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Sudan: Settlements without Solutions

Sudan: Settlements without Solutions

Wednesday, 17 July, 2019 - 17:15

The last few hours were heavy going, as everyone concerned awaited the hoped for “agreement” between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the ‘Forces of Freedom and Change’ (FFC). Everyone concerned was hopeful yet apprehensive lest another obstacle emerging, just as we have been witnessing in the past weeks.

It is quite likely that all are seeking a settlement that would accomplish the change they say they desire. However, it is also likely that optimism in achieving decisive solutions has receded significantly, since some facts became obvious, such as:

1- Despite the solid core, the diverse alliance leading the popular movement, represented by the FFC, looks fragile; which is normal in a diverse country like the Sudan, that is home to a broad spectrum of ideological, tribal, partisan, and regional affinities. Moreover, this does not discount the possibility of the presence of embedded groups within the FFC who continue to be loyal to the “deep state”, of which they were – at certain times – prominent pillars and part of its “legitimacy”.

2- The TMC has its own political concept, widespread in the “culture” of the military all over the world, as regards “protecting the homeland”, “defending the constitution” and safeguarding “national harmony”, etc. Thus, the TMC’s insistence on enjoying what it defines as its right in presiding over the “sovereignty council” – in charge of strategic security issues – seems to be unnegotiable.

3- The element of trust, necessary for political negotiations, was badly damaged by the bloody events associated with breaking the people’s stand in, starting from Colombia neighborhood in Khartoum. Indeed, trust was further undermined by threats by the TMC, which held military elements “linked” to the “former regime” responsible for the bloody events. Then, it was almost eroded when groups raising Islamist slogans protested against the FFC, accusing it of excluding Islamist groups from its campaign as well as from the negotiations.

4- Demonstrations and stand-ins were not sufficient to bring down the rule of General Omar Hassan al-Bashir, but were rather helped by senior officers’ rising against him. However, a large section in the popular movement believes that the “revolt” was nothing but a change at the top. This section is convinced that after three decades in power, Al-Bashir became a liability for his own regime, so it was beneficial for it to “reinvent” itself.

The above-mentioned facts are more than enough to create a “crisis of trust” that does not allow for more than cautious realistic settlements. Trust cannot be created overnight, especially in the current internal and external conditions the Sudan is going through.

Internally, regardless of Bashir’s direct responsibility for the secession of the South Sudan and the bloodshed in Darfur – for which he was indicted by the International Criminal Court for “crimes against humanity” –, one can point to political and economic problems that plagued his regime.

Among the leading political problems were Bashir’s losing the loyalty of many key colleagues in the army command. This happened after his decision to unconstitutionally run for re-election, and later removing several senior officers and politician from key military and party positions.

As for the economic problems, they were highly influential in fueling popular resentment and anger. In January 2018, the government raised the customs US dollar rate from 6.9 to 18 Sudanese pounds, causing a sharp price rise across the market, reaching in some cases 300 percent. Bashir also announced his government’s intention of controlling cash flow, and establishing a ceiling for bank withdrawals, precipitating a severe liquidity crisis.

Such measures were bound to foment widespread popular resentment that soon developed into mass street protests against inflation and declining living conditions, throughout the Sudan.

Initially, the government took the protests lightly. Then it resorted to accusing dubious groups and “traitors” of stirring up troubles, before embarking on attempts to quell the demonstrations by force, instead of looking into the popular demands. Thus, protests grew bigger against the government’s intransigence, eventually leading to Bashir realizing that he lost the initiative.

Outside the Sudan, Bashir’s situation was not much better. Initially, regarded as a representative of “political Islam”, the deposed leader faced an acute regional polarity between “political Islam” and the “military alternative”, in addition to international pressures of the ICC’s indictment that were temporarily frozen after he had accepted the independence of South Sudan. All this meant that his tired regime was coexisting dangerously with a changing regional scene.

Indeed, some countries, such as Pakistan, have experienced the coexistence between “political Islam” and the “military alternative”. In Pakistan, Islam is both the “national identity” and the raison d’etre as an independent state. So, defending the “Islamist – nationalist” identity against a secular India, the antagonistic neighbor to the east, can only be done by the army. This is why there has always been an old “symbiosis” between the Pakistani military and its Islamist movements.

Sure enough, the Sudanese example is not a carbon copy of the Pakistani case. Although Islam is the religion of the vast majority of Sudanese people. Moreover, Islam has been part of the “sectarian” identity of the country’s two greatest civilian political parties; the Umma Party, which is the historical political representative of the Ansar sect, and the Unionist Democratic Party, which has long been connected to the Khatmiyya sect. As for “political Islam” as symbolized by the Muslim Brotherhood, it has managed to gain presence within the army; and Bashir himself was one of its figures before his well-known falling out with the Brotherhood’s historic leader Dr. Hassan al-Turabi.

Given all of the above, I expect the Sudan to go through a “foggy” period, where the best possible outcome will be a temporary settlement, since there is no chance of achieving a genuine solution.

Genuine solutions continue to wait for a non-existing trust and an absent regional consensus.

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