Sudan is experiencing a hot political winter now that the relationship between the civilian and military members of the Sovereignty Council has reached a dead end. The civilian forces insist on dismantling the partnership and establishing a full civilian authority to lead the country until the next parliamentary election. They are backed by massive public demonstrations in which, according to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, 62 people have been killed since October.
In such an environment filled with storm clouds and blood, and after a "million man march" tried to approach the Republican Palace in Khartoum on Sunday only to be confronted by security forces and tear gas, the UN mission in Sudan has launched an initiative for dialogue between all Sudanese parties. The aim is to overcome the current crisis and agree on a political path to spare the country more violence, as well as open the door to the revolution's goals of freedom and peace.
Although the main civilian forces — the Forces of Freedom and Change, the Sudanese Professionals' Association and the Coordination of the Resistance Committees — rejected the UN initiative initially, their position may change, especially following the leak of some its details. These include disbanding the Sovereignty Council and compensating the military with a Security and Defence Council under the supervision of the prime minister, who will have full executive powers, including the power to form a government of independents to run the country until the legislative election.
However, the insistence of some forces on the street that the killers of the demonstrators must be brought to justice, and that the military must be excluded from running Sudan, may hinder the implementation of the UN initiative. This would put Sudan into a new phase of conflicts amid a dire economic crisis from which everyone is suffering.
The differences between the revolutionary forces regarding this initiative complicate further the complexities of the situation in Sudan, not least because some other groups on the street may go on to support the military component in the Sovereignty Council and, indeed, the army itself. This is especially so because the issues related to transitional justice and seeking justice for those protesters who have been killed will see many soldiers face trial.
Moreover, the civilian component in Sudan has a long history of intense political disputes, and is concerned with ethnic and regional biases, which are still ingrained in the Sudanese political mindset. This is so serious that Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok resigned after reaching his wit's end with the civilian forces arguing over a compromise that will ensure the stability of the country during the remainder of the transitional period.
On top of this, there is the increased risk of secession that has threatened Sudan ever since its independence; the existence of South Sudan is evidence that this threat is very real. Secessionist slogans appear from time to time in marginalised areas in the east and west of the country, in which the tribal culture and regional loyalties are popular and gain new ground with every failure of the national democratic state project.
Sudan's crisis is thus much more than just the conflict taking place between civilians and the military. Its national identity is a contentious issue between supporters of Arabism and Africanism. The large traditional parties such as the Democratic Unionist and the National Umma parties have lost their old influence, and factional disagreements have reduced their popularity. The newer forces have not been able to form parties with popular bases, while the left-wing parties generally remain captives of the Stalinist, Nasserist or Baathist models. The revolutionary forces do not yet possess an organisational entity in the institutional sense, and so opportunist elements are often able to play influential roles.
Given the burden of these crises, Sudan has all the appearance of a bird whose wings have been clipped. However, this is a country that is full of surprises, where even the impossible can be achieved.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Shorouk News on 10 January 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.