Contrary to what had been anticipated, success in overcoming the recent failed coup attempt in Sudan has not led to positive interactions producing greater political stability and ending the transitional phase that was already planned for in the Constitutional Document signed in August 2019.
Instead, it has brought new problems and deepened the rifts between the various political forces in Sudan. It has also driven the revolutionary forces to rally and to try to reconcile their differences after sensing that the post-coup atmosphere may lead to a forcible end to the transitional period.
Various observations can be made regarding the failed coup attempt and the political context surrounding it in both domestic and international terms.
The first is that this failed coup attempt might have been a trial balloon for another coup that could take place either through an actual seizure of power in the shape of a classic military coup or through the Sudanese military refusing to hand over the presidency of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan to its civilian members. This is set to take place in November according to the Constitutional Document and will announce the end of the transitional phase in preparation for holding early elections.
The second is that the political inclinations and sympathy among Sudan’s military leaders for the political and social base of former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir’s regime seem obvious and almost visible. General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan refused to blame remnants of the old regime for the failed coup attempt during his visit to the Al-Shajara Camp, one of the coup strongholds, in response to Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok’s accusation of the National Congress Party, which ruled the country during Al-Bashir’s rule.
Third, the failed coup has brought home the need for the reform of the Sudanese military and security institutions, with political stability in the country now relying on it. This is in the light of the announcement of more than one coup attempt during the last two years, all of which were attributed to the National Islamic Front, the base of the Sudanese Islamists.
Fourth, restructuring the Sudanese military and resolving the relationship between the regular forces (the Sudanese Armed Forces) and the irregular forces (the Rapid Support Forces) is a precondition for stability in all Sudan’s provinces and the panacea against coup attempts. At the moment, the interactions between the two sides are sometimes in agreement and sometimes in tension. They are also decided according to the internal political climate. The current situation threatens political stability and even the future of the state itself.
Fifth, the presence of the Forces of Freedom and Change among the people of Sudan has declined to a great extent due to internal divisions. As a result, spontaneous popular protests against the attempted coup were weak despite calls issued by the prime minister. There were, however, rallies by Sudan’s parties and political forces refusing any coup attempt and rejecting any attempt by the military to return to power.
Sixth, the merits of the civilian components of the Sovereignty Council have been brought into doubt by economic challenges and the living conditions of ordinary people in Sudan. The Forces of Freedom and Change have become fragmented, calling into doubt their political strength and effectiveness and affecting the balance of power between them and the military. This imbalance resulted in the hegemony of the military during the previous period.
Seventh, the regional and international stand against any coup attempts in Sudan was very significant and clearly shows that any such attempts will not receive a positive reaction. Cairo, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi all issued statements denouncing the attempted coup, and there were also firm stances taken by the US, the EU, the Arab League and the African Union.
Eighth, the statement by the US State Department alleging the existence of foreign hands behind the failed coup attempt in Sudan raises questions about who these parties are, especially in the light of Eritrea and Ethiopia not issuing any condemnation of the coup.
The following issues must now be addressed by Sudan’s military and civilian forces.
First, they must prove to the international community that the Sudanese elites are trustworthy partners with a view to investment and economic support. If this is not done, there will be a decline in this support, with signs of this already beginning to emerge particularly in the concerns expressed by the US administration, the main supporter of Khartoum.
Second, the problem of East Sudan has become important for the future of the state and its stability because of its bias in favour of the military. The closure of Port Sudan more than once during the last year in an attempt to annul the East Sudan track in the Juba Agreement has caused great economic and political losses.
Third, protests in response to a call by the High Council of Beja Nazirs, the local tribal council, has led to the closure of Port Sudan, Suakin and Bashayer, among other places. These closures, exempting buses, police and ambulance vehicles, are a major threat to the Sudanese economy. East Sudan controls much of Sudan’s economic relations with the outside world, and Sudan imports 70 per cent of its needs via Port Sudan. The closure of the port of Bashayer has also greatly impacted South Sudan, as oil exported through it provides most of the country’s revenues.
Fourth, there is a need to settle the constitutional relationship between the centre and the periphery in Sudan, decide matters of political representation and restructure the sharing of wealth. This could take place either within the framework of a constitutional conference or within a legislative body whose formation has been delayed. One of the main reasons for the protests in East Sudan is that the residents of the region believe that it is being treated as a cash cow for the rest of Sudan, whereas in fact it suffers from significant underdevelopment.
Fifth, the political party of former president Omar Al-Bashir, the National Congress Party, is still influential even two years after the revolution. Mohamed Al-Amin Tirik, head of the High Council of Beja Nazirs in East Sudan and a National Congress Party member, has demanded the dismissal of the transitional government and the formation of a military council representing six Sudanese provinces with a partner civilian component substituting for Hamdok’s government, for example.
Ending the hegemony of the military in Sudan and with it the possibility of a further military coup can only be achieved through a political agreement between the Forces of Freedom and Change and the military guaranteeing the safety of those who were associated with the former regime and the military participation in political decision-making in the future. Without an agreement of this sort, the political situation will not return to peace and stability, and the antagonism among the different parties will continue.
Regional and international support for Sudan at this crucial stage is urgently needed, especially given Sudan’s important geopolitical location and importance for Red Sea security and the security of the region. Egypt, in particular, should continue to build partnerships with Sudan.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly