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What next for Sudan?

July 12, 2019 at 3:36 pm

Sudanese demonstrators attend the ongoing protests demanding a civilian transition government in front of military headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan on 30 June 2019 [Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency]

After months of precarious and confusing on-off dialogue between Sudan’s Transitional Military Council and the Freedom and Change movement, a deal has finally been struck. For us here in Sudan, this has felt like purgatory. Nonetheless, a deal was agreed, whereby 11 members will hold positions on the transitional council for three plus years: five civilians and five military personnel, with the eleventh position being elected by the other ten members. In addition, the chair’s role will be rotated, 18 months for a military representative and 18 months for a civilian. This is a far cry from the Sudanese protesters’ original demands of majority, or absolute, civilian rule. What, therefore, has the public reaction been like?

Sudan is a collectivist society. Traditionally, in order for there to be social harmony, there needs to a homogenous ideology informed by tradition, history, spirituality and humanistic values, such as altruism. By nature, because of this collectivist societal structure, the Freedom and Change movement grew in popularity whilst, simultaneously, the military was seen increasingly as the foe. With this increased popularity, concessions over the old demands were made. In the streets, almost conspicuously, when citizens are now asked about their perception of the movement, the recurring answer is that it is wavering. Of course, this is not to defame its character, rather it should portray the complexity of the political situation in Sudan, and people’s anxiety and scepticism about the deal, and rightfully so. These anxieties are perhaps in the heart of every Sudanese person who yearns for change.

For most of Sudan’s contemporary history, military rule has ruled supreme. Hence, we face two great challenges: the smoothness of the transitional period; and how to maintain a functioning democracy afterwards. The first depends on the motives of the transitional council, and whether their efforts are focused on establishing a democracy or gaining popularity in order to resume their roles indefinitely. Already, some members of the military council are beginning to show their true motives, and their actions are indicative of long-term ambitions; the likes of Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, for example, notoriously known as Hemiti, has agreed to send troops to back Libya’s Khalifa Haftar. Long term commitments like this have nothing to do with achieving democracy in Sudan but are mixed with the bribing of some of the noble families in the country, and hiring foreign agencies to polish his image after accusations surfaced of his involvement in the killing of protesters. These political moves make us sceptical as to whether power really will be handed over to civilians after the three-plus-year period.

READ: Sudan’s ‘revolution’ was a military coup in disguise

The second challenge, maintaining a democracy, is arguably the greater of the two. With a long history of revolutions and counterrevolutions, we have yet to witness a successful handing over of power through elections. This particular challenge produces two problems, of which the more immediate is to ensure that the duly elected party is not overthrown. We need a change in governing attitudes and political practice. Due to the supreme nature of the old regime’s rule, any party that opposed ousted President Omar Al-Bashir’s party was harassed and targeted.

It is unlikely that any party will be able to claim a majority, so a coalition is the likely outcome, bringing together varied political alliances. Our history of revolution makes it easy to see how a weak party could be overthrown by the military or, improbably, by popular protests. I believe that this may well be the single greatest issue facing us after a successful transitional period.

Massacre in Sudan - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Massacre in Sudan – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The traditional political attitudes and practices are deeply rooted, ancient to the point of archaic. For instance, the Umma Party, headed by Sadiq Al-Mahdi, has one of the largest bases in Sudan, yet it is a party that draws popularity mainly because of his ancestral link to Mohamed Ahmed Al-Mahdi, a pivotal figure in the historic removal of British rule in Sudan. Other large parties have similar dogmatic followings. Such attitudes are more despotic in nature than they are democratic. With the establishment of a democracy come accountability and liberation from dogma, as well as clashes between traditional political attitudes and progressive ones. These attitudes and practices trickle down to bureaucracy and even societal norms; from minor traffic bribes to nepotism.

With so much going on, and so fragile a situation, it is easy to become disheartened. However, the possibility of a democratic Sudan, where opportunity is limitless and resources are abundant, and the fear of regressing back to authoritarianism is palatable. That alone is enough to ignite and reignite hope in the people.

READ: US welcomes Sudan power-sharing deal as ‘important step forward’

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.