Stalled talks in Sudan

Asmaa Al-Husseini , Thursday 3 Aug 2023

In his first video message in many weeks, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (Hemedti), the commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), surrounded by his soldiers, insists that replacing the Sudanese army is a condition for ending the bloody fighting that erupted in Khartoum on 15 April.

Stalled talks in Sudan
RSF commander among his fighters (photo: AFP)

 

“If you change that leadership, we can reach an agreement within 72 hours,” he said, addressing the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). In numerous audio messages, Hemedti has accused Sudanese army commanders of taking orders from Islamist elements affiliated with the regime of the deposed Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir.

The RSF commander’s video appearance put paid to recent rumours that held, variously, that he was dead, seriously wounded or in hiding abroad, and it boosted the morale of his soldiers and supporters.

However, his opponents read his demand for a change in the SAF leadership as a call for capitulation, which is precisely what the SAF command wants from him. They insist that his forces must evacuate the positions they occupy in Khartoum as a condition for resuming negotiations with him in the framework of the Jeddah platform. Last week, the SAF delegation returned from Jeddah, the location of indirect negotiations between the belligerents, to Khartoum for consultations. 

It has since accused the RSF of failing to abide by its commitments under the Jeddah Declaration for the Protection of Civilians in Sudan, which the two sides signed on 11 May 2023 and in accordance with which the RSF should evacuate civilian homes, public facilities and roads.

But its angry discourse seemed aimed not only at the RSF but also at other militant movements and political parties, which some interpreted as an attempt to goad them into entering the war on the army’s side.

Talks in Jeddah remain at a standstill because of the impossible preconditions made by both sides while, in Sudan, the hostilities continue to escalate and the humanitarian crisis worsens.

Dialogue between the Sudanese civilian forces is not faring much better than it is among the military parties. Communications are poor, positions remain far apart, and mistrust prevails despite various efforts to break the deadlocks, bridge differences and make some progress towards launching a national dialogue to unify the civilian voice and gather impetus for a peaceful solution to the conflict and a return to stability.

There are four main civilian groups in Sudan. The first is the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC)-Central Council. It is made up of the main body of political forces that formed the civilian component of the transitional government, which assumed power after the overthrow of the Bashir regime and was subsequently party to the Framework Agreement of December 2022. Its most prominent members are the National Umma Party and the Sudanese Congress Party.

The second group is the FFC-Democratic Bloc, which broke away from the original FCC and which includes the Justice and Equality Movement led by Minister of Finance Jibril Ibrahim and the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Governor of Darfur Minni Minawi.

These were joined by some civilian forces whom the FCC-Central Council regards as former allies of the Bashir regime and of the army at the time of the 25 October 2021 coup that overthrew the civilian military partnership which had been the basis of the transitional government.

The coup marked the beginning of tensions that would escalate into the current conflict between the SAF and RSF. The latter is said to be closer to the FFC-Central Council as it has announced its support for the Framework Agreement which calls for the handover of power to a civilian authority, the formation of a unified professional army uninvolved in politics, and the integration of the RSF into the army.

On the other hand, the duration and phasing of the integration process, if not the very subordination of the RSF to the SAF’s command, was a main cause of the current conflict.

Cairo recently hosted separate meetings of the two FFC blocs to discuss the Sudanese crisis after attempts to bring them together into a single meeting for that purpose failed. In response to questions as to what prevented a unified meeting, a prominent member of the FFC-Democratic Bloc told Al-Ahram Weekly, “we wanted that very much and we hoped the other side would be open to it.”

Members of the FFC-Central Council delegation expressed the same sentiment, saying they sought dialogue in the hope of unifying civilian forces, ending the war and halting humanitarian deterioration. Unfortunately, the reality seems to be that each side wants unity on its own terms or they are still too suspicious of the motives of constituent parties of the other side and doubt the genuineness of their commitment to democratic principles.

The third group of Sudanese civilian forces have been called the “radicals” and include the Sudanese Communist Party, the resistance committees and other political forces who oppose any agreement with the military and want to sustain the revolution until it attains its goal of establishing a purely civil and democratic government.

The young leaders of the resistance committees have become principal targets of the violence and animosity ravaging the country.

The fourth group is the Islamists, but they are not a homogenous group. While many are remnants of the Bashir regime, some had split off from it at the height of its power. Among them are Ghazi Salaheddin, founder of the Reform Now movement, and prominent writers who were harsh critics of the Bashir regime, such as Tayeb Zine Al-Abedin, Khaled Tijani, Hassan Makki, Osman Mirghani and Mahboub Abdel-Salam. Many young Islamists also joined the revolution against Bashir though they did not then become part of the transition.

Perhaps they were disappointed or angered by the Empowerment Removal Committee that was formed to strip away the privileges large segments of the Islamist movement came to enjoy during Bashir’s 30 year rule as a result of his regime’s empowerment policy which conferred favours on its supporters, many of whom were Islamists, while marginalising broad segments of the Sudanese people.

Today, the Islamists are widely suspected of having fuelled the current war as a means to return to power and reestablish their banned “National Congress” and other political fronts. Such accusations are no longer mere suspicions or conjectures.

Many Islamist leaders have admitted to being active players in the war and the media affiliated with them have been fanning the flames. Such activities and stances have led the FFC-Central Council and other pro-democracy forces to urge countries in the region to designate the National Congress a terrorist organisation.

Ironically, the resurgence of the Islamists in this manner may prove a liability for their allies in battle because of major concerns regarding their potential presence in any future arrangements in Sudan.

Although some parties have quietly urged democratic forces in Sudan to engage in dialogue with the Islamists and their regional backers in the interest of a national reconciliation such arguments have met with adamant rejection on the part of broad sectors of the Sudanese public who counter that it is impossible to engage in dialogue with those who stained their hands with Sudanese blood in their bid to return to power.

As the situation stands, dialogue in Sudan is at an impasse. Will the next few days bring fresh approaches with a stronger chance of stimulating productive exchanges for the sake of the Sudanese people and their future?

* A version of this article appears in print in the 3 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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