashir. The Sudanese Professional Association also rejected the agreement and accused Hamdok of turning against the will of the people and legitimizing the coup.

It is not clear if opposition to the deal will drive people back to the streets. The day after the signing of the agreement Khartoum appeared quiet and life was returning to normal. Certainly the formation of a new government, along with the restoration of international aid, will calm people after a month of chaos and instability.

Hamdok’s reputation is now at stake. He must not give in to pressure from Burhan and his deputy, Hemetti, and should do his best to win back the confidence of the people. No deviation from the 14-point agreement must be tolerated. Among the burning issues that must be addressed are the formation of a legislative council and a constitutional court. The more civilian-run institutions are created the less power the military will have. Forming such independent institutions will make it difficult for the military council to carry out another coup or attempt to derail the democratic transition.

Despite opposition to Hamdok’s acceptance to resume his partnership with the military, he remains a credible figure for a majority of Sudanese. He should not squander that credibility at any cost and must be brave enough to stand up to the military and make sure that Burhan honors his commitments this time. It is a risky and unpredictable journey that he now takes, and for him to succeed, he needs the backing of Arab countries as well as of the international community.   

Osama Al Sharif is chief editor of Jordan News.

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