Sudan junta puts the ball in the court of divided civil coalitions

Sudan junta puts the ball in the court of divided civil coalitions

Sudan junta puts the ball in the court of divided civil coalitions
Sudanese rally against last year’s military coup on the streets of Khartoum, Sudan, July 26, 2022. (AP Photo)
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Sudan’s modern history has been dominated by the struggle between civilian powers, fragmented, politically polarized and suspicious of each other, and the military, an entity torn between the attractions of radical ideological forces of the day and neutrality.
In fact, between its independence in 1956 and last October, the vast African state faced 16 military attempts to grab power and five successful military coups. The longest military dictatorship, lasting 30 years, was under Sudan’s former President Omar Bashir, who was deposed in 2019 in a military coup following mass protests.
Only once did the military surrender power to civilians peacefully. Gen. Suwar Al-Dahab, who ended Jaafar Nimeiri’s 16-year dictatorship in 1985, kept his promise to hand over power to a democratic body within one year. His gesture was the exception.
This is why the announcement last week by Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemetti), vice president of the ruling military Sovereign Council and leader of the Rapid Action Forces, was met with skepticism by most opposing civil movements and coalitions.
Following a week of bloodshed in tribal clashes in the southern Blue Nile state, and the gunning down of peaceful protesters in Khartoum and elsewhere by the military, Dagalo said that the armed forces had made a commitment not to cling to an authority that could lead to more bloodshed and affect the stability of the country. He added that the ruling council had decided to leave matters of governing the country to civilians.
This was not the first time that the leaders of last October’s coup had promised to pave the way for democratic elections leading to a transfer of power to civilian rule. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, head of the Sovereign Council, had already pushed the date of elections back by one year to July 2023. He had dissolved a transitional government, led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and ended a political process that he had committed to protect.
There have been questions about who really is in control of the military. Dagalo was a central figure in Bashir’s dictatorial rule. His elite forces are well equipped and highly organized. He is believed to be the main power broker putting limits on Al-Burhan.
Until a few weeks ago the broad coalition of the Freedom and Change Forces was the main bloc opposing the military. It had led the protests against Bashir and later worked with the military until last October’s coup. Since then it has rejected appeals for dialogue with the military and pushed for popular protests.
But last May the Freedom and Change Forces announced the formation of a new alliance called the United Civil Front, which unites all forces supporting the December 2018 revolt. It called for direct negotiations with the military to restore the civil democratic transition process and form a united national army.
For a while it looked like the military and the civil forces were close to resuming such negotiations. But earlier this month, the Tripartite Mechanism for Dialogue in Sudan announced the cessation of talks it was sponsoring between the civil and military components, and attributed this to the decision of the military committee to withdraw from it.
In a statement, the Tripartite Mechanism said that there would be no point in continuing talks in their current form, without the army’s participation in the upcoming meetings. The talks had involved military leaders and their supporters from the National Consensus Forces and allies of the former regime only. It was boycotted by the Freedom and Change Forces. The Tripartite Mechanism consists of the UN, the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development.
While civil forces remain divided — earlier this week a new alliance was announced: Alliance of Forces for Radical Change in Sudan led by the Communist Party that includes civil movements, parties and organizations, and seeks to overthrow the ruling authority in the country — it remains a challenge to force the hand of the military. Instead, it is quite the opposite: The army is now challenging the civilian forces to unite and come up with a roadmap.

Khartoum needs to reinstate a transitional process culminating in the holding of free elections before the July 2023 target.

Osama Al-Sharif

As Sudan descends into chaos amid a failing economy, acute food shortages and tribal clashes, the military will either use force to stamp out protests — something that has not worked before — or hand over power to former Bashir allies in a bid to pit civilian forces against each other. For Dagalo and the military, avoiding accountability for crimes committed against the protesters and during the Bashir era is a major objective.
Attempting to overthrow the military will not work and will be costly. What is needed is to reinstate a transitional process culminating in the holding of free elections before the July 2023 target. Failure to do that means Sudan will face bitter internal conflicts that threaten the country’s unity and territorial integrity in the long run.

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010
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