Thousands of Sudanese protesters rallied outside the presidential palace on Saturday in support of the army, demanding the dissolution of the government and a cabinet of qualified ministers.
The demonstrations are seen as a response to the protests of 30 September, called for by politicians supporting the civil component of government.
Since the fall of Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019, Sudan’s sovereign council has governed through a power-sharing agreement between the military and civilians. But tensions between the two camps have been continuous.
Complicating the matter further, the civilian camp, represented by the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), is divided into supporters of the Charter of National Accord and loyalists to the Central Council. The former party declared their political accord last week, calling for “expanding political participation, consolidating the institutions of the transitional period and forming a government of competent figures with broad political support.”
Prominent forces that signed the declaration include the Sudan Liberation Army led by Minni Arko Minawi, the governor of Darfur – the largest region in Sudan, which endured a vicious war that claimed the lives of over 300,000 people – as well as the Justice and Equality Movement led by Jibril Ibrahim, the minister of finance. Both are armed organisations that fought against the Al-Bashir regime during the bloody conflict in Darfur.
These forces are maintaining closer ties with the military despite the fact that the vice-president of the sovereign council is Mohamed Hamdan Dagala, aka Hamidti, who is the leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
The majority of the RSF hail from Arab tribes that took part in the Darfur war. They were commonly known at the time as the Janjaweed militias and they are accused of war crimes.
In 2009 the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir together with tens of government officials, Janjaweed leaders, and members of opposition movements on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Meanwhile, east Sudan has been embroiled in large-scale protests for months, leading the Sudanese government to resort to Egypt’s port to import medicine, fuel and food.
According to the constitutional declaration of August 2019, Sudan’s legislative elections are slated for early 2024. However, the protests led by leaders of Beja tribes and supporters of the Charter of National Accord are demanding the installation of a government of qualified figures until the elections’ due date.
These demands are similar to the military’s.
Supporters of civilian rule demand the formation of a “real revolutionary legislative council, the abolition of the Transitional Sovereign Council, restructuring the regular forces, reforming the judiciary and the formation of a Constitutional Court.”
The Professionals’ Association, the umbrella group that led the protests that overthrew Al-Bashir, demanded “ending partnership with the military council and abolishing the constitutional declaration.” It called for putting in place “a purely civilian rule”, describing the transitional authority as “void”.
Tensions rose following the coup attempt of 21 September, where the civilian and military camps exchanged accusations.
President of the sovereign council and army leader Abdul-Fattah Al-Burhan said the regular forces – including the RSF – quashed the coup attempt, adding that “the army is the guardian of the nation” and the revolution’s goals were lost amid the politicians’ ’’ fight over power.
In response, the Minister of Cabinet Affairs Khaled Omar Youssef said Al-Burhan’s speech about the army’s guardianship of Sudan due to political divisions is a direct threat to the transitional phase.
The conflict in Sudan is deeper than a struggle between the civilian and military sides, said Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok on Saturday. The current tensions are the result of “rifts inside the military camp and divisions within the civilian side, in addition to tensions between the two.”
“This is the closest description to the reality on the ground,” said Sherif Zein Al-Abidine, a professor of political science in Khartoum. “The rifts within the military are not visible, due to the discipline of the army institution, unlike the case with the FFC,” he said.
“However, the military will suffer from the disagreement between their supports, such as the RSF and the Native Administration,” that is the tribal leaderships of west Sudan Bedouins,“on one hand and the loyalists of the Charter of National Accord on the other,” Zein Al-Abidine added.
“It remains unknown whether the Beja in the east will be in harmony with the warring parties of Darfur,” he continued.
Many observers are monitoring the moves of the National Umma Party, spearheaded by Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Mahdi, and the Federal Gathering. Both are with the FFC’s Central Council.
In addition, many fear splits will occur with the Professionals’ Association, being “a reflection of the tensions brewing in Sudanese society,” said Zein Al-Abidine.
“Not only is the military known for its discipline, it is also counted on in matters of war and peace,” he added. “The military was able to stop the war, and it can disarm the militias, integrate them into the army or compensate them, and, of course, protect peace in Sudan,” he stated.
The military will not be strong without popular support. It is currently working towards creating “a political and public incubator”, as the Khartoum media reported.
Indeed, the military is advancing on this track after armed movements in Darfur, the Native Administration and Beja leaders expressed their support.
Local reports point to rapprochement between the military and Sufi leaderships. These are influential elements in the agricultural regions of central and north Sudan.
Thus far, it is not foreseen Sudan’s Popular Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) will join the civilian camp. The SPLM-N represents the regions of the South Blue Nile, under the leadership of Malik Aqar, and Nubia Mountains to the south, led by Abdul-Aziz Al-Helw.
If these groups announce their support for the military, the army will be enjoying the backing of the majority of Sudan’s influential social forces, and some groups from the middle class will be left out.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly