Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Sudan: Upcoming Challenges and Confrontations

Doubts surrounding the "framework agreement" by all parties remain the biggest hurdle to its implantation.

Sudan Upcoming Challenges
Sudanese anti-coup protesters run from tear gas fired by security forces as they protest in the streets of the capital Khartoum, on January 5, 2023. Ebrahim Hamid / AFP

Ali Noureddine

This article was translated from Arabic.

Challenges facing Sudan’s framework agreement

On December 5, 2022, the “Freedom and Change – Central Council” coalition in Sudan, along with a group of other political and civil forces, signed what is referred to as the “framework agreement” with the country’s military.

According to this pact, Sudan is to transition to democratic rule with power being transferred through elections after a 24-month transitional period that starts with the appointment of a prime minister.

Many Sudanese political forces are now counting on this agreement to bring an end to military rule that began on October 25, 2021, when the army carried out a coup against the civilian authority and arrested Sudan’s top political leaders.

Since then, Sudan’s political and economic issues have worsened, partly due to the military coup’s resultant international isolation. The vast majority of aid and loans are given to Sudan have also been suspended by Western nations and international organizations.

Despite the initial optimism surrounding the signing of the “framework agreement,” a number of challenges have recently emerged that raise questions regarding its feasibility.
These challenges range from those that affect the military and political balances within Sudan itself to those that impact the political process outlined in the agreement. Regional and international interventions are also of concern. As a consequence, many remain unsure as to how practical its clauses and timetable actually are.

International pressure to sign the agreement: Carrot and stick policy

Understanding the circumstances that led to the signing of the pact, particularly with regard to international pressure and regional balances, is crucial to understanding its terms and the difficulties it presents.

In the wake of Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan’s, the army commander, a coup on October 25, 2021, the forces of the Freedom and Change Alliance devised three simultaneous tracks to confront this action. They included popular mass uprisings and street protests, an attempt to attract international support and regional solidarity, and the transfer of power to civilians through a new democratic direction.

At the international level, the “Quartet for Sudan” was quickly formed by the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Since its inception, this group sought to coordinate pressure to restore power to civilians, end the state of emergency and negotiate with the army to reverse the exceptional measures imposed after the coup.

In order to put pressure on the putschists, the U.S. in particular, spearheaded an international campaign to isolate them and prevent them from being recognized as the country’s leaders. This included freezing all aid and loans that Sudan had benefited from in the past.

The consequences of international pressure on the coup leaders soon became apparent. The dire economic condition the country experienced as a result of the coup and the growing popular disapproval of the putschists in the streets made it worse.

This forced the authorities to respond to an initiative led by a mediation team, which was comprised of Volker Peretz, the head of the U.N. Transition Support Mission in Sudan; Muhammad Belaish, the African Union envoy; and Ismail Weiss, the head of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development mission in Sudan.

As the negotiations progressed, the putschists gradually began to reduce their demands, leading to their renunciation. Some attribute this gradual decline to the putschists’ failure to manage the state’s affairs due to their lack of political experience and the absence of political support to help them manage public affairs.

The putschists understood that preserving their power would continue to negatively impact society due to the public administrations’ worsening performance and inability to control the financial crisis, which may eventually topple them in the street. This forced them to concede all of these points throughout the negotiations.

The international Quartet for Sudan employed a carrot-and-stick approach with the putschists throughout this process. They promised to resume aid, loans, and foreign investments if a deal was reached to restore control to a civilian government despite initially tightening international isolation measures.

The Quartet promised to organize “significant economic support” for the transitional administration that would emerge from the path laid out in the agreement as soon as it was signed.

Details of the framework agreement

The “framework agreement” calls for the military’s quick exit from all commercial, business, and economic endeavors as well as political activity. It also calls for the integration of the Rapid Intervention Units and other armed forces into the regular military apparatus.

In order to end the current military disarray, the accord also calls for a number of military reforms that would merge the military into a single, professional, and national force that civil constitutional institutions would govern.

If intelligence activity is restricted to information gathering and analysis, which deprives it of the authority to detain and arrest people as is the case at the moment, the police and intelligence services would be reorganized and placed under the control of the prime minister. As a result, the military will no longer be able to use the police and intelligence services to impose restrictions on civilian liberties and meddle in political affairs.

During the two-year transition period, executive and legislative power will be transferred to civilian leaders without intervention or involvement from the armed forces that carried out the coup. The civil society that signed the agreement will select the prime minister. The constitutional institutions will also include a cabinet, a legislative council, and a council for security and defense that the prime minister leads.

In order to establish new legislative and executive bodies based on the new constitution that will have been drafted by that time, new elections will be held at the conclusion of the transitional period.

The agreement also calls for a number of reforms linked to their work to ensure the independence and efficiency of the judicial authorities throughout the transitional period. A reconciliation agreement must be put into effect, peace negotiations with the armed forces who weren’t parties to the accord must be concluded, and adequate measures must be developed to guarantee stability in eastern Sudan and reduce military tensions.

Challenges that may hinder the implementation of the agreement

Weeks after the agreement was signed, emerging developments point to major obstacles that may prevent the deal from being implemented as smoothly as previously expected.

The Resistance Committees, the largest of the popular gatherings opposed to the military rule and the coup, still decisively rejected the “framework agreement” due to their reservations about any negotiations with the putschists.

The Resistance Committees are currently calling for more stringent steps against the putschists, such as abolishing the post of commander-in-chief of the armed forces and assigning this role to the civilian prime minister to avoid any future military coups.

They are also calling for enacting a law to dissolve the National Congress Party, which ruled the country during the time of former President Omar al-Bashir, provided that the law stipulates that its leaders be banned from any political activity.

The demands of the Resistance Committees and their rejection of the agreement are expected to hinder popular acceptance of the democratic path agreed upon by the military and the Freedom and Change coalition. Furthermore, considering these committees have been leading the street protests, their current objections may lead to great popular tensions that could scupper the agreement.

The Democratic Bloc, that includes the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Movement, commanding widespread support among the eastern Sudanese areas and tribes, has also voiced opposition to this agreement. The Sudanese Communist Party, a few parties in the Sudanese Professionals Association, and the Sudanese Baath Party all have a shared position on the agreement.

The combined weight of these forces affords them the ability to obstruct the implementation of the “framework agreement,” especially since their positions align with those of regional powers that are not in favor of the deal. The absence of Egypt from the ceremony marking the agreement’s ratification may be seen as a subliminal indication of its reservations.

Additionally, Cairo – which has a considerable impact on the political balances in Sudan – has worked to support the activities of the Democratic Bloc, which too has expressed reservations about the current agreement and has been a staunch supporter of the military coup.

The Sudanese military’s generals, who view the coup led by Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as a model to follow in seizing power, are in close contact with the Egyptian military as well.

Consequently, many analysts assert that Cairo was responsible for instigating the October 25, 2021, coup in Sudan, backing its generals, and pressing the Democratic Bloc to lend its support. Therefore, the Egyptian government appears not particularly enthused about a new democratic course that would distance its allies in Sudan from power.

The military’s degree of willingness to cede control will be made clear in the coming weeks, as will the willingness of regional and international countries that support the deal to press for the pact’s execution. The Freedom and Change coalition will attempt to address these concerns by initiating a political dialogue. However, doubts surrounding the agreement by all parties remain the biggest hurdle to its implantation.

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