Like many countries alarmed about the situation in Sudan, Egypt immediately welcomed the agreement reached on 21 November between the head of the Transitional Sovereign Council and army leader, Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
The culmination of intensive efforts by local Sudanese mediators, regional countries and international partners aimed at restoring stability in Sudan after the military takeover of 25 October, when Hamdok was placed under house arrest and scores of civilians who led the popular revolt against former president Omar Bashir in December, 2018 were detained.
The move was followed by street protests rejecting the military takeover, and clashes with the Sudanese security forces in which at least 41 people were killed.
Egypt praised the “wisdom and sense of responsibility maintained by the Sudanese parties in order to reach an agreement ensuring the success of the transitional period in the service of Sudan’s highest interests.” In a statement, the Foreign Ministry expressed hopes that the 21 November agreement will be “a step on the way to achieving sustainable stability in Sudan and so enabling development and prosperity for the Sudanese people.”
The United States, Britain, Norway, the European Union, Canada and Switzerland too welcomed the reinstatement of Hamdok, and in a joint statement urged the release of other political detainees held following his removal. Already several Sudanese political leaders have been released. The United Nations too welcomed Sunday’s deal.
The agreement reached is but an initial step on the long road ahead, and reflects the numerous difficulties that nations in our part of the world tend to face following a popular revolt that removes a leader who has dominated the political scene for decades. Whether in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Iraq, Syria, Algeria or Yemen, what was at stake was not simply political disputes or differences over democratic values, but the territorial integrity and even the existence of some of those states. The serious threat of terrorism and political groups that use religion as a cover to promote sectarian and fanatical agendas further complicates efforts to build a stable and prosperous future for the peoples of this troubled region.
And so, as is the case with other countries in similar circumstances, the only way out of the complicated reality of Sudan is compromise among the various key players and willingness to share responsibility. While planning for the future transitional period, neigbouring African countries and international partners need to support the Sudanese parties not just to resolve differences, whether between the military and civilian leaders or among civilian parties themselves, but also to deal with many security and economic challenges.
Sudan had already gone a long way on the path towards restoring its international and regional status. The United States removed Sudan from the list of countries accused of supporting terrorism, opening the door to successful negotiations with international financial institutions to provide Sudan with debt relief and much needed development funds.
Yet this came at a hefty price for most Sudanese people, who needed to cope with wide-ranging economic reform programmes that raised prices following the devaluation of the Sudanese pound. Food shortages and power outages were common complaints. Providing basic needs for the Sudanese people and improving their living conditions is a top priority for the new transitional government led by Hamdok, which should employ experts and technocrats rather than dividing posts among political factions.
Long-standing regional grievances in different parts of Sudan are another major challenge facing any government in Khartoum, whether military or civilian. That is why both Al-Burhan and Hamdok confirmed their commitment to the Juba peace agreement signed by various rebel groups in Darfur and East Sudan. This should be followed by tangible steps towards integrating all armed rebel groups into Sudan’s united army to ensure security and stability across the country.
While some Sudanese political parties rejected the 21 November deal and vowed to continue with street protests, Hamdok said he agreed to the deal to prevent more bloodshed. He deserves respect for taking such a stand. “Sudanese blood is precious,” he stated after the deal. “Let us stop the bloodshed and direct the youth’s energy into building and development.”
General Al-Burhan, who praised Hamdok, promised that the deal reached on how to administer the transitional period would be inclusive, seeking cooperation with various political factions, except for the National Congress Party led by ousted president Al-Bashir. The aim is to hold presidential and parliamentary elections before July 2023 in order to reach a permanent, constitutional government for Sudan. Talks among the military and civilian parties will be based on the Constitutional Declaration made by the two sides in August 2019, and cover the creation of a transitional legislative council, judicial structures, electoral institutions and a constitutional convention.
After signing the deal, Hamdok said, “I realised that the road would not be strewn with roses.” Setting aside his own personal ordeal after his sudden removal as prime minister, Hamdok stressed what is most needed in Sudan: “By joining hands, we can all reach a peaceful shore.” This is the only path to realising the dreams of Sudan’s peaceful revolution nearly three years ago: freedom, peace and justice.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.