The conflict in Sudan has not ended with the fall of ousted President Omar Al-Bashir. This is actually the beginning of a new phase of the conflict within this large country and its complex political and demographic makeup. It is a clash between opposing internal and external forces. In such conflicts as this, which arise in the confusing transitional stages, the most powerful yet also the weakest link appears to be the Sudanese people, including those active in the opposition and representatives of the protests and their participants.
The people are the most powerful now because it is they who have made the change which led to the overthrow of the regime. Hence, they are the main actors that everyone wants to please, at least at the moment. However, they may turn into the weakest link if they are unable to form a solid core that creates a political environment capable of sustainable influence during the transition and beyond.
Activists amongst the Sudanese people will be mistaken if they rely solely on the current popular momentum. Experience with the Arab and other revolutions suggests that such momentum cannot last forever. Those who are best organised are the ones who can define the future once people go back to their daily lives. The only guarantee — if such a thing exists — is to transform the popular momentum into a strong and organised political movement capable of confronting and managing conflicts with the most powerful forces both domestically and abroad.
The first stage of the conflict over the new Sudan is between forces representing the protestors and the political opposition on the one hand, and the deep state, which is partially expressed by the Transitional Military Council, on the other. When we talk about internal conflict, what is meant is not a conflict between enemies, but domestic differences over the visions for the future of the state. The basic requirement is to develop a united vision shared by the protest movement and the opposition in order to be able to have maximum influence on the council. Any delay in this respect will complicate matters, leaving the future dependent on the more powerful party, which is the military.
There are important principles that can help to achieve a united vision. Recent experiences in the Arab Spring countries can provide some important lessons in the formulation of the necessary principles so that the objectives of the revolution won’t disappear over time, as has happened elsewhere. The first would be to keep the spectre of ideological conflict out of the frame during the transitional period, and instead to focus on the principles agreeable to all. Perhaps the most important of these will be the establishment of civil rule based on the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, along with good governance. This would allow for positive and peaceful exchange between ideologies because the democratic system is capable of managing such differences without significant losses.
It is also important to stay away from exclusion and retaliation, because that would play into the hands of the stronger party, which is the deep state. This does not mean that those involved in corruption and other crimes during the past 30 years of the Bashir government won’t be held accountable. Rather, the judicial system should be able to give fair trials to anyone accused of such things, not least because for the new regime to be successful it has to be morally and legally superior to the former regime. This can only be achieved through supporting an independent judiciary that seeks justice, not retaliation.
Exclusion in practice includes the rhetoric calling for the punishment and expulsion of all members of the Islamic movements in Sudan. Such calls ignore the fact that a broad section of the Islamic movements, represented by the Popular Congress, was part of the opposition for many years during Bashir’s rule. Indeed, it was harmed because of its opposition, perhaps more than other groups. Of course, the National Congress as a party deserves to be held accountable, but this does not mean that all those affiliated with it should be excluded, because in the end this party is part of the Sudanese people.
Countries that have gone through revolutions and radical movements have faced similar situations, and the best solution has apparently been to establish a transitional justice process to prosecute criminals based on their actions and not their political affiliations. Such a process includes the formation of a judiciary and commissions of inquiry that are both just and independent. Punishments could include bans on political participation. In any case, justice needs to be transparent and not partisan in any way.
Furthermore, there has to be agreement on a founding blueprint for the new regime. Perhaps the Tunisian experience is one to look at. The people of Tunisia elected a Constituent Assembly that laid down the foundations for the new regime and approved a constitution that has been accepted widely by the people, politicians and parties, with everyone having an input to its drafting. Such an assembly can lead to a consensus in the form of a government that can manage class and ideological conflicts in the future both peacefully and without major splits in society.
Sudan attracts external interference because of its geographical importance and Red Sea coastline, which is a hot spot for regional and global problems. What’s more, it has vast natural resources and huge investment potential.
Hence, international and regional parties have sought to develop their influence in Sudan over the past few years. The country is more vulnerable to wider conflicts due to the political instability of the transition period and the deteriorating economic conditions.
Arab popular revolutions not only have internal dimensions and demands but are also revolutions about independence and dignity. Sudanese activists in the protest movement will undoubtedly put this point forward as part of their vision for the future.
A country as large and important as Sudan, which also suffers from economic weakness, is in need of independence and must avoid dependence on one axis or another, while seeking friendly relations with all. Its own national interests must be a priority in external relations. This is not going to happen without public pressure on the Military Council at this stage in particular.
Although some parties will desire to dominate the political scene, countries that have witnessed a revolution deserve a government that is not subject to external influences. The people and active groups must be able to face open and sometimes naive attempts by certain organisations keen to show that the new Sudan is under their control. This was apparent in the regrettable Saudi-UAE media coverage of the expulsion of the Qatari delegation and the expulsion of Turkey from the island of Suakin, and other clear examples. The new Sudan is capable of maintaining good and friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Turkey, Russia and the United States without dependence on any party.
In terms of national positions, the new Sudan must put a stop on any concessions towards the United States and the occupation state of Israel, a course which Bashir followed in recent years in order to maintain his rule. The people of Sudan overthrew him despite the protection that he believed such a course would provide. This is the lesson that must be understood by those who will govern Sudan in the future: the Sudanese people are the ones who can keep the rulers in power or remove them, not America and not the racist state occupying Palestine. The management of the conflict in the new Sudan must lie with the people.
Translated from Arabi21, 22 April 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.