Middle East in Focus
After months of protracted talks and violent protests, the people of Sudan have cause for celebration. Sudan has teetered on the edge of civil war for some time, with the situation becoming even more volatile following the ousting and subsequent imprisonment of the country's long-time ruler, Omar Al Bashir. The new constitutional and political declaration signed last week between Sudan's Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) aims to put an end to that instability by outlining a power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilian leaders. The agreement has been received with relief by Sudan's neighbors and has been the subject of extensive commentary across the Middle East.
The overwhelming response to the agreement has been positive, with various editorials expressing optimism that the deal will provide some respite from the violence and as this editorial by The National puts it, "address that call for a greater say in how the country is run. There are many challenges ahead, among them how to address the injustices of the previous regime and the danger of Mr. Al Bashir's loyalists attempting to bring back authoritarian rule. The new body will also have to introduce economic reforms to fight poverty, corruption and involve all regions of the country in the political process to prevent the rise of rogue militias.... The recent power-sharing agreement, optimistically titled Joy of Sudan, has put Khartoum on the right path. We can only hope authorities will seize this opportunity to overcome Sudan's challenges and give its people the stability and peace they deserve.
Gulf News' editorial reflects a similar aspiration about Sudan's future, while acknowledging that the regime change as well as last week's agreement came only after the persistence of the Sudanese people to ensure that they would be free of the trappings of the Al Bashir regime. They were determined too that the military would cede their authority and recognize the struggle and determination of the people for a better and inclusive future for all. The standoff between the military and the people has not been bloodless — the process of nation-building rarely is. Now, however, with this agreement, there is a clear way forward."
Despite the initial optimism, there are those who urge more caution in terms of prognostications about the future of the country. For example, Arab News' Abdellatif El-Menawy expresses concern about the boycott of the agreement by important Sudanese political forces:Despite the festive atmosphere that accompanied the signing ceremony, and despite everyone counting on this agreement to end the crisis plaguing the country, the boycotting of key components, such as the Sudan Revolutionary Front and the Communist Party, overshadowed the event and raised questions as to how to reach a consensus with the armed movements.... [T]here still are significant differences — even within the revolutionary alliance itself — on the RSF [ Sudanese Rapid Support Forces], which has considerable influence on the ground in Sudan.... Past experiences, whether inside or outside of Sudan, are not reassuring, but there are advantages that I believe have been achieved through the signing of the agreement.
In an op-ed for Khaleej Times, Ghassan Charbel is quick to also list a number of challenges lying ahead for the Sudanese people and government, challenges which may slow down the momentum in the country: It will not be easy. Sudan needs a form of reconstruction. The dream of a civilian state is not easy in this part of the world, neither is the dream of establishing democracy, respecting pluralism and the right to be different and holding transparent elections. This transition demands that the civilians and generals dance a tango.... The success of the Sudanese tango also needs patience. The problems are many and have been accumulating. The economy is in tatters and institutions are built on allegiances, not competencies.
Perhaps,given the size of the challenges ahead, some, like this recent Al Ahram editorialist, have suggested the importance of the international community in the reconstruction of the country's economy and infrastructure: The support of neighboring countries, the African Union, the Arab League and the international community is crucial to implement the agreement reached, especially considering the tight schedule both sides agreed to in order to form a sovereign council divided between the military and the opposition, a new government and an interim legislative body. Other daunting challenges that also require regional and international support include ending armed conflicts in Sudan's west and south, improving the country's battered economy, bringing together different ethnic and religious groups and confronting loyalists to the old regime who abuse religion to prevent Sudan's progress towards a true democracy.
Ultimately, the responsibility for rebuilding the country lies with the Sudanese people and government. This, at least, is the message of a recent Jordan Times editorial, which places the onus of responsibility squarely on the shoulders of Sudan's political class: This is the time when Sudan needs all the support it can get from the international community, especially from the Arab world.... Yet the main responsibility lies with Sudan's own leaders and people. Rhetorical commitment to democracy is never enough. The new ruling council must now demonstrate that it means what it said about nurturing a true and sustainable democracy and progress in the country. The onus of responsibility, therefore, lies with the ruling council to transform the country to a new era of democracy and progress. It must not disappoint Sudan and its people in carrying out this responsibility being placed on its shoulders.