Democratic promises in Sudan

Hussein Haridy
Thursday 4 Nov 2021

The sooner the status quo ante is restored in Sudan, the better it will be for the security and stability of the country and for its democratic transition.

The Arab world has been following events in Sudan over the last two years with great expectations.

In 2019, the Sudanese people took to the streets of the country to overthrow the tyrannical regime of former president Omar Al-Bashir, who with his Islamist allies had ruled Sudan for 30 years. During this period, Sudan had been dismembered after the independence of the South in July 2011 and left one of the poorest countries in Africa and the Arab world. It had also been included on the list of states sponsoring terrorism and subject to international sanctions.

In the wake of Al-Bashir’s arrest, made possible by the Sudanese army which sided with the popular uprising of the Sudanese people, the Arab world saw a new political phenomenon that carried a certain kind of hope with it. The military in Sudan, and it is to be hoped also in the larger Arab world, had come to the inevitable conclusion that it could not rule forever and that the institution of democracy in Sudan and elsewhere called for a partnership between the military and the civilian political parties and forces at this stage of Arab political development.

The leading revolutionary forces in Sudan and the Sudanese military successfully negotiated a “constitutional document” in 2019 that ushered in a transitional period of three years during which the two would lead Sudan on the road of democracy. At the end of this period, the military would cede power to an elected government chosen by the Sudanese people in free-and-fair elections that embodied and reflected the legitimate democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people.

The international community accompanied the democratic transition in Sudan like never before. International economic and financial institutions proved very generous, striking out almost $50 billion of the foreign debt of Sudan that amounted to $60 billion. The US Biden administration also removed Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism, and the EU gave its clear support, politically and economically.

The civilian government of Abdullah Hamdok, with General Abdel-Fattah Burhan chairing a political authority called the Transitional Sovereign Council, has led Sudan over the last two years and adopted economic decisions that were necessary, but were also harsh for the daily lives of the Sudanese people. The inflation rate reached 200 per cent. The problem was that these decisions, though called for by purely financial and economic considerations, were politically destabilising for the civilian component of the transitional regime in Sudan and dealt a blow to the shaky status quo.

On 25 October, the democratic expectations of the Sudanese people came to an abrupt halt when Burhan announced the dissolution of the Hamdok government and the imposition of a state of emergency. Hamdok was arrested with members of his government. Sensing the strong reactions by the international community led by the UN, the US, the African Union (AU) and the EU, Burhan then freed Hamdok, after saying that he was a “guest”. At the time this article was written on 30 October, the members of the Hamdok government remained in custody. It has been difficult to understand the calculations of the Sudanese military in scuttling, even if temporarily, the democratic transition in Sudan.

Sometime before the events of 25 October, there were indications that the transitional period in Sudan had been facing challenges. An attempted coup had failed last September, and the Hamdok government and the top brass in Sudan had been trading accusations, with the latter accusing the former of political incompetence. Furthermore, the alignment of the “revolutionary forces” had begun to fray and the cohesion between the civilian government and the other political forces to unravel.

When added to the growing economic hardships, the political bickering among the civilian component of the ruling authorities in Sudan had indicated that the transition was doomed. In other words, Burhan’s regrettable decision on 25 October was not a complete surprise. 24 hours before it, the US special envoy to the Horn of Africa was in Khartoum, where he had held meetings with Burhan and Hamdok in an attempt to help them work out their differences. But the die had already been cast by the Sudanese military.

International reactions have been quick and grave. There has been a wide condemnation of the decision taken on 25 October and calls for the immediate restoration of the status quo ante. After his release, Hamdok let it be known that he would decline any offer to become the next Sudanese prime minister when Burhan announced that Sudan would have a new “civilian” government and a new Transitional Council.

Burhan and the military in Sudan should reconsider their decision and make much-needed corrections before international sanctions, political as well as economic and financial, are re-imposed on the country. The US administration has already decided to suspend $700 million in emergency aid to Sudan. Moreover, the “Friends of Sudan” Group that includes the UN, the EU, the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Sweden, Norway and Spain has called for the repeal of the 25 October decision and the immediate release of all the politicians arrested.

The UN Security Council held a session on 28 October to discuss the situation in Sudan. It was the third meeting for the council to meet to do so since the dissolution of the Hamdok government and the imposition of the state of emergency in Sudan. The council’s members, particularly its five permanent members, failed to agree on a common language as to the events that have taken place in Sudan, with Russia and China adopting a more accommodating point of view of the decisions taken by the Sudanese military. The council took the middle ground and called for the restoration of the Hamdok government.

The Sudanese military have placed themselves between a rock and a hard place by their ill-considered actions on 25 October. The sooner they restore the status quo ante, the better it will be for the security and stability of Sudan and for a safe and secure democratic transition in the country. The world is watching.

*The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly


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