After spending weeks under house arrest, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was back at the helm of the government this week after signing an agreement with general Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, the country’s military leader. The agreement received a warm international welcome but was widely decried at home.
Hamdok was placed under house arrest on 25 October following a military takeover in Sudan. Demonstrations are continuing in the streets even after the release of political detainees such as Omar Al-Doqeir, head of Sudan’s Congress Party, and Yasser Arman, Hamdok’s adviser and deputy president of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
The political detainees were freed hours after Hamdok signed the agreement with Al-Burhan on his release. But 12 ministers affiliated to the Forces of Freedom and Change Movement (FFC) submitted their resignations to the prime minister upon his return to office.
The FFC is a bloc of parties and movements that led the ouster of former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019. Trade Minister Ali Gedo refused to resign, while the ministers of the cabinet and industry did not attend the meeting with Hamdok because they had not been released from jail when it convened.
The FFC denounced the Hamdok-Burhan agreement, branding it “treason and political suicide” on the part of the prime minister.
Hamdok earlier served as the head of the UN Economic Commission for Africa in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. He was nominated by the FFC to the position of prime minister of Sudan and is not affiliated to any political party.
During his leadership of the transitional government in Sudan, Hamdok contributed to opening up the country. It was removed from the US list of countries harbouring terrorism, and the Paris Conference then dropped many of Khartoum’s debts. After the flotation of the national currency and taking steps to lift subsidies, Sudan began negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan.
These “economic gains” and “stopping of the bloodshed” of the Sudanese were cited by Hamdok when he signed the deal with Al-Burhan
Greeting the news of Hamdok’s restoration to office, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that “I am encouraged by reports that talks in Khartoum will lead to the release of all political prisoners, reinstatement of Prime Minister Hamdok, lifting of the state of emergency and resumption of coordination.”
“I urge all sides to further talks and redouble efforts to complete key transitional tasks on a civilian-led path to democracy in Sudan. I also reiterate our call for the security forces to refrain from the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters,” he added.
The UN also welcomed the deal, stressing “the need to protect the constitutional order to safeguard the basic freedoms of political action, freedom of speech and peaceful assembly” in Sudan.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry “lauded the wisdom and responsibility of the Sudanese parties to reach consensus on the need to make the transitional period successful to serve the interests of Sudan.”
The Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry also commended the deal “to push the transitional process forward and achieve the aspirations of the Sudanese people.”
The African Union (AU), which had suspended the membership of Sudan following the military takeover, lauded the agreement, saying it was “an important step towards the restoration of the constitutional order.”
Norway, a member of the international troika that helped Sudan end its internal conflicts, praised Hamdok’s “return” and called for “concrete measures to build confidence.”
However, despite its international welcome, Hamdok’s supporters in the FFC began to mobilise against the deal, calling for military leaders to be put on trial for “taking over power” on 25 October.
“We will not succumb to the deal. We will fight by all means possible. This is a step to legalise the military takeover,” said Wagdi Saleh, a member of the Empowerment Removal Committee which helped to remove Al-Bashir.
Many FFC members have reservations about the Committee, however, Osman Al-Boshri, a leader of the National Umma Party that had taken part in the deal, told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said “the committee has more powers than it should have,” notably in its removal of a large number of employees on the pretext that they were loyal to the Al-Bashir regime.
Al-Boshri called for investigations into “corruption, preferential treatment, and political loyalty” in the committee.
Mohamed Al-Asbat, a member of Sudan’s Professionals Association, said the agreement between Hamdok and Al-Burhan did not satisfy the aspirations of the Sudanese people.
The Professionals Association is a Sudanese syndicate body that objected to Al-Bashir’s rule and was one of the main players in the uprising of December 2018 that led to Al-Bashir’s overthrow five months later.
Mohamed Idriss, a Khartoum professor of constitutional law, expressed fears that “the FFC will become a voice of opposition without offering an alternative in power.” Hamdok “is the only solution, however problematic he may be. The takeover was not meant to lead to military rule. It was meant to disassemble the FFC.”
At present, it seems that a large part of the National Umma Party and the Sudanese federal forces support the agreement, as do the army-backing Sufi orders that control the central countryside. The Native Administration, which is made up of tribal leaders, especially from the Arabs of western Sudan, as well as a number of armed movements that joined the earlier Juba Declaration, also support it.
These forces have significant political and societal influence. Rejecting the deal would mean pushing Hamdok into the hands of the military, “which would be a grave loss for the revolution,” Idriss said.
“It would be difficult for the civil forces to make up for the loss of a professional figure with international appeal such as Hamdok. He is a win for the military, which will implement every item in the agreement to satisfy the international community and gain its approval,” he said.
“The Sudanese street is in no need of international support. It can topple the military leaders, and if it does, there will not be international sympathy for their government,” Al-Asbat said.
“We have suffered under failing ministers, despite the approval of a government of politicians that had the cover to make hard decisions,” Al-Boshri said.
Sudan is probably now on the way to forming a government of technocrats, not politicians, he said, though Hamdok said after signing the deal that he had “agreed with Al-Burhan that he [Hamdok] would be free to choose his government” without military interference.
It is not known how much authority Hamdok will enjoy after his reinstatement or what will happen if Hamdok’s choices for the government are a mix of technocrats and politicians.
Meanwhile, the FFC is starting to disintegrate, and soon it will only comprise the Professionals Association and ideology-based parties such as the Sudanese Baathists and Communists, according to Khaled Mahmoud, a researcher in African affairs.
In fact, the majority of parties will break down, with many seeing their members split between agreeing or disapproving of the Hamdok-Burhan deal, he added.
“The disintegration of Sudan’s political parties will facilitate the return to power of the military, which will then enjoy the support of all conservative and traditional powers, pushing the country back a few decades,” Mahmoud concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.