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Sudan and the Future of Democracy

Sudan and the Future of Democracy

Thursday, 13 January, 2022 - 11:15

The United Nations initiative to hold talks to find a solution for the Sudanese crisis does not inspire much optimism. The apathy with which all parties received UN envoy Volker Perthes’ call for talks, especially the opposition, highlighted that the initiative has no practical dimension or vision for how to stop the ongoing deterioration of the country’s security and economy.

The trajectory things have been taking since last October’s coup d’etat against the agreement with the Forces of Freedom and Change, with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok recently resigning after failing to form a technocratic government that meets the terms he set for returning to his position, has become broadly familiar. Moreover, divergences between the country’s civilian and military officials have been widening since the Sovereignty Council, the formation of which was stipulated by the 2019 Constitutional Document, turned into what resembles the “revolution command councils” of the notorious Arab regimes that had emerged from coups.

The depth of the refits is apparent on the streets, which have seen daily protests and clashes in which the military and security forces shoot down protests. Meanwhile, there seems to be no end to the economic impasse in sight, with international institutions predicting further decline if no political settlement along the lines that had been envisioned previously is reached- that is, transitioning to civilian rule and general elections being held within the time frame that the Forces of Freedom and Change and the army had agreed upon.

There are several levels to diagnosing the Sudanese conundrum. The first is linked to the civilian wing’s divisions, disputes, and lack of a vision for the future. Indeed, the most prominent civilian factions diverge sharply on several issues. These quarreling factions include but are not limited to the National Congress, the Communist Party, syndical groups, and formerly armed groups that were part of the July 2019 agreement. The military, in contrast, has been cohesive as it clings to power and strives to deepen the divisions among the civilians through implanted personalities and groupings.

The military is clinging to power firmly for three reasons discussed by those monitoring the situation in Sudan. First, the army representative in the Sovereign Council presidency, Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, is unwilling to give up his position 21 months after taking office as stipulated by the Constitutional Document. He seized power on October 25, under the pretext of escalating political differences and paralyzing the work of Hamdok’s government, only to postpone this process and remain in office. Now, the military is avoiding handing power over to civilians with claims that security demands that the military play a broader role.

The second reason is that the date set for handing in former President Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court is approaching. This is a concession the army made when it had been facing the mass movement, but the process would pose a genuine threat to many military men if the court were to expand its investigation of Bashir and the massacres in Darfur.

The third reason is that several senior officers are apprehensive about moving forward with the investigation into the June 2019 incident, which transpired weeks before the Constitutional Document was signed and the transitional phase began.

These three reasons could be labeled “procedural,” and they bring us to the second level of diagnosing the conundrum. Lieutenant-General Burhan openly declared, last September, that “the army is the guardian of Sudan’s security” as he and his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti), sharply criticized politicians as preoccupied with disputes amongst themselves “over seat” rather than citizens’ concerns. On that same occasion and many others since then, Lieutenant-General Burhan has reaffirmed that the army does not want to stay in power but rather seeks to hand it over to whomever the Sudanese people choose. These claims need to be backed up.

In any case, readers have the right to ask why the army is the “guardian” of Sudan’s security and unity, as the legitimacy of modern countries’ armies derives from a popular mandate that is established as the constitution stipulates. The armed forces’ work is thus overseen by legislative bodies. It goes without saying that this does not apply to many Arab countries or their armies. Many Arab military institutions refuse even to disclose their budgets under the pretext of national security and keeping the country’s secrets safe from the enemy...etc. Here, it is crucial to identify the segments of society whose interests the army protects and represents when in power, compare these groups - civil society, syndical and union bodies, and opposition parties in the case of Sudan. From this comparison, we can speculate about the fate of Sudan’s path to democracy.

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