Sudanese Government Instability and Military Coup

  • 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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Sudanese Government Instability and Military Coup


Q: What was Sudan’s government before October 25, 2021?

A: Sudan’s government was transitional, created after the ousting of former Sudanese head of state Omar al-Bashir in 2019. He was ousted via a military coup after nearly a year of national protests in response to the increased deterioration of Sudan’s economy. Bashir had been Sudan’s head of state since 1989 after leading a military coup against Sudan’s then democratically elected government. Bashir was accused of widespread voter fraud and was the first sitting head of state to ever be indicted by the ICC for his role in an alleged genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

After months of negotiations between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and a political coalition of protestors from different groups called the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the two sides came to a power-sharing agreement. On August 4, 2019, FFC leader Ahmed Rabee and the deputy head of the TMC signed the Draft Constitutional Declaration. Not all of the groups involved in the protests were happy with the agreement, such as armed militia groups and loyalists to the Bashir regime. Without complete unity, there was an unstable foundation on the civilian side of the new government.


Q: How was the power-sharing agreement under the Draft Constitutional Declaration supposed to work?

A: Under the new power-sharing agreement of the transitional government, the Sovereignty Council acted as a collective head of state. The council, made up of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, four additional military members, and five civilian members, made decisions through group consensus. The 11th member is a sixth civilian member who is approved by both sides of the council. The transitional government would govern for a transitional period of 39 months. In November 2021, the civilian side would then replace the military as leader of the Sovereignty Council. 


Q: What happened in Sudan on October 25?

A: On October 25, 2021, Sudan’s top military official General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan declared a state of emergency and suspended Articles 11, 12, 15, 16, 24.3, 71, and 72 of Sudan’s 2019 transitional government constitution to allegedly prevent political tensions from driving the country into a new civil war. Because these articles created civilian power within the transitional government, Burhan, essentially, ordered a military coup against the civilian government by removing the constitutional articles that allotted them political power. Following the suspension of these articles, Burhan arrested senior cabinet members and political leaders, including the ministers of industry and information, the governor of the Khartoum state, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok who was put under house arrest after he refused to endorse the dissolution of the transitional government. 


Q: What was the response to the coup?

A: Hamdok encouraged civilians to “defend their revolution,” a reference to the 2019 Sudanese Revolution. Clashes between protestors and the military resulted in at least seven deaths and hundreds of injuries. Widespread internet outages were reported, and all international travel was stopped. Hundreds of thousands of protestors are said to have participated in the Khartoum protests, in addition to thousands more around the country. A Sudanese court ruled that the government must restore internet connection, but many areas of Sudan have yet to be reconnected.

Prime Minister Hamdok is still under house arrest but has indirect contact with the military through international mediators. There has been no agreement to reinstall Hamdok as the civilian leader. However, on November 11, Burhan reached an agreement with civilian leaders to create a new Sovereignty Council. The new Sovereignty Council is a 14-member council led by Burhan that includes civilian representatives from different regions of Sudan, but without members of the FFC. Many see this as Burhan entrenching himself and the military within the government under the guise of returning to the transitional government, as no FFC members, who are the driving force of the revolution, are part of the new Sovereignty Council.


Q: Was the government dissolution by Burhan legal?

A: No, it was not legal. The 2019 Sudanese Constitution states that the Constitutional Court shall make legal rulings on any amendments or repayments to the constitution. However, there is still no established Constitutional Court. In its place, the cabinet and Sovereignty Council (outlined below) can jointly amend the constitution. There is no provision for the chief of the military (Burhan) to unilaterally suspend articles of the constitution in any circumstance. 


Q: What political factors contributed to the coup?

A: The FFC is made up of many smaller groups that run the political spectrum, including leftist groups, conservative groups, women’s groups, refugees, and everything in between. Many of these groups felt marginalized by the Sovereignty Council. The inability of the Sovereignty Council to address the large array of concerns from the various groups of the FFC has led to disapproval from those same groups. This, in turn, has caused massive infighting within FFC groups, leading to former FFC groups splintering from the FFC to create their own opposition groups. Military leaders voiced their concerns about the civilian government, claiming that it is too wrapped up in internal disputes to address problems facing Sudanese citizens. 


Q: Did the civilian government have reason to mistrust the military?

A: On September 21, 2021, Bashir loyalists, from both military and outside the military, attempted to overthrow the Sovereignty Council in a coup. At least 40 military officers and other civilians were arrested in connection to the coup. The participation of military officers raised red flags for the civilian government. The splintered FFC groups saw the attempted coup as proof the FFC-led civilian government was ineffective, and called for military control of the government. These supporters organized a large protest on October 16. FFC officials deemed this a power grab by the military. Both sides held large demonstrations for the next 10 days, with tensions increasing daily until October 25. Burhan’s fear of civil war was coming to fruition as instability between the FFC, the military, and other civilian groups escalated in size and intensity.


Q: What role did Sudan’s economy play in the lead-up to the coup? 

A: Economic crisis plagues Sudan. Inflation, trade deficits, unemployment, and poverty are rampant across the country. In order to open the door to IMF and multilateral funding, Sudan needed to make certain economic reforms, including cutting fuel subsidies, which only increased popular resentment of the government. Rising food prices have led many citizens into food insecurity. The FFC promised an improved economy and increase in the quality of life, but the economic situation in Sudan has marginally improved since the 2019 ousting of Bashir. The economic deterioration increased infighting within the FFC, as well as popular dissent against the civilian government. 


Q: Did the military have any personal motivations for dissolving the government?

A: They most likely did. Analysts infer that some military leaders feared that giving up the civilian wing of the Sovereignty Council would leave them vulnerable. Military leader Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagalo has been implicated in war crimes from the 2019 coup and Khartoum Massacre, an attack against sit-in protesters during the 2019 coup demonstrations. Without legal protection, many military leaders could be indicted on alleged war crimes from the Bashir regime’s rule. Also, many military leaders own commercial businesses in lucrative trades (e.g., gold, oil, and gum arabic). Under the rules established in the Commission for Dismantling the 30 June 1989 Regime, Removal of Empowerment and Corruption, and Recovering Public Funds, the government can confiscate these businesses, causing military officials to lose significant wealth.

  • 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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