Newly signed framework agreement is Sudan’s best chance
More than a year after the military broke a tense partnership with civilian factions in Sudan by toppling a transitional government, the two sides on Monday signed a framework agreement in Khartoum aimed at putting the country back on the road to civilian rule.
Between October 2019 and now, tens of pro-democracy protesters have been gunned down by the ruling junta and hundreds injured while the country’s economy took a nosedive. The so-called Sovereignty Council could do little to salvage the economy, stamp out separatist movements or end Sudan’s international isolation.
At first, the main civilian opposition bloc, the Forces of Freedom and Change, rebuffed any invitation for dialogue. This group emerged following the 2019 popular uprising that ended the three-decade authoritarian rule of Omar Bashir. With no one to talk to, the military found itself at an impasse. Finally, both sides agreed to talk through a tripartite mechanism of the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the UN. The mechanism’s efforts were supported by Saudi Arabia, the EU, the UAE and, to some extent, the US, UK and Egypt.
Rejecting a compromise were two opposite sides — remnants of the Bashir regime and members of other popular groups that were not part of the Forces of Freedom and Change but were demanding what became known as transitional justice. They want to hold the military accountable for breaking the initial deal, for carrying out a coup and for killing and injuring protesters. Those outside the main opposition grouping organized themselves under the umbrella of the “Call of the People of Sudan” platform. Their supporters held protests in the capital as the military and the Forces of Freedom and Change signed the framework agreement this week.
Others who are against the agreement include the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North led by Abdulaziz Al-Hilu and the Sudan Liberation Movement of Abdel Wahid Al-Nur. The framework agreement seeks to review the Juba Agreement of 2020 in order to lure the two factions into joining the deal at a later stage.
A grouping made up of Saudi Arabia, the US, the UAE and the UK welcomed Monday’s deal, saying they were working with partners “to coordinate significant economic support.”
Basically, the agreement will hand over power to an entirely civilian, nonpartisan transitional government. A prime minister will be chosen independently and, once named, a 24-month transitional phase will ensue, culminating in a legislative election.
It is going to be an uphill struggle as the civilian powers seek to iron out their differences and agree on a prime minister.
The head of the military, Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, promised that the army would return to the barracks and not interfere in the running of the country. His vice president and the man who supposedly has the real power in Sudan, Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemetti, who controls the notorious Rapid Support Forces, signed the deal, under which his group will be incorporated into the armed forces. The agreement stipulates that the prime minister is also the supreme commander of the armed forces.
From now on, it is going to be an uphill struggle as the civilian powers seek to iron out their differences and agree on a prime minister. The transitional government will have a lot to deal with: A broken economy, biting inflation, unemployment, restoring international aid, and reuniting a fractured country. The two years before an election is held is also a long time in politics. But considering the alternative, it remains Sudan’s best shot.
The elephant in the room is, of course, the transitional justice that includes putting Bashir and his lieutenants on trial and seeking accountability for the killing of hundreds of pro-democracy protesters by the military.
Sweetening the deal for the junta was the drafting of a provisional constitution by the Bar Association in August that provided immunity to the army’s top brass. This will continue to be a bone of contention between the Forces of Freedom and Change and other civilian groups. Not granting such immunity would have been a deal-breaker.
Other caveats have to do with Hemetti losing control over the Rapid Support Forces — something that he is unlikely to allow.
The signing ceremony on Monday was just one small step toward full civilian rule, which Sudan has not had for decades. A more detailed agreement is to be signed in a few weeks’ time and the waiting process is going to be aggravating for millions.
Meanwhile, the civilian coalition will have to become broader in order to give credence to the transitional period. Attempts to initiate a dialogue between the Forces of Freedom and Change and the so-called Democratic Bloc that includes militia leaders have not succeeded. As the army returns to the barracks, as promised by both Al-Burhan and Hemetti, the onus is now on the civilian leaders to find common ground and make sure that Sudan rids itself of the bleak legacy of dictatorship and military rule.
• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010