Sudanese civilian forces signed a Political Framework Agreement with the military on 5 December, calling for the formation of a new transitional civilian government, the army’s return to barracks and non-participation in politics, and the launch of a comprehensive process to draft a new constitution.
The agreement also provides for the president being the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces and the prime minister being chosen from the forces of the revolution. The transitional period under the agreement will last for two years, starting from the appointment of the prime minister.
The agreement offers an opportunity to end the political crisis that has plagued Sudan since the army ousted former president Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019, after months of grassroots protest against his regime which had been in power for 30 years.
A Transitional Military Council governed temporarily until 20 August 2019, when the army and civilian forces agreed on a power-sharing arrangement in accordance with which an 11-member interim Sovereign Council headed by General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan would assume control for a period of three years and pave the way to democratic elections.
But before the interim phase was completed, the country was once again plunged into turmoil. On 25 October 2021, Al-Burhan dismissed the government of prime minister Abdallah Hamdok, declared a state of emergency, and suspended portions of the Constitutional Declaration that the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Transitional Military Council had signed in August 2019.
Although the new agreement “offers a path to realise the aspirations of Sudan’s youth, women, and men,” as UN Special Representative Volker Perthes said in Khartoum last week, it has not passed without controversy.
On 8 December, demonstrators gathered in Khartoum to protest against it on the grounds that it does not meet the aspirations of the Sudanese people. The protests were organised by the Sudanese resistance committees, the grassroots neighbourhood committees that organised civil disobedience against the Al-Bashir regime and played a central role during the uprising in 2019.
Many political forces, such as the Democratic Bloc, the Sudanese Communist Party, and several resistance committees, boycotted the signing ceremony.
Nevertheless, many other political forces welcomed the agreement, which was signed by around 50 political parties and civil society organisations. Foremost among these were the main opposition coalition, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), as well as the Democratic Unionist Party and labour and professional syndicates.
The agreement was also lauded by the UN, the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and many regional and international powers, including Egypt, as an important step on the road to a lasting settlement and a guarantee for Sudanese progress and stability.
The Political Framework Agreement “is indeed a culmination of the sustained efforts of Sudanese stakeholders over the past year to find a solution to the political crisis and restore constitutional order,” Perthes said at the signing ceremony.
He urged a continued spirit of consensus in the coming period, which he said would require broad-based consultations with key stakeholders. The international quartet (the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) and the Sudan Troika countries (Norway, the UK, and US) also welcomed the agreement as a major step towards a settlement of the political crisis in Sudan.
Washington has vowed to sanction anyone attempting to obstruct or delay the democratic transition in Sudan. In a statement released on 7 December, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced “an expansion of the current visa restriction policy... to cover any current or former Sudanese officials or other individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic transition in Sudan, including through suppressing human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the immediate family members of such persons.”
The enthusiastic response abroad to the Framework Agreement reflects the vital role the UN, the African Union, and regional and international powers have played during recent months to encourage the civilian and military parties in Sudan to stay the course of the negotiating process and find common ground.
Such backing will help to sustain the impetus of the political process in the coming phase and enhance the prospects for ushering in a sustainable democratic system in Sudan. One of the main processes that lies ahead is the adoption of a new constitution. The agreement raises hopes for a breakthrough on this, as it is consonant with the substance of the draft constitution proposed by the Sudanese Bar Association in September.
Moreover, the FFC has previously announced that the military has responded favourably to this document, which will soon be the focus of extensive consultations and deliberation.
The Sudanese military has clearly concluded that a lasting political settlement in the country is now imperative. Nothing testifies to this more than Al-Burhan’s affirmation that the army will exit the political scene permanently, although he has stressed that in exchange the country’s political parties must also “exit” from participating in the government of the transitional period.
In a speech the day after the signing ceremony of the agreement, Al-Burhan said that “our aim is to transform the army into a constitutional institution subject to the provisions of the Constitution and the law and democratic values and elected democratic institutions, in accordance with which it will be prohibited from establishing any political party, group, or ideology.”
General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagalo, deputy chairman of the Sovereign Council and commander-in-chief of the Sudanese paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who also spoke at the signing ceremony, pledged that he personally and the institution he represented would remain firmly committed to the democratic transition and protect the interim process to the elections.
The Framework Agreement should now generate a climate conducive to remedying the structural flaws that continue to hamper Sudan’s deteriorating economy, which worsened after the US froze financial aid to Khartoum in October 2021. The value of the Sudanese pound has declined sharply, aggravating shortages in basic commodities and causing further cutbacks to already deteriorating public services.
The 5 December agreement will now pave the way to the resumption of international financial aid that will help to spur the economy back into action.
However, considerable challenges lie ahead. Above all, political forces affiliated with the former regime, most notably the National Congress Party, are opposed to the agreement and may attempt to hamper its implementation. The same applies to some opposition forces, above all the Democratic Bloc which was founded on 3 November by the Sudan Liberation Army, the Justice and Equality Movement, the Kush Liberation Movement, and other groups that are an alternative to the FFC.
In addition, public confidence in the players dominating the Sudanese political scene has declined and there remain concerns that the military might backtrack on its commitment to the agreement.
Political progress in Sudan remains contingent on the resolve of the main stakeholders. Both the military and civilian signatories of the agreement plus a large portion of civil society and the military establishment are aware of how important a political settlement and successful political process is to economic recovery in the country.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly