The Future of Military Rule in Sudan

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Managing Editor & Research Associate, Middle East Policy Council

July 6, 2022

On Monday, July 4, Sudanese coup leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan announced that the army would step aside in an effort to make room for a civilian government, following five consecutive days of protests in the capital, Khartoum, and its suburbs. Although some received the news positively, neighboring nations and many Sudanese civilians are skeptical of Sudan’s governmental future.

Recent demonstrators have fought to restore the transition to civilian rule, which the coup derailed. Al-Jazeera delves into the coup’s events, occurring on October 21, 2021. Sudanese military forces “arrested Sudan’s acting prime minister and senior government officials, disrupted internet access and blocked bridges in the capital, Khartoum, the country’s information ministry said, describing the actions as a coup. In response, thousands flooded the streets of Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman to protest against the apparent military takeover on Monday, [October 25]. Footage shared online appeared to show protesters blocking streets and setting fire to tyres as security forces used tear gas to disperse them. Protesters could be heard chanting, ‘The people are stronger, stronger’ and ‘Retreat is not an option!’ as plumes of smoke from burning tyres filled the air.”

In the months following the coup, Sudan’s streets have been frequented with protests and political stalemate. The five-day long protests preceding Monday’s announcement included crowds burning tires and barricading roads, meanwhile security forces responded with live bullets, tear gas canisters, and water cannons. Asharq Alawsat newspaper dives into the events leading up to Monday’s decision: “Last year’s military takeover ended a power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilian groups agreed following the 2019 overthrow of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir. It has led to more than eight months of mass street protests against the military, with most civilian groups refusing to negotiate with the army. During the latest rallies, on Thursday, [June 30], medics said nine people were killed by security forces, and protesters have since been holding sit-ins in the capital, Khartoum. On Monday, Burhan said the military would not take part in internationally-backed dialogue efforts to break the stalemate, but leave civilian groups to negotiate to form a government. The existing ruling council, which Burhan heads and which includes some civilian members, would then be dissolved, and a high military council would be formed, he said.”

The focus of al-Burhan’s announcement included both the transition and rejection of talks. The New Arab highlights his sentiments, stating that the “army would make way for a civilian government and would ‘not participate’ in national talks facilitated by the U.N. and regional blocs.…Sudan’s main civilian players had boycotted the talks with military leaders launched under international auspices last month in an effort to restore the transition. The United Nations, the African Union and regional bloc IGAD facilitated the dialogue. But Sudan’s main civilian bloc, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), which was ousted from power in the coup, and the influential Umma party refused to join.”

Amid the Sudanese protests and violence, neighboring nations have grown concerned that the fallout from political instability could have a spillover effect onto their borders. Journalist Dina Ezzat, writing for Ahram, stated that “Cairo has offered political support to Al-Borhan since he became chair of the Transitional Military Council…Over the past few months, Cairo has been getting increasingly worried about Al-Borhan’s chances of fixing the situation in the country, however. Some official sources in Cairo have been worried that Al-Borhan might need to reconsider his political plans if he is to spare the country from chaos, especially after a recent show of anger in the international community that suspended a promise to scrap the country’s foreign debts amounting to $64 billion. Cairo is not reassured about Al-Borhan’s ability to manage the differences between the top generals of the armed forces and those in the RSF. While they exclude for now any chance of internal military squabbling, they say that nobody can predict how the situation could develop if Al-Borhan were to fail to find a formula to fix this problem or reach a political deal with the country’s civilian forces.”

Continued in Ahram, journalist Ezzat further expressed concerns from Egypt and the African Union as well: “‘This will not be easy, especially since the civilian forces disagree among themselves and the [conflicting] military leaders receive support from conflicting regional players,’ one of the official sources said. He added that the Trilateral Mechanism of the UN, the African Union, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, was not working in harmony. [Following Monday’s announcement], there was no immediate reaction to this statement in Cairo, with official sources saying it was keeping close watch on developments in Sudan. Al-Borhan has been a close ally of Egypt’s, and Egypt would still wish him to be part of the political equation in Sudan, the sources said.”

Similarly, Cameron Hudson, senior associate on African peace, security, and government issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, expressed concerns regarding the announcement. Hudson told Al-Monitor “it feels unlikely that the lifting of the state of emergency is going to translate into tangible improvements on the ground, at least in the near term. Hudson sees this move as an effort to create time and space for the military to strengthen its hold on power. ‘The military was committing abuses, arrests, and killings of protesters from the start of the revolution and well before it imposed its state of emergency. Lifting it now does not mean that it intends to reverse this trend,’ he said. He added, ‘They (military leaders) will now look to extract concessions of their own from protesters and the international community. However, relieving pressure on the military or praising them at this point is exactly what they want and would only empower them further.’”

Many Sudanese protesters share Hudson’s belief that it is unlikely that the announcement will result in tangible improvements. France24 analyzed protestor perception: “Protesters were unmoved by the general’s words, and in the Burri district of Khartoum new demonstrators came out immediately. ‘We don’t have confidence in Burhan,’ said Muhannad Othman, perched on a barricade erected by the protesters. ‘We just want him to leave once and for all.’ A demonstrator in central Khartoum, Oumeima Hussein, said Burhan should be ‘judged for all those killed since the coup” and vowed that protesters “are going to topple him like we did to Bashir.’”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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