With a great sense of optimism and amid popular celebrations, Sudan’s Military Council and representatives of the opposition coalition, the Alliance of Freedom and Change, finally signed Sunday a “constitutional declaration” that will pave the way for a transitional civilian government.
The Sudanese people, who sacrificed their souls and blood and endured severe economic hardships since they launched their popular revolt against ousted president Omar Al-Bashir eight months ago, should be the first to congratulate.
Just a few days before the signing of this important document, the entire process mediated by the African Union and several other influential countries behind the scenes, including Egypt, was about to collapse following the tragic death of five innocent students at the city of Al-Obayed on 29 July, shot dead by unruly security forces. The Military Council moved swiftly to condemn this incident, and immediately announced that at least seven officers would be put on trial for opening fire and killing the students.
Meanwhile, simply signing a “constitutional declaration” will certainly not guarantee a smooth transition towards stable, democratic rule in Sudan, ending a cycle of military dictatorships and dysfunctional civilian governments that have defined the country in the 63 years since independence.
The support of neighbouring countries, the African Union, the Arab League and the international community is crucial to implement the agreement reached, especially considering the tight schedule both sides agreed to in order to form a “sovereign council” divided between the military and the opposition, a new government and an interim legislative body.
Other daunting challenges that also require regional and international support include ending armed conflicts in Sudan’s west and south, improving the country’s battered economy, bringing together different ethnic and religious groups and confronting loyalists to the old regime who abuse religion to prevent Sudan’s progress towards a true democracy.
Since Al-Bashir’s removal in April, leaders of the Military Council themselves announced that they aborted at least half a dozen coup attempts by senior officers reportedly loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood group that backed Al-Bashir and formed their own outlawed militias that were reportedly involved in bloody attacks against peaceful protesters.
But the signing of the power-sharing pact is an encouraging sign that the key players in Sudan, namely the Military Council and the Alliance of Freedom and Change, are keen to restore stability in their country and place the interests of the Sudanese people first.
Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, a prominent member of the coalition of political parties and trade unions that represented protesters in negotiations with the military, said signing the document was a “key step towards realising the goals of the revolution”.
The details of the document show a significant level of flexibility from the ruling generals and may usher in an era of harmony between Sudan’s pro-democracy movement and the military.
Six civilians will serve on an 11-seat sovereign council that will act as a collective presidency. The remaining five will come from the military. A member of the military will lead the council for the next 21 months and a civilian will lead it for the 18 months after. The council members and its composition are due to be announced on 18 August.
A government of non-partisan technocrats will be led and made up by civilians selected by the Alliance of Freedom and Change, the opposition coalition. Only the defence and interior ministers will be chosen by the military. This government should be functional by 1 September.
Civilians will also take 201 of the 300 seats in a legislative council, with the remainder going to political groups that are not members of the coalition. The document also pledges to hold accountable anyone found guilty of crimes against the people during Al-Bashir’s rule.
Egypt immediately welcomed the “constitutional declaration” agreement, describing it as “an important step on the right path towards achieving security and stability in [Sudan] and meeting the aspirations of the Sudanese people with its different segments and state institutions, as they are responsible for achieving these aspirations”, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.
While confirming Cairo’s full support for the Sudanese people, the statement added that “the steps taken by our brothers in Sudan in the past few days, at the top of which is the constitutional declaration agreement as well as the agreement to form a civilian government made of independent national figures, assert that Sudan has returned to the constitutional path, which will lead to the lifting of the suspension of Sudan’s membership in the African Union.” As current chair of the African Union, Egypt will certainly spare no effort to achieve that goal as soon as the key components of the agreement are carried out.
The Egyptian government will also work with representatives of the new Sudan to assure the support of the international community for the aspirations of its people to achieve peace, stability and prosperity.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Sudan steps forward