Sudan’s transition to democracy back on track for now

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 a “partnership” between the military and the country’s civil powers.

Between the Oct. 25 coup and Sunday’s signing of a political agreement between Al-Burhan and Hamdok, more than 40 civilians lost their lives and the country quickly descended into chaos and economic paralysis.

One thing is for 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 over power 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’s control of the so-called Sovereignty Council reflects an innate fear of civilian rule that could result in the formation of fact-finding panels for potential crimes against humanity committed by the former regime, which relied on the military and armed militias loyal to ousted President Omar Bashir.

Those who are in charge of the military now, including the chief of the notorious and powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who is known as Hemetti, may well be implicated in war crimes if Bashir is handed over to the International Criminal Court. In addition, and as with most dictatorships, the top generals have benefited economically over the past 30 years and will resist any 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 — but that is a long time in politics.

The deal also calls for an investigation into the killing of protesters since Oct. 25 and that could complicate things for the military, as well as the civilian government. And it reinstated an empowerment removal committee that was created to dismantle the Bashir regime and restructure its security services and institutions. The military is wary of the powers of this committee and the extension of its investigations.

While Sunday’s agreement was welcomed by the US, the EU, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, among others, some key opposition powers in Sudan have rejected it. 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. In addition, the Sudanese Professionals’ Association also rejected the agreement and accused Hamdok of turning against the will of the people and legitimizing the coup.

It is not yet 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 and the restoration of international aid will calm people after a month of chaos and instability.

The formation of a new government and the restoration of international aid will calm people after a month of chaos and instability.

Osama Al-Sharif

Hamdok’s reputation is now at stake. He must not give in to pressure from Al-Burhan and his deputy, Hemetti, and should do his best to win back the confidence of the people. Any deviation from the 14-point agreement must not 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 of the resumption of his partnership with the military, he remains a credible figure for most Sudanese. He should not squander that credibility at any cost and must be brave enough to stand up to the military and make sure Al-Burhan honors his commitments this time. It is a risky and unpredictable journey that he now takes. For him to succeed, he needs the backing of Arab countries and the wider international community.

  • Osama Al-Sharif 

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