Sudan’s road to civilian rule proves rockier than expected

A man holds a Sudanese national flag before flames at a barricade as people protest against the military coup in Sudan, in
A man holds a Sudanese national flag before flames at a barricade as people protest against the military coup in Sudan, in "Street 60" in the east of capital Khartoum on November 13, 2021. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 25 November 2021

Sudan’s road to civilian rule proves rockier than expected

A man holds a Sudanese national flag before flames at a barricade as people protest against the military coup in Sudan, in "Street 60" in the east of capital Khartoum on November 13, 2021. (AFP)
  • Sudan’s reinstated PM Abdalla Hamdok will lead an independent technocratic cabinet until new elections
  • Observers doubt the civilian government will wield real power under the military oversight of General Al-Burhan

DUBAI: Sudan’s military reinstated Abdalla Hamdok as prime minister of the country’s civilian transitional government on Nov. 21 and pledged to release political prisoners following weeks of deadly unrest in the wake of the October coup.

However, the new power-sharing arrangement appears far from secure amid continued protests by Sudanese pro-democracy groups against the military’s involvement in the government.

After being held under house arrest since Oct. 25, Hamdok was reinstated upon signing a 14-point agreement with coup leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan during a ceremony broadcast on state television on Sunday.

“The signing of this deal opens the door wide enough to address all the challenges of the transitional period,” Hamdok said during the ceremony.

“Sudanese blood is precious. Let us stop the bloodshed, and direct the youth’s energy into building and development,” he added, according to Reuters news agency.

Now that he has returned to office, Hamdok will lead an independent technocratic Cabinet until new elections are held before July 2023. However, it remains unclear how much real power the civilian government will wield under the military’s oversight.

Amani Al-Taweel, a researcher and expert on Sudanese affairs at Cairo’s Al-Ahram Strategic and Political Studies Center, believes the agreement’s effectiveness will depend largely on public acceptance of its legitimacy.

“This is a matter that depends on the extent to which the street and the people accept the agreement that was signed,” she told Arab News.

“If it is accepted, we will reach a safe end to the transitional period, and if not, the situation will become more complex and open to security threats.”

Many political groups have no confidence in Hamdok’s professions of faith in the deal and accuse him of selling out the revolution.




Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok chairs an emergency cabinet session in the capital Khartoum. (AFP)

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, one of the key players in the uprising against former leader Omar Al-Bashir, strongly opposes the agreement and says Hamdok has committed “political suicide.”

“This agreement only concerns its signatories, and is an unjust attempt to bestow legitimacy on the latest coup and the military council,” the group tweeted after the signing ceremony.

The Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a group made up of several political parties and pro-democracy groups, has also objected to any new political partnership with the military and insists the perpetrators should face justice.

“We totally reject the treacherous agreement signed between Hamdok and Al-Burhan, which concerns only its signatories,” it said in a Facebook statement. “The points of the subservience agreement are far from the aspirations of our people and are nothing more than ink on paper.”

The Umma Party, Sudan’s biggest political bloc, has also issued a statement implying it does not support the deal, AP reports.

Meanwhile, protesters have rallied in the capital Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri, chanting “No to military power” and demanding a full withdrawal of the armed forces from the government.

According to Zouhir Al-Shimale, head of research at Valent Projects, there are two likely scenarios, both of which depend on what Hamdok chooses to do next.

“In one, Hamdok will play a positive role by supporting the demands for democracy, justice and peace of the Sudanese revolution,” he told Arab News.

“In the other scenario, he will ostensibly back the street’s demands but, in actual fact, legitimize and support the October coup leaders, and act as their international political front.”

Hamdok, 65, has been the face of the country’s fragile transition to civilian rule since the 2019 overthrow of Sudan’s long-time leader Al-Bashir.

The British-educated economist, who was previously deputy executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, had developed a reputation as a champion of good governance and transparency.




A woman speaks during the funeral procession for a Sudanese protester in the capital Khartoum. (AFP)

Although he did not take part in the 2019 revolution, he was widely seen as the ideal candidate to help steer Sudan’s democratic transition.

His government inherited a country long squeezed by US sanctions, wracked by economic crisis, suffering shortages of basic commodities, and with a banking sector on the brink of collapse.

Since its independence was recognized in 1956, Sudan has been plagued by internal strife and political instability. The secession of South Sudan in 2011 delivered multiple shocks to the economy following the loss of valuable oil revenues.

The consequent slowdown in growth and double-digit consumer price inflation triggered protests among a population increasing at a rate of 2.42 percent per year.

Sanctions were lifted soon after Hamdok joined a transitional government in August 2019 and Sudan was subsequently removed from the US Treasury’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Since then, however, the country has been beset by daunting socioeconomic problems, made worse by the global pandemic.




Sudan's top army general Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan speaks during a press conference at the General Command of the Armed Forces in Khartoum. (AFP/File Photo)

In the face of these overlapping crises, army chief Al-Burhan announced a state of emergency on Oct. 25, deposing Hamdok and arresting several members of the transitional government.

The international community condemned the move and suspended much-needed economic assistance to Sudan. The World Bank froze aid and the African Union suspended the country’s membership.

Under the circumstances, the Nov. 21 deal has been largely welcomed by the international community, which views it as a first step toward getting Sudan’s fragile transition process back on track.

The US, Britain, Norway, the EU, Canada and Switzerland all welcomed Hamdok’s reinstatement and, in a joint statement, urged the release of other political detainees. The Saudi foreign ministry has said the Kingdom supports everything that will achieve peace and maintain security, stability and development in Sudan.

Some political observers believe the coup was simply a crude attempt by the Bashir-era old guard to retake power.




People take part in a funeral procession for a Sudanese protester in the capital Khartoum. (AFP)

“Sudan reached this point due to a post-revolution political dilemma and stalling by members of the Sudanese army, who are the remnants of the pro-Bashir regime and Muslim Brotherhood figures, the Rapid Response Forces, as well as some regional actors,” Al-Shimale told Arab News.

“They have been collectively undermining the post-revolution progress, namely the civilian-led transitional government.”

The October coup triggered weeks of demonstrations across Sudan, in which at least 41 people were killed, according to medical sources. The Nov. 21 agreement sets out plans for a thorough investigation into the killings.

Al-Shimale believes the Sudanese people are divided over the agreement because many of its clauses have not been made public. “The deal has already affected Hamdok’s image among Sudanese both inside and outside the country,” he told Arab News.

“They are arguing that the PM’s deal with the coup leaders is like a stab in the back for those who believed that he supported the civil right movement. However, others are considering his stance as a political maneuver and not a submission to Al-Burhan’s demands nor legitimizing his coup.”

Hamdok faces considerable challenges, in addition to the risk of reputational damage.




Sudanese security forces shot at protesters on November 13 in a crackdown on anti-coup demonstrations, medics said, after the military tightened its grip by forming a new ruling council. (AFP)

Before the coup, in order to secure international funding, his government implemented a number of austerity measures, including the removal of subsidies on petrol and diesel, and the floating of the Sudanese pound.

Many Sudanese believe the steps were too harsh and overly hasty. In mid-September, anti-government protesters responded by blockading the country’s main sea port, triggering nationwide shortages of wheat and fuel.

Hamdok’s government was also accused of failing to deliver timely justice to the families of those killed under Al-Bashir, including those who died during the 2018-19 protests, leaving him vulnerable to criticism.

“The situation facing Sudan after the latest deal is too complicated to predict,” Al-Shimale said. “On the political front, Sudan has entered another era of uncertainty and it will take a long time for the new government to come to grips with the business in hand.”

He added: “Local resistance coordination groups will continue protesting Hamdok’s partnership with the military, and political order won’t be restored unless Hamdok succeeds in crafting a new political dynamic under which a civilian-led — not military-headed — Sudan will be able to address the revolution’s demands.”


Expo 2020 Dubai receives 4.8 million visits

Expo 2020 Dubai receives 4.8 million visits
Updated 34 sec ago

Expo 2020 Dubai receives 4.8 million visits

Expo 2020 Dubai receives 4.8 million visits
  • The announcement followed weeks driven by music, sporting stars and high numbers of visitors showing interest in the November Weekday Pass
  • Expo 2020 Dubai runs until Mar. 31 next year, with Christmas festivities and a performance by Alicia Keys lined up for December

Dubai: Expo 2020 Dubai announced that visit figures reached more than 4.8 million since its launch. 

According to the figures released by Expo 2020, numbers show an increase to 4,766,419. 

The announcement followed weeks driven by music, sporting stars and high numbers of visitors showing interest in the November Weekday Pass.

The Jubilee stage hosted an array of performances, including Kuwaiti singer Abdullah Al-Ruwaished and Egyptian artist Mohamed Hamaki. 

The Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre saw artists from the Accademia Teatro alla Scala while Ireland’s Grammy Award-winning Riverdance ended its toe-tapping run with a series of performances.

Other activities included the FIDE World Chess Championship, which was launched on Nov. 24, gaining the interest of both players and fans. The tournament, which runs until Dec. 16, will award the overall winner with $2.25m in prize money. 

Expo 2020 Dubai runs until Mar. 31 next year, with Christmas festivities and a performance by 15-time Grammy Award-winner Alicia Keys lined up for December.


UAE health authorities urge residents to receive COVID-19 booster shots

UAE health authorities urge residents to receive COVID-19 booster shots
Updated 57 min 40 sec ago

UAE health authorities urge residents to receive COVID-19 booster shots

UAE health authorities urge residents to receive COVID-19 booster shots
  • 100 percent of all eligible residents have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine
  • UAE’s health sector said the authorities were monitoring all information related to the new omicron variant

DUBAI: The UAE announced on Sunday that booster shots for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Sputnik COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for all adults aged 18 and above. 

According to UAE health sector spokesman Farida Al Hosani, people in the country can and should take the additional shot six months after their second dose of the vaccine. 

The announcement, made during the latest government media briefing, replaces a previous directive which allowed only some at-risk residents to receive the booster jabs. 

Al Hosani also highlighted that 100 percent of all eligible residents have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. She clarified that this does not mean that everyone is vaccinated since the country’s population keeps changing, many students are still waiting to receive their shots and certain individuals cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons. 

The official spokesperson of the UAE’s health sector said the authorities were monitoring all information related to the new omicron variant, and will take appropriate action when necessary.

This comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) said there were major genetic mutations that may affect the characteristics of the COVID-19 virus, allowing it to spread at a faster pace than previous mutations. 

Much the world, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran and the US, have implemented travel restrictions and suspended flights to and from several southern African countries in response to warnings over the transmissibility of omicron. 

Meanwhile, Israel and Japan barred all new foreign arrivals by shutting their borders completely.

Related


UK, Israel to work together to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons

UK, Israel to work together to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons
Updated 29 November 2021

UK, Israel to work together to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons

UK, Israel to work together to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons

Britain and Israel will “work night and day” in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, the foreign ministers of the two countries wrote in a joint article.
“The clock is ticking, which heightens the need for close cooperation with our partners and friends to thwart Tehran’s ambitions,” the UK’s Liz Truss and her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid wrote in the Telegraph newspaper on Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said earlier in the day that his country was “very worried” that world powers will remove sanctions on Iran in exchange for insufficient caps on its nuclear program, as negotiators convene in Vienna on Monday in a last-ditch effort to salvage a nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, Israel and Britain will sign a 10-year agreement on Monday to work closely on areas such as cybersecurity, technology, trade and defense, according to the Telegraph.
The foreign ministers added in the article that Israel will officially become Britain’s “tier one” cyber partner, in a bid to improve its cyber defenses as countries around the world face increased threats.


Iranian riot police patrol city’s dry river after water protests

In this file photo taken on November 19, 2021, Iranians gather during a protest to voice their anger after their province's lifeblood river dried up due to drought and diversion, in the central city of Isfahan. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on November 19, 2021, Iranians gather during a protest to voice their anger after their province's lifeblood river dried up due to drought and diversion, in the central city of Isfahan. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2021

Iranian riot police patrol city’s dry river after water protests

In this file photo taken on November 19, 2021, Iranians gather during a protest to voice their anger after their province's lifeblood river dried up due to drought and diversion, in the central city of Isfahan. (AFP)
  • Demonstrators blame authorities for diverting water to neighboring Yazd province

TEHRAN: Iranian riot police on Sunday patrolled a dried-out riverbed in the central city of Isfahan where protests against a water shortage led to violent clashes two days earlier.

Drought and water diversions have been blamed for drying up the Zayandeh-Rood waterway that runs from the Zagros mountains and through the city known for its iconic river bridges.
Water protests since Nov. 9 have drawn at times thousands of demonstrators to the city, where a large rally on Friday escalated into clashes in which 67 people were arrested.
Calm has returned and it held on Sunday, a local photographer said by phone from Isfahan, the country’s third-largest city 340 km south of Tehran.
“In the morning, the city was calm and traffic was normal,” the photographer said.
“I saw riot police patrolling the riverbed between the historic bridges, but their numbers were lower than on Saturday.”
The protesters blame the authorities for diverting water to neighboring Yazd province, which is also desperately short of water.
Authorities Saturday announced 67 arrests of the “main perpetrators and troublemakers” in the rally that had drawn “2,000 to 3,000 rioters.”
The arrests were made by the police, intelligence services and the Revolutionary Guards.

BACKGROUND

Water protests since Nov. 9 have drawn at times thousands of demonstrators to the city, where a large rally on Friday escalated into clashes in which 67 people were arrested.

Police had on Friday fired tear gas at the protesters, who threw stones, smashed the windows of an ambulance and set a police motorbike ablaze, according to the Fars news agency.
Nourodin Soltanian, a spokesman for Isfahan University Hospital, said a number of protesters were wounded, including “two in serious condition.”
Isfahan police chief Mohammed-Reza Mirheidari called the protesters “opportunists and counter-revolutionaries,” and the ultraconservative newspaper Kayhan accused “mercenary thugs” of being behind the “riots.”
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington was “deeply concerned about the violent crackdown against peaceful protesters.”
He added on Twitter that “the people of Iran have a right to voice their frustrations and hold their government accountable.”
The Kayhan daily meanwhile also linked Friday’s protests to the scheduled resumption of nuclear talks on Monday in Vienna between Iran and a group of major powers.
Friday’s events “testify to the infiltration of a US fifth column, in the run-up to the Vienna talks, to provoke a riot and push for (new) US sanctions” against Iran, it said.
The Zayandeh-Rood river that runs through Isfahan has been dry since 2000, except for a few brief periods.
Iran has endured repeated droughts over the past decade, but also regular floods, a phenomenon that can intensify when torrential rains fall on sun-baked earth.
Scientists say climate change amplifies droughts and that their intensity and frequency in turn threaten food security.


Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground
Updated 28 November 2021

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground
  • Diplomats: Tehran simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how

PARIS: World powers and Iran return to Vienna on Monday in a last ditch effort to salvage the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but few expect a breakthrough as Tehran’s atomic activities rumble on in an apparent bid to gain leverage against the West.
The US will also send a delegation, headed by Washington’s Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, to participate in the talks indirectly.
Israel worries Iran will secure sanctions relief in renewed nuclear negotiations with world powers, but will not sufficiently roll back projects with bomb making potential, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
“Israel is very worried about the readiness to remove the sanctions and to allow a flow of billions (of dollars) to Iran in exchange for unsatisfactory restrictions in the nuclear realm,” Bennett told his Cabinet in televised remarks.
“This is the message that we are relaying in every manner, whether to the Americans or to the other countries negotiating with Iran.”
Few expect a breakthrough in the talks as Iran’s uranium enrichment activities have escalated in an apparent bid to gain leverage.
Diplomats say time is running low to resurrect the JCPOA, known as the Iran nuclear deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other world powers involved.
Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June.
The latest round begins after a hiatus triggered by the election of new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic.
Two European diplomats said it seemed Iran was simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how.
Western diplomats say they will head to Monday’s talks on the premise that they resume where they left off in June, and have warned that if Iran continues with its maximalist positions and fails to restore its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, then they will review their options.
Iran’s top negotiator and foreign minister both repeated on Friday that the full lifting of sanctions would be the only thing on the table in Vienna.
“If this is the position that Iran continues to hold on Monday, then I don’t see a negotiated solution,” said one European diplomat.
Iran has pressed ahead with its uranium enrichment program and the IAEA says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to re-install monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.
“They are doing enough technically so they can change their basic relationship with the West to be able to have a more equal dialogue in the future,” said a Western diplomat involved in the talks.
Several diplomats said Iran was now between four to six weeks away from the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, although they cautioned it was still about two years from being able to weaponize it.
Should the talks collapse, the likelihood is the US and its allies will initially confront Iran at the IAEA next month by calling for an emergency meeting.