As differences escalate between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Alliance of Freedom and Change (AFC), which represent the popular uprising in Sudan, regarding the constitutional document for the interim period, US Envoy to Sudan Donald Booth landed in Khartoum this week to meet with representatives of both sides.
Booth met with TMC Chairman General Abdel-Fattah Borhan, and informed Sudanese sources said the US official pressured the TMC to take into consideration the objections of the AFC to the proposed constitutional document. Positive developments are expected in the negotiations between the two sides.
After the meeting, Booth said that Washington wanted to see Sudan overcome the current problems and that it would work with Sudan’s international partners to ensure that the Sudanese people achieve a breakthrough with the support of the international community.
He was optimistic that the people of Sudan could achieve their dream of forming a government led by civilians with an independent prime minister. Booth also reiterated his country’s commitment to assisting Sudan in reaching an agreement for the interim phase.
The EU has also promised it will back moves to remove Sudan from the list of countries supporting terrorism if power is handed over to a civilian government. Ahead of EU meetings in Brussels, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto hinted that the EU could support any future move by the US to remove Sudan from the list but stressed that the TMC and the AFC must implement an agreement to guarantee a seamless transfer of power.
The AFC has asked to delay negotiations with the TMC and mediators in order to have more time to consult among themselves before giving their opinion on the draft constitutional document. Salah Galal, a leading figure in the Al-Umma National Party, asserted that an agreement would be reached, but “it will still be a very unstable transitional phase.”
AFC leaders said that National Consensus Forces (NCF) and the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) had participated in the AFC’s meetings this week, and that there had been full consensus on the necessary amendments to the constitutional document. Informed Sudanese sources said there were deep rifts in the AFC ranks and the Sudanese Communist Party and its allies could leave the coalition.
General Hanafi Abdullah, a security expert and former deputy chief of Sudanese Intelligence, said the TMC was amenable to what had been agreed, but that it was refusing to put the security apparatus, intelligence services and army under the power of the cabinet due to technical, security and military considerations.
Instead, these should answer to the country’s Sovereign Council during the interim period, he said. Abdullah denied that there was a provision granting immunity to the Sovereign Council during the transitional phase. “There is constitutional immunity, which is regulated by the law,” he explained. “It would be immediately lifted if any infringements occurred.” He added that it was proving difficult to convince the Communist Party of the arrangements, and that it was trying to impose its own conditions.
A prominent figure in the Sudan Call Forces said the agreement was under threat by the military who wanted to seize power and keep civilians as “window dressing”.
There has been heated debate about the constitutional document, and Sudanese sources confirmed that the disputes were continuing and could postpone the signing of the power-sharing agreement between the TMC and AFC.
AFC sources said their main reservations on the document included the presence of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which many want to see dismantled or merged with the armed forces. Other reservations were granting immunity against criminal prosecution to some interim leaders, the subjection and restrictions on the security agencies, and quotas in parliament during the interim phase.
The NCF raised key concerns about the political agreement and constitutional document. “They are not compatible with the creation of a genuine transitional civilian authority,” an NCF statement said. “They abort the AFC’s plans to run the interim phase.”
Meanwhile, the SPA said the draft constitutional document was not final and not ready for signature, and that it was studying the document before giving comments. It said it had objections and these would be sent to partners in the AFC in order to reach a joint position on them.
FURTHER OBJECTIONS: The Communist Party rejected the draft document, since it did not “meet the aspirations of the masses in achieving the goals of the revolution” and bringing about a democratic transformation in Sudan that would also see improved living conditions, an end to civil conflict and a halt to the counter-revolution.
The party added that the document upheld laws that restrict freedoms and supported repressive agencies such as the RSF and the security apparatus instead of restructuring them. It upheld all the previous regime’s regional and international agreements, while retreating from what had been previously agreed regarding the interim parliament with 67 per cent of the seats going to the AFC, it said.
The Central Committee of the Sudanese Communist Party said in a statement that it rejected provisions regarding the independent investigation committee in the document, adding that the agreement did not lead to dismantling a totalitarian regime in favour of a genuine nation-state.
The document upheld parasitic capitalist interests, institutions and economic structures, it said, adding that the current form of the agreement was not conducive to a comprehensive and fair solution to the problems in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile, and that it could deepen the civil war and trigger separatist tendencies.
The Darfur Lawyers Association said it had formed a committee to study the draft document, but on principle it did not believe it was a fit basis for restoring constitutional life in Sudan. There is extensive debate in Sudan in the media and on social media about granting immunity to Sovereign Council members during the interim phase, including the five members of the TMC who will join it based on the agreement.
Sudanese journalist and political analyst Omar Awad said the document was disappointing and voided the parliamentary system, making it into a presidential one since power was concentrated in the hands of the Sovereign Council.
The document also left the appointment of the judicial council and prosecutor-general vague and gave the Sovereign Council the power to oversee the security agencies and issue legislation until a parliament was formed. This could take considerable time due to disagreements over quotas.
“The Sudanese people are angry about the immunity of the members of the Sovereign Council and see it as a way of circumventing justice for the violent dispersion of the earlier sit-in. The people are expressing their anger in demonstrations across the country this week,” he said.
Sudanese journalist Rasha Awad, editor of the Altaghyeer newspaper, said that “the dispute between the TMC and the AFC is not about technicalities, but about the content of the agreement itself and core issues managing the interim period.” She said there were forces that wanted the deal to fall through because they did not want a genuine interim phase to begin and pave the way to a democratic regime.
The TMC wanted the deal to give it extensive powers, and it is insisting on maintaining the committee it had created to investigate the forceful dispersion of the sit-in, she said. It also wanted to keep the AFC as a junior partner, not an equal, during the transitional phase.
Hassan Ahmed Al-Hassan, a Sudanese journalist, warned against the TMC’s stalling in signing the document and the AFC’s procrastination in announcing its candidates, leaving the door wide open for political manoeuvering.
Ezzeddin Ibrahim, a media figure, blamed the TMC for the delay in signing the document because it had been dragging its feet and misinterpreting some stipulations and relying on politicians and legal experts from the ousted regime that would object to any agreement between the two sides.
“There are concerns now that [the TMC] wants to restrain the powers of parliament and encroach on the powers of the Sovereign Council,” Ibrahim said.
Activist Ahmed Madani expected the agreement to fall through, while the Al-Umma Party’s Galal believed developments had occurred in meetings between the two sides that had led them fully to agree on the details of the agreement. The document was being further refined from a political declaration to a constitutional declaration, which would be an alternative to a constitution, he said.
Meanwhile, protests have overtaken Khartoum and other cities in Sudan, raising the slogan “Justice First” in reference to those killed during the violent dispersion of the sit-in outside the army command in Khartoum on 3 June. At the same time, the TMC announced a foiled attempted coup aimed to pre-empt the agreement with the AFC, which it said it was investigating after the perpetrators were arrested.
Informed sources said it had not been a fully developed plot, but merely a group of officers who felt the country was in a fragile state. “They had not made any moves but were still in the planning phase,” the sources said. “They were only a handful of junior officers who had connections to retired officers.”
Security experts doubt that this and a previous attempted coup were the work of Islamist remnants from the ousted regime, noting that the Islamists would never take this step unless they were certain it would succeed. Current regional and international conditions would not welcome any moves by them either.
Experts say that the announcement of these attempted coups could be a prelude by the TMC to moves against Islamist elements in the army and security agencies, or to send a message to the AFC that it would not be able to rule without the military council in such fragile security conditions.
It could also be meant to distract the public from the sit-in dispersion after many videos of the event were circulated on social media. Experts viewed it as a deliberate attempt to incite the people against the agreement and its signatories.
“The videos revived the sorrow of the people,” according to Afaf Abou Kashwa, a media figure, while activist Emad Abdullah asked, “why are these videos circulating now?”
Adam Al-Nour, a leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement, said that “we must convert the suffering and injustice into lessons in order to move forward, just like what happened in Rwanda.” Another activist, Mohamed Al-Rifai, said that publishing the videos was a way of inciting the streets to end the peaceful nature of the protests and that the Sudanese people “must be aware of what is being plotted against Sudan”.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Pressure for agreement on Sudan