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With the resignation of the prime minister of the transitional government, Dr Abdulla Hamdok, on Jan. 2, 2022, the Sudanese crisis has entered a dark tunnel, the end of which is hardly apparent to anyone.
Although the resignation that he hinted at for a long time was not a surprise to Sudanese and observers of Sudanese affairs from outside, it has put Sudan at a challenging crossroads. The Sudanese fear that their country will slip into bloody conflicts that might lead to scenarios similar to Syria, Libya and Yemen.
At first, it is striking to see who things developed in Sudan in the past three months. The military coup was carried out on Oct. 25, 2021, by legitimate president Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan. al-Burhan, who is also head of the Transitional Sovereignty Council, and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, dismissed the government of Dr Abdulla Hamdok and arrested several ministers of his government.
But Lieutenant-General Burhan returned to sign a political agreement less than a month before the military coup (on Nov. 21, 2021) with the same person, Dr. Abdulla Hamdok, to appoint him as prime minister for the transitional period that was decided to end with general elections in June 2023. However, Hamdok’s resignation put the country in jeopardy again.
The short return of Abdulla Hamdok from house arrest to the prime minister’s office from Nov. 21, 2021, until Jan. 2, 2022 (42 days) did not resolve the resulting complications from the coup, nor did it calm protesters opposing the military rule. Hundreds of thousands of angry youths have been demonstrating every week since the military seized power, and resentment has increased after police and army bullets killed more than 50 people. Abdulla Hamdok lost his great popularity and the broad national consensus on him as a saviour and a national leader. In the eyes of many, he turned into an accomplice with the putschists under pretexts that the majority of Sudanese did not accept, and the military-civilian partnership that Hamdok preached collapsed, perhaps forever.
Resistance Committees: The Achilles Heel
After the coup, the political parties, the Sudanese political movement, and the military putschists face a new dilemma. The continuous Demonstrations that Sudanese cities have not witnessed before has one slogan: “No partnership, no negotiation, no bargaining.”
These protest demonstrations are led and organised by the “resistance committees“, popular youth committees originating from residential neighbourhoods with minimal horizontal coordination without a unified central leadership. They reject the rule of the military and the Forces of Freedom and Change against which the military turned.
They can mobilise hundreds of thousands of young people to demonstrate in the capital and various cities of Sudan with announced and regular schedules, using social media with high efficiency, which was not affected by the authorities’ cutting off the Internet during the demonstrations.
But the demands of completely excluding the military from the current political scene and forcing them to return to the barracks, as they chant in the demonstrations, seems unrealistic to many politicians and observers.
It blocks the youth’s political horizon and opportunities for civil and democratic transformation since the power is now actually in the army’s hands.
Nothing will happen to change this reality without negotiation and agreement. The army ruled the country directly for 52 of the 66 years of independence. It exercised a significant influence on politics even in Sudan’s few years under civilian rule.
In an attempt to search for a way out of the current impasse, some politicians are calling for the resignation of al-Burhan, which was involved in the bloody suppression of the demonstrators, to make room for other army leaders with whom negotiations over new transitional arrangements can be performed.
Why Did the Military Turn on the Civilians?
Sudan was ruled until the morning of the last military coup by a fragile and contentious alliance that lacked the minimum level of harmony. It included the army leadership and a civilian bloc of the Forces of Freedom and Change consisting of several political parties and the Sudanese Professionals Association, according to a constitutional document signed in August 2019, after overthrowing the former President Omar al-Bashir in April of the same year.
The constitutional document included a dangerous article for the military. According to that article, al-Burhan would step down from the presidency of the Transitional Sovereign Council 21 months after the signing of the document, that is, in November 2021. Based on that, the presidency of the Sovereign Council would be transferred to a civilian figure, which led to the coup one week before the scheduled date.
Although, after his coup, Burhan declared his commitment to the constitutional document, he announced suspending the articles that stipulate the participation of the Forces of Freedom and Change in power and the right to nominate the prime minister.
Lieutenant-General Burhan and his strong ally Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemetti), the Rapid Support Forces militia leader; have fears that cannot be ignored about the transfer of power in whole or in part to civilians. Burhan and Dagalo fear facing direct and short-term legal prosecution for killing more than 100 civilians. The accusations relate to a massacre that occurred in front of the headquarters of the General Command of the Sudanese Army during a youth sit-in on June 3, 2019. Opponents accuse al-Burhan and Dagalo of being directly involved in that incident or refraining from taking any action to stop the massacre, which continued for hours before their eyes.
Hamdok’s transitional government has formed an investigation committee into the crime of dispersing the sit-in, which has not yet delivered its final report. Still, this investigation will remain a pistol pointed at their heads. In addition to this bloody credit, more than fifty people were killed in the successive demonstrations that followed Burhan’s coup on Oct. 25, 2021.
Also, Burhan and Dagalo’s participation in the 2003-06 Darfur war makes them subject to prosecution on suspicion of involvement in the massacres and blatant violations committed there, primarily since the International Criminal Court is prosecuting four Sudanese accused of these crimes, including former president Bashir, who is imprisoned in Khartoum.
Senior army generals also fear that civilian politicians will seek to place hundreds of companies affiliated with the army and the Sudanese intelligence services under the control of the Ministry of Finance, as these companies operate in the commercial, industrial and agricultural activities unrelated to military industries.
Those entities are also active in the trade of crops and livestock, gold mining and smuggling, and speculation in foreign exchange markets, with comprehensive tax and customs exemptions, the proceeds of which do not return to the public treasury and are not subject to government oversight.
In one of his public speeches, the resigned Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok had previously indicated that 80 per cent of economic resources are out of the Ministry of Finance’s control (implicitly means army companies). This statement angered Burhan, who angrily responded that the civilian government blames the armed forces for its failure.
The civilian government headed by Hamdok established a committee to pursue the corruption of Bashir’s dictatorship. The goals of that committee included the dismantling of the June 30, 1989 Regime, combating corruption and recovering public funds. These goals provoked the resentment of senior officers by approaching and threatening the dens of corruption in the civil and military sectors. It was necessary to end its activities, which raised the concern of all corruption circles in the country.
Sudan faces this political blockage, violence in the streets of major cities, ethnic and tribal conflicts, and lawlessness in various parts of its vast territory. The difficulties and economic crises daily increase due to the political and security turmoil. Such a thing threatens Sudan’s existence and makes it vulnerable to civil war and fragmentation if its politicians and military officers do not reach a quick agreement that preserves the country.
There is no doubt that the neighbouring countries and the international community have a significant role in what is happening now and soon in Sudan. They will have to intervene in some way, willingly or unwillingly. But that is a conversation for another time.