Liena El-Lahawi is a first year BA International Relations student at King’s College London, and the Sub-Saharan Africa Editor for IR Today. Her article explores the recently agreed upon power-sharing agreement in her native Sudan and the future challenges the nation may face in implementing this accord.
Sudan Uprising: Deal or No Deal?
Following months of incessant negotiations between the military council and civilian representatives, Sudan has finally embarked on a new political journey, paving the way for modern democracy after a three-year transitional period. While on the surface, the constitutional deal appears beneficial to Sudan’s domestic governance, the reality is that the tyrannical regime of former President Omar Al-Bashir is still very much alive, which raises the question: should the accord be nationally accepted or should protest activity persist?
The Agreement: A Roadmap For Change?
The Forces of Freedom and Change coalition (FFC), an amalgam of political, civilian and rebel groups, has been at the forefront of coordinating national protests and, more significantly, of dialogue with the transitional military council (TMC). At its core, the declaration outlines the conditions of the 36-month transitional period, to be ruled by a sovereign council composed of an 11-member governing body: five military generals and six civilians. Ministries of defence and interior are to be appointed by the military, while the remaining are to be decided upon by the incoming civilian leader. A major aspect of the deal is that the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), controlled by General Hemedti, the TMC’s second in command, will now fall under the general command of the armed forces allowing for their departure from the streets of Sudan. Although it has its flaws, this transitional period is deemed a victory for the opposition given that the TMC had threatened with immediate elections following the June 3 massacre in an attempt to disguise its unlawful actions and consolidate its rule. It is the civilian rulers which are presented with a crucial task here: negotiating with despots and feeling the pressure to maintain the fragile balance of power between the two factions. Otherwise, Sudan might risk yet another military coup in its political future.
Regional reactions: The Saudi Elephant in the Room
After Al-Bashir was overthrown, three Arab states sponsored the military junta consisting of the former president’s ruling elite: Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. The former two sent $3 billion worth of aid to Sudan back in April, permitting Hemedti to continue supplying over 8,000 Sudanese troops fighting alongside the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, while the latter provided diplomatic cover for the TMC at the African Union.
In the course of the negotiations, the two Gulf nations, acting as the TMC’s primary supporters, urged Hemedti to sign the agreement given that the regime was responsible for the deaths of peaceful protestors. Not only does this introduce an element of inconsistency, given the fact that Saudi Arabia had no intention of allowing the revolution to achieve its central goal of a civilian government, but one must also consider why the Kingdom is so invested in Sudan’s domestic affairs. Aside from the fact Sudan is lending them a hand in Yemen’s civil war, regime change appears an immense threat to Riyadh as it opens the door for democracy and freedom of expression, which, according to the Saudis, poses a threat to stability across the region.
More significant was the notable omission of Islam from the new constitutional declaration. Throughout Al-Bashir’s 30 year rule religion was frequently used as a political justification for the brutality of the regime, particularly aided by ideological hardliner Al-Turabi’s influence in the 1990s. The idea of the Islamic nature of political rule in Sudan being challenged through revolutionary ideas is highly unsettling to Saudi Arabia, strengthening their grounds to remain preoccupied by the African country’s domestic situation.
Moving Forward: Healing the Divide
At last, the two parties have come together and produced a seemingly successful outome. However, the challenge is not reaching the agreement, but implementing it, particularly when the established military-political elite has continually demonstrated that they have no intention of doing so. From April 6 onwards, it has been evident the TMC has a single objective: obtaining power over Sudan and maintaining that power for as long as possible. Thus it will be an immense challenge for Sudan to completely rid itself of military rule within the coming years, particularly taking into consideration the ‘deep state’ imposed on the country during Al-Bashir’s thirty-year rule. According to the deal, during their ruling period the new civilian government holds the responsibility of providing the Sudanese people with democratic peace, economic welfare and overall security, conditions which Sudan severely lacked in the past decades. The “new Sudan”, as we put it, aims to rebuild the nation thoroughly, not only politically via new legislation and physically via improved infrastructure, but also culturally through embracing our African heritage and reshaping our Sudanese identity.
“Freedom, peace and justice” was the first slogan to come out of the revolution, yet justice has still not been fulfilled. Justice for those martyred and who shed their blood fighting for a better Sudan, for those mentally traumatised and for families who still have their loved ones missing following the June 3 massacre. But how we can achieve justice for the fallen, while those who have committed the murders are the same people ruling the state? Many will not rest until the individuals who have committed war crimes are judicially trialled, namely former President Al-Bashir along with his lieutenants Haroun and Hemedti. Whether this day will come is unknown, however, it will undoubtedly be a momentous day for the victims of a savage regime across the whole of Sudan.
Whether celebrations are in order or not, is a topic which many Sudanese are debating. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that the formation of this transitional council is an immense step in Sudan’s political history, having been abused by nothing but dictatorial leaders in the past decades. And while citizens continue to yearn for a fully civilian-led government, Al-Bashir’s regime is so deeply entrenched into Sudan that it will take more than 8 months of continuous protesting to entirely eliminate it and its grave footprint. Despite being challenged by obstacles, protestors have continued to demonstrate resilience and dedication to achieving their demands, rendering Sudan’s revolution particularly victorious.