Sudan in Transition: A Site for Internal Unrest and External Action
Much has happened in Sudan since 11 April 2019, when former leader Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power after 30 years of authoritarian rule.
Immediately following his removal from office, Bashir was replaced by a transitional military council that said it would transfer its power to civilians after a two-year period. But protesters were not satisfied with this plan. After months of protesting that resulted in the deaths of at least 90 people, the Sudanese people were not willing what they believe is the same regime under a new guise. Protesters say that the military is not “negotiating in good faith and promoting the interests of Mr. Bashir,” but the military claims that “order and security” in Sudan cannot be ensured in its absence. Just last week, protesters organized a sit-in outside the military’s headquarters in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.
Protesters want a civilian government, but the military does not seem to be willing to budge. At one point, the military agreed to a sort of power-sharing agreement that included a proposal for a ten-member transitional military council, seven of whom would be military. However, protesters want only one of the ten seats to go to the military. According to Eyder Peralta, NPR’s East Africa Correspondent, civilians “want the majority. They want control. They want to control this transition.”
Last Friday, General Salah Abdelkhalek, a top official in Sudan’s military council, revealed that the military would not allow civilians to have the majority on the transitional council. He added that “the most they would accept would be an equal split with civilians.”
Despite disagreements over who should currently be in charge of Sudan, both the military and protesters have agreed on a couple of things regarding the post-transition government. Firstly, the groups have agreed that this government will not be led by well-known politicians or the military but by technocrats — people who are “experts in the fields of their respective ministries” instead of career politicians. They have also discussed the idea of a supreme council that would be above the government. According to the BBC, “this supreme council replaces the president, and ensures that the military can retain relevance and power, while the civilians run the actual government business.” The specifics of this supreme council have yet to be thoroughly discussed.
A host of external actors
In addition to the unrest coming from within the country, a number of external actors have also made themselves known (or better known) since Bashir was forced from office. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recently provided Sudan with various forms of financial aid. In late April, these two Gulf countries pledged a $3 billion aid package, which includes a $500 million cash injection and transfers of food, fuel, and medicine. Saudi Arabia seems to be supportive of a military-led government, which is the exact opposite of what the Sudanese people are calling for in their protests. On the other hand, Qatar and Turkey have grown increasingly close to Sudan’s Islamists, who are also not in line with the protests. In fact, none of these outside actors seem to be considering the wants of the protesters or “the development of a truly democratic Sudan.”
In the last couple days, the African Union and the United Nations have come out in support of a civilian-led transitional government. According to A.U. Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, a military-led transitional council “is not acceptable,” though he did say that military members could be part of a civilian-majority government. The A.U. has given the military 60 days to relinquish power.
The US has been virtually silent at this time of great transition in Sudan. “These are the most significant geopolitical shifts in the immediate post-Cold War period,” said Payton Knopf, an former American diplomat in Sudan.
“Back then, the U.S. shaped what that environment looked like, for better or for worse. Now there’s no evidence that the US is engaging with changes of such historical magnitude with remotely the same level of focus.”
With competing internal and external interests, it is difficult to say what will become of Sudan during this time of significant political upheaval. With protests and negotiations happening nearly every day, however, it can be said that the situation in Sudan is evolving quickly. Some have described the events in Khartoum as a “carnival-like atmosphere,” where civilians are able to engage in political expression and experience feelings of unity despite the regime.
Ousting Bashir was the first of many steps in Sudan’s political transition. Despite the unrest currently taking place between the military and civilians — which is being exacerbated by the competing interests of outside actors — Sudan finds itself with an opportunity for change that has not been seen in many decades. Mohammed Sanucy, a Sudanese man living in South Africa and watching from afar as these events unfold, has faith in the strength of Sudan and its people.
“The difference in Sudan is that we are united. The government has repeatedly tried to divide people along ethnic lines, but now it’s not working. People have stayed together, and they’ve stayed peaceful. Even if they have to carry on protesting for many more months, years even, they will never give up until the regime is clean,” he said.