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Sudan coup conjures ghosts of bloody past

Demonstrators protest against the prospect of military rule in Khartoum, Sudan, Oct. 21, 2021. (Reuters)
Demonstrators protest against the prospect of military rule in Khartoum, Sudan, Oct. 21, 2021. (Reuters)
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27 Oct 2021 03:10:16 GMT9
27 Oct 2021 03:10:16 GMT9

It was a marriage of inconvenience to begin with, and the only surprise is that it lasted as long as it did. On Monday, the people of Sudan woke to find that the military had seized power, arresting Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and members of his Cabinet, as well as a civilian member of the Sovereign Council, the governing body headed by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.

Hours of confusion followed, as thousands of Khartoum residents took to the streets to denounce what can only be seen as a military coup and a stark violation of the 2019 constitutional charter agreed by the Transitional Military Council and the Forces for Freedom and Change.

The FFC is an alliance of political movements and parties, along with a coalition of rebel forces. It was formed following the December 2018 protests that culminated in the toppling of then-President Omar Bashir.

The constitutional charter called for a power-sharing transitional period of three years until elections are held and civilian rule is established. Under the charter, a civilian transitional government was established in 2019, led by Hamdok. An empowerment removal committee was also created to dismantle the Bashir regime and restructure its security services and institutions.

The power-sharing formula was supported by the West, primarily the US, along with the African Union and the Arab League, among others. But after six decades of mainly military rule, with rare exceptions, there was always the risk that the military, including the powerful Rapid Support Force militia, would find ways to derail the democratic transition and end the shaky partnership.

And that is exactly what happened on Monday. After hours of chaos in Khartoum, with the military cutting off the internet and telephone services and barricading bridges and key intersections, Al-Burhan appeared on national television to underline the new reality.

Without saying so, the military council’s actions amounted to a full-fledged coup. It declared a national emergency, dissolved the Sovereign Council, Council of Ministers and empowerment removal committee, and suspended articles in the constitutional charter related to the power-sharing agreement and the role of the civilian faction. Al-Burhan also fired governors and ministry undersecretaries, while committing to the democratic transition and setting up a constitutional court.

The coup and seizure of key civilian figures were condemned by the EU and US, which threatened to cut off aid, while the Arab League, UN and African Union expressed concern. Al-Burhan, who vowed to set up an inclusive government of qualified ministers, also committed to honoring the Sudanese peace agreement, which ended the war with South Sudan, as well as the conflicts in Darfur and East Sudan, and to respecting the grievances of the people of East Sudan.

Two events directly accelerated the military’s decision to stage the coup. The first was civil unrest among the tribal leaders of East Sudan, who cut off the main highway to Khartoum and shut down the strategically important Port Sudan, the main oil export outlet, adding to the economic turmoil across the country.

In recent months, the government warned that it was running out of wheat, essential medicines and fuel. East Sudan tribal leaders called for the dismissal of the transitional government over its alleged failure to end the marginalization of the region, one of the richest provinces in minerals, but also one of the poorest.

The second event was the marking of the October 1964 revolution last Thursday, when thousands of Sudanese took to the streets demanding civilian rule. The military saw growing rifts inside the FFC, as factions began jockeying for control and power. Politicians blamed the military for failing to honor its side of the bargain in securing the country, while the military pointed to the government’s failure to deal with inflation and unemployment.

Since its independence in 1956, Sudan’s complex tribal, racial, ideological and religious fissures have fueled a number of military coups and civil wars.

Osama Al-Sharif

In any event, the next chapter in the turbulent history of this country is uncertain, with civil war and even attempts by East Sudan to secede among the many possibilities. This is bad news for neighboring countries, including Egypt, which needs a stable Sudan as it puts pressure on Ethiopia to reach a settlement over the filling of that country’s controversial Nile Dam reservoir.

Since its independence in 1956, Sudan’s complex tribal, racial, ideological and religious fissures have fueled a number of military coups and civil wars. In 1985, following labor protests against the autocratic rule of Jaafar Nimeiry, military leader Gen. Suwar Al-Dahab staged a coup, promising to hand over power to a civilian government one year after elections were held. Al-Dahab honored his promise, but that was an exception, and the question now is can the junta be trusted to do the same in July 2023?

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