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Civilian and military rule may not resolve Sudan’s deep political crisis and mistrust

November 2, 2021 at 3:00 pm

Sudanese diaspora based in the UK protest against military rule in Sudan, on Whitehall, near Downing street on 30 October 2021 in London, England. [Guy Smallman/Getty Images]

The universal condemnation of the coup d’état led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fatah Al-Burhan in Sudan on 25th October was little comfort to the bitterly disappointed and outraged Sudanese who lived through yet another takeover by the army. This is the sixth military coup in Sudan’s 63 years of independence.

The “march of millions” on 30th October passed off without any major security concerns, although eleven protestors were killed, and more than 140 were injured, despite claims by the security forces that no live bullets were used to control the crowds. Given that the internet and telephone services were cut, there was no way of verifying the army’s assertion.

Sudan’s “emergency intervention” was brought about by the premature collapse of the civilian government made up of a coalition of revolutionary forces which had engaged in public infighting. The disagreements emerged because of the ex-military components of the coalition, headed by Minni Minnawi of the Sudan Liberation Army and Jibril Ibrahim of the Justice and Equality Movement within the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

The breakaway group formed, a “National Accord” for the unity of the FFC. The former militia groups have been rewarded with such influential positions as the Governor of Darfur and the Finance Secretary, a move which may have upset some groups in the civilian FFC movement. For over 12 months, the civilian government has been at a virtual standstill, unable to begin the workings of the National Assembly or make appointments to the Constitutional Court or to the judiciary.

READ: The Sudanese coup 

Meanwhile, despite the support of the international community Sudan’s economy has continued to suffer from inflation at over 450 per cent. The left-wing elements of the FFC insisted that the structural adjustments recommended by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank would be politically unpopular. So unpopular, in fact, that sections of the Sudanese population have in the past six months campaigned for wholesale changes in the government.

The turning point came when the US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, paid separate visits to representatives of the civilian government and the army chief hours before the armed forces spearheaded by the Rapid Support Forces started to move into strategic positions in Khartoum to cut off the main bridges and roads. By 4am, Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok’s residence had been surrounded and four senior ministers had been placed under house arrest.

The final orders appear to have been agreed with the implicit agreement of the Americans, who commentators suggest were keen to see a breakthrough. It has been reported widely in the media that US spokesmen said the movement to derail the Constitution Agreement, signed in August 2018, was seen as a betrayal of the American delegation. Even as the delegation left Khartoum, the opposing ex-militia groups who were camped outside the Republican Palace continued to call on the army to intervene and remove the government in favour of a technocrat administration.

Despite the uproar, in which US President Joe Biden called for the reinstatement of the constitutional arrangement, the African Union suspended Sudan’s membership. It is clear that the international community had decided not to intervene, other than to make threats to withdraw aid and suspend the financial assistance promised to Sudan, as well as to call for the release of prisoners and advise the army to exercise the maximum restraint when dealing with protests.

Sudanese diaspora based in the UK protest against military rule in Sudan, on Whitehall, near Downing street on 30 October 2021 in London, England. [Guy Smallman/Getty Images]

It also became clear that, despite the coup, US officials have privately voiced concerns about the ineptitude of the civilian administration in Khartoum, and perhaps favour a realignment of the constitutional arrangement ahead of democratic elections in 2023.

Speaking on Al Jazeera Mubashir, Janet McElligott, the former Special Envoy of Peace in Sudan and South Sudan, described the breakdown as a reoccurrence of the power struggle between the communist and left-wing forces and Islam-orientated figures. She revealed that the Americans would not normally interfere in the affairs of African countries and that the intervention by the army would normally be expected to last only for a short time before things go back to normal.

However, the Forces for Freedom and Change vowed not to engage or negotiate with the government until constitutional arrangements have been restored.

Other commentators supported the notion that the army had stepped in and dissolved the government at an opportune moment. The army chief said that his decision was to avert a “civil war” in which the security and wellbeing of Sudan were under threat. Part of his concerns were based on public statements using racist terms against tribes in the West of Sudan who were considered to have usurped the power traditionally enjoyed by the North.

READ: Sudan is a disaster waiting to happen 

On the other hand, that opportune moment was seen as the time when the army exploited the differences within the civilian government to avoid the handover of power scheduled in the next few months. Commentators have also been quick to point out that the army was fearful that the new civilian government would begin to dismantle the financial institutions and private businesses owned by the army.

At the time of writing, the UN envoy for Sudan, Volker Perthes, is engaged in shuttle diplomacy, but there is uncertainty about whether his efforts will lead to a breakthrough. Even if the two sides return to the constitutional agreement there is much to do to resolve the various group disputes. It therefore seems likely that the cooperation and trust between the two sides may have been damaged irreparably or quite possibly broken altogether.

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