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Thousands of Sudanese poured into the streets of the capital Khartoum late on 4 August 2019 to celebrate the long-awaited agreement between the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which has governed the country since the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir on 11 April 2019, and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), the civilian alliance representing the protestors. Omar al-Digair, the main negotiator and a prominent protest leader, was in tears as he presented the agreement to enthusiastic supporters on Nile Avenue.
The final agreement reached on the Constitutional Declaration paves the way for change following months of unrest, including a 3 June massacre of protestors by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that left about 100 dead. The hard-won document builds on a landmark 17 July power-sharing political deal.
The African Union-mediated agreement outlines the powers of and relationships between the branches of the transitional government. Specifically, it stipulates a power-sharing arrangement for a 39-month transitional period to be followed by a general election. During the transitional period, the country will be governed by a three-tiered power structure consisting of a sovereign council of six civilian and five military members, a cabinet and prime minister to be named by the FFC, and a legislative council of 300 members, two-thirds of whom will be appointed by the FFC and the rest by the TMC in consultation with the FFC. The legislative council will be formed within three months of the cabinet.
The document cautiously tackles the contentious issue of the future of the RSF led by General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, the current deputy head of the TMC and de facto vice president. It was agreed that the RSF will now fall under the command of the armed forces and be led by the army commander-in-chief. The commander-in-chief will be the minister of defence, who will be selected by the army but overseen by the civilian prime minister.
The notorious National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) has been renamed as the General Intelligence Service and is only mandated to collect and analyze intelligence for the government with no authority to arrest citizens and use armed force. It will be jointly overseen by the sovereign council and cabinet.
Daglo and protest leader Ahmad Rabie initialed the agreement, which will be signed definitively by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the TMC, on 17 August in a ceremony to be attended by several heads of state of neighbouring countries, notably Ethiopia, which played a vital role in mediating between the protestors and the TMC, and representatives from the international community. The sovereign council and cabinet are scheduled to hold their inaugural joint session on 1 September.
Criticism of the agreement came from the small but influential Communist Party and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a coalition of rebel groups in the Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile regions, who oppose the proposed role and future of the RSF.
The Communist Party is also demanding an international investigation into the 3 June violence, while the SRF wants more emphasis during the transitional period on achieving peace in troubled areas and greater representation for its leaders in the sovereign council and cabinet, according to local media reports. An accord reached in Addis Ababa between the FFC and rebels on 25 July promised this but was not honored in the final constitutional declaration, the rebel groups claim.
The two main rebel factions – Abdul Wahid al-Nur’s Sudan Liberation Army in Darfur and Abdelaziz al-Hilu’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in South Kordofan – were suspicious about the developments in Khartoum and refrained from participating in the talks. Al-Nur refused to recognize or deal with either the FFC or TMC and vowed to continue the struggle, while al-Hilu promised to negotiate with the future civilian government.
The other mainstream political parties, including the Umma Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, and the new center-left Sudanese Congress Party, as well as the influential Sudanese Professionals Association, overwhelmingly supported the agreement and considered it good enough to move towards a democratically elected civilian government in three years.
Regional and international support
Regionally and internationally, the agreement was met with a sigh of relief. Concerns that Sudan might follow in the footsteps of war-torn Libya, Syria, and Yemen loomed large as the country entered its eighth month of unrest and sporadic violence without a real government. These concerns were compounded when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, which were all heavily involved in the bloody developments in the other three countries, began to intervene in Sudan overtly and covertly.
The European Union (EU) unequivocally supported the African Union initiative to mediate in Sudan from the very beginning. The EU spokesperson, António Guterres, hailed the signing of the agreement, saying, “This achievement offers a unique opportunity to implement a genuine civilian-led transition and address the aspirations of the Sudanese people for peace and prosperity. At this historic moment, we commend the determination and sense of responsibility of the two parties as well as the long-standing efforts of the African Union/Ethiopian mediation. The EU is committed to supporting Sudan on its way towards peace, democracy, and prosperity and will work with the civilian-led transitional government to that end.”
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, welcomed the declaration and called upon all stakeholders to “ensure the timely, inclusive, and transparent implementation of the agreement and resolve any outstanding issues through dialogue”.
Other regional and international powers expressed similar sentiments. However, with decades of conflict behind it, Sudan has a long way to go to achieve peace and stability and repair its battered economy.