The call for civilian rule has echoed around Sudan since the start of the revolution in December. This week’s agreement between the Transitional Military Council and the Freedom and Change Movement has increased the excitement about the possibility of a civilian administration. This level of collective relief hasn’t been felt since the fall of ex-President Omar Al-Bashir which, for everyone living in Sudan, feels like a lifetime ago. After months of sporadic killing on the streets, the deal may not be perfect, but it is a giant step towards stability.
However, it may be too early to celebrate. Not everyone is pleased with the agreement, for a number of reasons, including the inadequate female representation; the revocation of certain parties who were part of the Freedom and Change Movement; and the exclusion of traditional political parties from the deal. Perhaps the loudest critics of the agreement are those who want complete civilian rule immediately and view negotiations with the military and paramilitary groups as a failure to deliver what the people want and need.
From the very beginning, women such as Alaa Salah and Marwa Babiker have been vocal about official corruption in Sudan; they are symbols of the peaceful revolution. We must not forget that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of women have contributed massively to the success of the revolution. For the agreement not to have a proportionate ratio of women representing real change and being part of this move forward is a serious shortcoming. Indeed, it’s disgraceful and reminiscent of the attitude adopted by the previous regime.
The curbing of certain factions within the Freedom and Change Movement and excluding other political parties is very controversial. Those who belong to or support these groups feel unrepresented, while others believe that the traditional parties engaged with the previous regime, and thus normalised its corruption, and so do not represent the people today. From what I’ve seen and heard, the majority of people yearn for peace above all else, and are frankly apathetic towards these movements.
While people are tooting car horns and chanting on the streets, there are those who are very much aware of the military’s thirst for power and believe, perhaps rightfully so, that any deal with the military is not only incongruous with the people’s demands, but also gives it more power than it should have. While this may be true, the counterargument is that if the military is not involved in any deal, it could easily orchestrate a coup and take power by force. It’s a difficult debate by any standard.
The immediate problems we face today are the economic situation and ensuring that this fragile agreement does not collapse. Whichever government succeeds the National Congress Party it is going to inherit economic despair, from inflation to unemployment, foreign debt and a plethora of other problems. Even for the most formidable economists, it is no small task. Beyond this, though, every economic, social and political issue — unemployment, for example — could lead to unrest, then frustration, and then discontent, which will be directed at whoever is in charge.
As for the fragility of the deal, I think what is worrying to most people is that even though it is a significant step, we tend to have a seemingly endless cycle of agreement-massacre-severing of communication between opposition and military-new agreement. Just one day after the deal was signed, there was a reported death of a protester in Dongola. Moreover, there are plenty of people who were benefiting from the old regime and do not want any deal to go through; naturally, therefore, there will be opposition of all kinds.
The elephant in the room is that the agreement neither mentions elections after the transitional period, nor the establishment of democracy. That is very strange, although it may be a given. If so, it should be written down.
Despite this, I am optimistic for the future and for the success of this deal. We still need to be critical, especially at a time like this, but I think this shows that both parties are willing to engage with each other, and whatever happens next, this will act as a restraint on possible divergent moves.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.