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Sudan's revolution falters as new Islamic movement takes hold, and Al-Burhan strengthens grip on power

Sudanese protesters gather in the busy Jabra district of southern Khartoum on November 25, 2021 [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images]
Sudanese protesters gather in the busy Jabra district of southern Khartoum on November 25, 2021 [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images]

The decision to dissolve the Sovereignty Council has angered the revolutionary forces but has come as no surprise to observers who have witnessed the slow decline of the institution and the steady re-appointment of members of Sudan's Islamic movement to positions of power. Despite this, Abdul Fatah Al-Burhan has assured that the army will withdraw to allow a civilian transitional government to be formed. The Sudanese streets have greeted the announcement with a great deal of suspicion and cynicism.

However, critics of the Council exist in both camps. According to Ghazi Salahadeen, Sudan's former Foreign Secretary and Federal Minister under the Al-Bashir government, "the Council was a poorly conceived organisation based on the constitutional document that attempted to marginalise the conservative Islamic voices from participation in the running of the country." Salahadeen said the notion that every Islamic voice was complacent in mismanagement of the country was a grave error of judgement, made by the left and communist movements.

He accused the communist and hard left elements of ignoring the fact that there were armed groups and political Islamic elements that opposed Al-Bashir outside and inside his government. He described those groups as not only legitimate and progressive members of the revolutionary movement but they were, in his judgement, long-standing opponents who had paid the price for their activism.

The treatment of Ahmed Al-Khair, the teacher from Kassala, who was tortured and killed in December 2019 by the security forces was an example of one of the heroes of the resistance against Al-Bashir. Many in the revolutionary movement, led by the Freedom of Change, preferred not to highlight the fact that Al-Khair was a paid-up activist and member of the Islamic movement of the Popular National Congress.

The attempt to marginalise the Islamic elements that had put down their guns and signed the Juba Peace negotiations was almost another obstacle to securing the deal. The agreement was a historic deal that ended the 17-year-old conflict in Darfur and secured long-lasting rights to power, even though the two major signatories to the deal were Islamic in orientation.

On the one hand, the revolutionary movements from the left, centre and right-wing conservative movements began, at times, chaotically jostling for power while, on the other hand, the armed groups were winning decisive victories in being allocated important ministerial and regional power.  The movement of former rebel leader, Mini Arko Minawi, was rewarded with the Governorship of Darfur's Regional Authority and Jibril Ibrahim, the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement was appointed the country's Finance Minister.

READ: Sudan's leading general calls for dialogue amid anti-military protests

Sudan's decision to lift the state of emergency, some weeks ago, and free hundreds of detainees was designed to release the internal and international pressure. However, the covert re-introduction of the secret security services has now become strong enough for the state of emergency to be lifted. Moreover, the government seems confident there is no longer a counter threat that might threaten the political changes staged in a widely described 'coup d'état' on 25 October.

Despite ongoing protests in which almost 113 people, including 18 children, have been killed, Burhan seems determined to ignore the criticism to reshape the political process and pledged to "make room" for civilian groups. Given that Islamic armed groups are at the helm, it is widely expected that these new groups will be from other Islamic and Sufi groups that supported the 25 October political change.

Meanwhile, the Troika group, headed by US, UK and Norway announced last Friday that it was getting ready to launch a new Sudanese dialogue with a "civil political" character.  The tripartite mechanism said it was beginning the preparation for the new phase of negotiations after the withdrawal of the military.

However, attempts to restart negotiations have failed, with the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) in a statement declining to participate in a meeting "that does not address the nature of the current crisis represented by the 25 October". The statement went on to say, "by flooding the political process with parties that reflect the "coup camp", or are linked to the former regime or following prescription that express the coup and its objectives."

This central rejection is the fundamental difference between the two sides. Advocates of change, like Dr Ghazi Salahadeen, suggest a return to the previous Constitution that was adopted following extensive constitutional discussions in 2005.  He was in favour of jettisoning the current Constitution document that he described as "anti-egalitarian".

The move to create a new civilian-led government will be a balancing act that would have to include Islamic groups and left-wing liberal elements to ensure an end to mass protest and a return to normalcy.   Similarly, plans to form a higher council of armed and rapid support forces in control of the regular forces would have to operate as an effective national security body, to work alongside civilians.

However, the strongest wave, as unofficial reports state that Al-Burhan's move to create a higher Council is the footstool from which the military leader is expected to launch his bid for the presidency. Observers of the political turn of events are likening Al-Burhan's recent moves to events 8 years ago in Egypt.  Sources, not wanting to go on record, say that Al-Burhan's close links to the Egyptian leader, Al-Sisi, will result in a similar decisive move in which the head of the army resigns to assume the post of president.

The next few months and coming years will reveal Al-Burhan's hidden deck of cards.

READ: Sudan's opposition groups reject dissolution of Sovereignty Council

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

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