Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Obstacles Hindering Sudanese Military’s Withdrawal from Politics

Popular revolutionary forces in Sudan are pressuring the sudanese military out of political life. However, these efforts face countless obstacles.

Sudanese Military
Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo attend the ceremony held at the Friendship Hall in Khartoum to sign the “framework agreement” on December 05, 2022. Mahmoud Hjaj/ ANADOLU AGENCY/ Anadolu Agency via AFP

Khaled Mahmoud

Popular revolutionary forces in Sudan are pressuring the army out of Sudanese political life. However, these efforts face countless obstacles, particularly in light of the army’s intensive efforts to preserve its influential role while ignoring all local and international calls for it to loosen its grip on the Sudanese economy.

Four years after the overthrow of al-Bashir‘s regime, Sudan is still among the world’s poorest countries. It is stuck in a quagmire of political conflict after the army imposed unprecedented measures and dissolved the government.

A Grim Sphere

Since 25 October 2021, Sudan has seen popular protests demanding civil rule and rejecting the army‘s imposition of exceptional measures. On 11 August 2019, the country entered a transitional period that was supposed to end with elections in early 2024.

As per the agreement signed at the time, authority was shared between the army and civilian forces, in addition to several armed militias that signed a peace agreement with the government in 2020.

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of the Sudanese Transitional Sovereignty Council, furthered this grim sphere by freezing the activities of all syndicates, labour unions and the Sudanese Businessmen and Employers Federation. Additionally, he imposed control over these institutions’ funds and formed a committee to manage them.

One political analyst believes that freezing these institutions’ activities is a concession for the benefit of the Forces of Freedom and Change, the former ruling coalition.

According to this viewpoint, this step is one of several aiming to make the expected political settlement between civil servants and the military succeed. The coalition repeatedly declared its refusal to reactivate the activities of the former unions due to their tight connection to the former Bashir regime.

However, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor notes that the army’s control imposed on professional and trade union entities will eliminate or alter their activities to serve the interests and policies of the military authority.

The military keeps manoeuvring to gain maximum benefits and exert pressure on the Forces for Freedom and Change. On the other hand, some activists advocate for intensifying the resistance against this military coup by all means necessary. They believe this should include popular uprising, political boycott and civil disobedience to oust the coup and force civil democratic rule.

The statement of the Trilateral Mechanism – consisting of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development – condemned the continued use of excessive force against Sudanese protesters, which killed 121 people and injured hundreds since the military coup.

Pledges to Withdraw

Recently, al-Burhan renewed his pledges to withdraw from the political landscape provided that the political forces agree. He stated that the army would accept any form or shape that guarantees the country’s stability and leads to a non-partisan independent government. It was not the first time the commander-in-chief of the Sudanese army proclaimed his desire regarding the military’s withdrawal from politics. In July 2022, al-Burhan confirmed that the Armed Forces would agree to any form that guarantees the country’s coherence, preserves the regime forces’ dignity and produces an independent, non-partisan government upon which all political forces agree.

Al-Burhan’s pledges included an utter rejection of any intervention in the army’s affairs. He had previously asserted that no party could dismantle the army.

He also warned political parties against interfering in the army’s affairs or exploiting it to achieve authoritarian gains. He said, “We will not allow any interference in the army’s affairs. Anyone who talks about the army is our enemy, whether they are Islamists, communists or Baathists.”

Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, or “Hemedti,” affirmed the army’s commitment to withdraw from the political scene. However, he made his promise provided that people who are “up to the task” will fill the void left by the military.

In a recent speech, however, Hemedti could not hide a political aspiration. He said he had never considered running for president. Nonetheless, Hamedti kept the possibility of remaining an active player in the Sudanese political scene open: “If we see Sudan collapsing, we will be there.”


The recent discovery of Israeli companies’ sales of advanced spyware technology to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Sudan raised concerns. The deal included the sale of high-end equipment and software to hack and track mobile devices.

Anette Hoffmann, a senior research fellow at the Conflict Research Unit of Clingendael, believes that equipping the RSF with this tech will not only escalate the violent suppression of protestors but also put Sudan in a direct open confrontation with the armed forces, increasing the probability of a civil war.

Economic Dominance

A study by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies accuses the military of hindering Sudan’s democratic ambitions by exploiting its control over the Sudanese economy through a deep state.

The study concluded that this deep state used its power in October 2021 for the military coup against the transitional civilian government. The study stresses that the deep state is immensely influential because of its access to vast financial resources and continues to silence journalists, arrest activists and murder civilians without deterrence.

According to the study, the deep state in Sudan owns some of the country’s largest corporations, which provides it with monetary inflows apart from the public budget.

Moreover, through this solid financial position, it can assign prominent political leaders. Additionally, the corporations owned by the deep state have given it control over banks and import and export companies.

On the other hand, it seems unlikely that the Sudanese army is willing to withdraw from the political landscape unless political parties and activists meet the conditions it has set. Otherwise, the miserable political and economic status quo will prevail.

Several endeavours have aimed to save the transitional power-sharing arrangements between the army and civilians that were reached after the overthrow of al-Bashir.

The army is now pushing for elections in 2023. While the army showed its commitment to a democratic transition, the opposition has rejected any political role for the army.

Western forces are trying to prevent the army from progressing on its own, using all means available to exert pressure, such as the suspension of billions of dollars of aid following the coup.

It is unlikely that the military will cede this power and subject its institution to a civilian element without guarantees. The military will continue to exert its hegemony unless Sudan transforms into a stable democracy based on a strong economy.

The army’s leadership has stipulated agreeing on a sovereign civilian head of state who acts as the supreme commander of the armed forces. They also specified that the draft constitution would include the RSF’s integration into the armed forces and demanded a clarification of the practical steps to do so. Additionally, they insisted on the removal of all articles that directly condemned military leaders.

The Forces of Freedom and Change coalition leads the popular opposition and calls for the military to return to their barracks and hand over authority to civilians. The coalition calls against involving the regime forces in political conflicts and urges the armed forces to commit to their primary duty.

The majority of the coalition adopts the slogan “return to your barracks.” However, the coalition agreed on sharing authority with the army as per the 2019 constitution.

Some believe that if the Sudanese were to succeed in eliminating military rule, this would mean the end of military rule in North Africa. It, too, will expose the lies relayed by the media of military regimes, such as the unpreparedness of Middle Eastern societies for democratic transition.

Egypt’s Role and Algeria’s Experience

Veteran Sudanese political and religious leader Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani has returned to Khartoum from Egypt.

Al-Mirghani, who leads the Democratic Unionist Party, has returned to end the disagreements between his two sons over the agreement signed between the Forces for Freedom and Change and the Sudanese army.

Gaafar, al-Mirghani’s first son, opposes the agreement and is supported by opposition groups. In contrast, his second son, al-Hasan, supports the agreement and has his father’s blessing for his position. Some view the current divergence of positions as a threat that could further divide the party.

Al-Mirghani has been residing in Egypt for the past ten years. His party has been on good terms with Egyptian authorities since Sudan’s independence. Observers believe that al-Mirghani’s return is sponsored by Egyptian president al-Sisi, who is known for his close relations with the Sudanese military leadership.

According to one analysis, at the same time, Mohamed Othman al-Hussein, the chief of staff of the Sudanese army, visited Algeria to learn from his Algerian counterpart’s experience in leading a political transition and handing over authority to civilians.

After Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the late Algerian president, resigned in April 2019, Ahmed Gaid Salah, the army’s chief of staff at the time, refused to seize power or share it with civilians and preferred to respect the constitution.

The Danger Scenario

Some argue that the top priority is taking bold action to forge a new path of civil-military relations and mend the disunity within the pro-democracy camp, which, throughout history, has been exploited by the army. Since 1956, military factions have carried out 17 attempted coups, five of which have been successful.

The army might install a new, technocratic civilian government to oversee the transitional process. It may do so via a bureaucratic-military partnership in which the army chooses civilian allies who embrace military control, even after elections are held.

But the biggest fear is that Sudan will slip into violence and chaos. Failing to take effective and proactive measures to consolidate a democratic transition will drown Sudan in a much deeper crisis with irreversible consequences.

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