The framework agreement is Sudan’s best chance

Sudan's Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (C R) and paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (C L) lift documents alongside civilian leaders following the signing of an initial deal aimed at ending a deep crisis caused by last year's military coup, in the capital Khartoum on December 5, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

Osama Al Sharif

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

sMore than a year after the military broke a tense partnership with civilian factions in Sudan by toppling a transitional government, the two sides have signed a framework agreement in Khartoum, on Monday, aimed at putting the country back on the road to civilian rule. اضافة اعلان

Since October 2019 dozens of pro-democracy protesters have been gunned down by the ruling junta, hundreds were injured, and the country’s economy took a nosedive. The so-called Sovereignty Council could do little to salvage the economy, stamp out separatist movements and end Sudan’s international isolation.

At first, the main civilian opposition bloc of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) rebuffed all invitations to have a dialogue. The FCC emerged following the 2019 popular uprising that ended the three-decade authoritarian rule of Omar Bashir. With no one to talk to, the military found itself at an impasse. Finally both sides agreed to talk through a Tripartite Mechanism of the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the UN. The efforts were supported by the EU, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and, to some extent, the US, UK and Egypt.

Rejecting a compromise were two opposite sides: remnants of the Bashir regime and other popular groups that were not part of the FFC but were asking for what became known as transitional justice: holding the military accountable for breaking the initial deal, the constitutional declaration, and carrying out a coup, and for killing and injuring the protesters. Those outside the FCC had organized themselves under the umbrella of the “Call of the People of Sudan” platform. Their supporters held protests in the capital as the military and the FCC signed the framework agreement.

Also against the agreement were the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), led by Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu, and the Sudan Liberation Movement of Abdel Wahid Al-Nur.

The framework agreement seeks to review the Juba agreement in order to lure the two factions to join the deal at a later stage.

A grouping made up of the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the UK welcomed Monday’s deal, saying that they were working with partners “to coordinate significant economic support”.

Basically, Monday’s agreement will hand over power to an entirely civilian, non-partisan, transitional government. A prime minister will be chosen independently and once named, a 24-month transitional phase will culminate in legislative elections.
The transitional government will have a lot to deal with: a broken economy, biting inflation, unemployment, restoring international aid and reuniting a fractured country.
The head of the military, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, promised that the army will return to the barracks and will not interfere in the running of the country. His vice president, Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemetti, supposedly the man behind the real power in Sudan who controls the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF), signed the deal under which the RSF will be incorporated into the armed forces. The agreement stipulates that the prime minister is also the supreme commander of the armed forces.

From now on it is going to be an uphill struggle as the civilian powers seek to iron out differences and agree on a prime minister. The transitional government will have a lot to deal with: a broken economy, biting inflation, unemployment, restoring international aid and reuniting a fractured country. Two years before an election is held is also a long time in politics. But considering the alternative, it remains Sudan’s best shot.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the so-called transitional justice that includes putting Bashir and his lieutenants on trial but also seeking accountability for the killing of hundreds of pro-democracy protesters by the military.

Sweetening the deal for the junta was the drafting of a provisional constitution by the Bar Association, last August, that provided immunity to the army’s top brass. This will continue to be a bone of contention between the FCC and other civilian groups. Not granting such immunity would have been a deal breaker.

Other caveats have to do with Hemetti losing control over the RSF — something that he is unlikely to allow to happen.

The signing ceremony on Monday is but one small step toward full civilian rule — something that Sudan has not had for decades. A more detailed agreement is to be signed in a few weeks’ time and the waiting process is going to be aggravating for millions.

Meanwhile, the civilian coalition will have to become broader and invite those outside in order to give credence to the transitional period. Attempts to initiate a dialogue between the FCC and the so-called Democratic Bloc, which includes leaders of militias, have not succeeded.

As the army returns to the barracks, as promised by both Burhan and Hemetti, the onus falls on the civilian leaders to find common ground and make sure that Sudan rids itself of a bleak legacy of dictatorship and military rule.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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