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Sudan coup conjures up ghosts of bloody past

Oct 26,2021 - Last updated at Oct 26,2021

It was a marriage of inconvenience to begin with and it is surprising that it lasted as long as it did. On Monday, the people of Sudan woke up to find that the military had arrested key civilian figures, including Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and members of his Cabinet, as well as representatives of the civilian faction of the Sovereignty Council, the highest governing body, which is headed by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Burhan. Hours of confusion followed as thousands of Khartoum residents took to the streets to denounce what can only be viewed as a military coup and a stark violation of the 2019 Constitutional Charter that was agreed upon by the Transitional Military Council and Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC).

The FFC is an alliance of political movements and parties and a coalition of rebel forces. It was formed following the December 2018 protests which culminated in the toppling of president Omar Al Bashir a few months later.

The Constitutional Charter called for a power sharing transitional period of three years until elections are held and civilian rule is established. Under that charter, a civilian transitional government was established, led by Hamdok in 2019. Also an Empowerment Removal Committee was created to dismantle the former regime of Al Bashir and restructure its security services and all its institutions.

The power sharing formula that the military and civilian faction had reached was supported by the West, primarily the United States, the African Union and the Arab League among others. But after six decades of mainly military rule, with rare exceptions, there was always the risk that the military, including the influential Rapid Support Force (RSF) paramilitary militia, would find ways to derail the democratic transition and end the shaky partnership.

And that is exactly what happened on Monday. After hours of confusion and chaos in Khartoum, where the military had cut off Internet and telephone services and set up barricades along bridges and key intersections, Al Burhan appeared on national TV to underline the new reality. Without saying so, the military council’s decisions amounted to a full-fledged coup. The decisions included declaring a national emergency, the disbanding of the Sovereignty Council, the Council of Ministers and the Empowerment Removal Committee, while suspending main articles in the Constitutional Charter all related to the power sharing agreement and the role of the civilian faction. He also fired governors and undersecretaries of ministries, while committing to the democratic transition and setting up a constitutional court.

The coup and the arrests of key civilian figures were condemned by the United States, which threatened to cut off aid, the European Union while the Arab League, the UN and the African Union expressed concern. Al Burhan, who vowed to set up an all inclusive government of qualified ministers, also committed to honouring the Sudanese Peace Agreement (Juba Agreement), which ended the war with South Sudan and the conflicts in Darfur and East Sudan), of August 2020 and to respecting the grievances of the people of East Sudan.

Two events had directly accelerated the junta’s decision to stage the coup. The first was the state of disobedience carried out by tribal leaders of the East Sudan, who had cut off the main highway to Khartoum and shut down the strategically important Port Sudan and the oil exporting port thus exasperating the harsh economic conditions across the country. In recent months the government had warned that it was running out of wheat, essential medicines and fuel. The tribal leaders of East Sudan had called for the firing of the transitional government for failing to abide by the Sudan Peace agreement in relation to ending the marginalisation of East Sudan, one of the richest provinces in minerals but also one of the poorest. 

The second event was the marking of the October 1964 revolution last Thursday when thousands of Sudanese took to the street demanding civilian rule. The military took notice that there have been growing rifts inside the Forces for Freedom and Change as various factions began competing among themselves and jockeying for control and power. The politicians blame the military for failing to honour their side of the bargain in securing the country, while the military pointed to the government’s failure in arresting inflation and unemployment.

In all cases, the next chapter in the turbulent history of this country is uncertain with all options possible, including civil war and even attempts to cede, especially in East Sudan. This is bad news for neighbouring countries, including Egypt, which needs a stable Sudan as it puts pressure on Ethiopia to reach a settlement over the filling of that country’s controversial Nile dam.

Since its independence in 1956, Sudan’s complex tribal, racial, ideological and religious fissures have fuelled a number of military coups and civil wars. In 1985 and following labour protests against the autocratic rule of Jaafar Nemeiry, a military coup was carried out by Gen. Suwar Al Dahab, who promised to hand over rule to a civilian government in one year after holding elections, which he did exactly. That was the exception, and the question is can the military junta be trusted to do the same in July 2023?

 

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

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