Sudan: Engage and Fight

28 April 2019

The continuous tension between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the civilian opposition is creating a power vacuum and threatening the prospects of democratic transformation in the country. Since former President Omar Al-Bashir was overthrown April 11 there was no functioning government in the country. Talks between the military and opposition under the umbrella of the Freedom and Change Alliance (FCA) broke down to be resumed later, but with calls on demonstrators to beef up sit-ins in front of army headquarters to force TMC concede power fully to civilians.

FCA seems to be determined not to repeat a previous experience back in 1985, when the military who overthrow then President Jafar Al-Nimeiry had control on power. However, the failure to dismantle the defunct regime helped eventually in reproducing a more ruthless, ideological regime of Al-Bashir.

But Al-Bashir's regime with its ideological background, its 30 years long stay in power is not a conventional military that needs only change at the top to have things falling in place. The way Al-Bashir was removed from the power and the composition of the TMC reflects the new reality. It took the military, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) to join hands to push Al-Bashir from power.

One of the main challenges facing the current uprising in Sudan is whether it will end up in reproducing yet another strong military figure to dominate the country or it succeeds in breaking the vicious cycle of coups undermined by popular uprisings; build on the country's rich political history to effect a genuine democratic transformation.

The military received quick support from both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who with Egypt do not hide their animosity towards Islamists. The change in Sudan provides a good chance to strike a deadly blow to rivals in Qatar and Turkey, enhance the chances of General Khalifa Haftar, who is waging war against Islamists in Libya, secure Egypt and Saudis and deny their Islamists from a sympathetic base.

Unlike the first wave of the Arab Spring, where Islamists were seen as the emerging winning political force, Sudan provides a different image of Islamists mired in corruption, repression, spread of wars and inefficiency in running the state that will be easy to demonize by their opponents.

The Saudis and Emiratis, who have expressed their readiness to help the change in Sudan will be more than happy to beef up their support, which will be really vital life-saving given the dire economic condition that is in state of free falling.

But such help will not come for free. Both Saudi Arabia and UAE would like the new regime to continue its participation in their war in Yemen as well as honoring investments agreements. Saudi Arabia has secured a 99 years lease of one million feddans in eastern Sudan that Al-Bashir asked his parliament to approve without discussion. UAE investors have number of projects that have started to provide their domestic market with the bulk of its needs by fodder produced in Sudan. These agreements are among the ones that have been criticized by many Sudanese for the lack of transparency. Egypt would love Sudan to stay silent on the disputed Halayeb triangle.

But more important is that a fairly elected democratic regime in Sudan with a degree of human rights is a bad, worrisome example for those countries. Now that unpredictable Islamist Al-Bashir has gone, a strong, traditional military officer could be a better option.

But that shouldn't necessarily be the outcome if there is more engagement from those interested in seeing Sudan making it through difficult transformation. It is the prime responsibility of the people of Sudan to effect change. Through a peaceful revolution that managed to attract youth, women and other segments of the society and applying in a clever way new tools of social media they have succeeded in deposing one of the longest serving autocrats.

The starting point is to agree on priorities and at the top comes securing a deal with TMC to form a government with broad consensus to close the serious gap in power and start the lengthy, tough twin tasks of dismantling the old regime, while building institutions and help in beefing up abilities of the civil society to play a role in establishing a sustainable democratic transformation.

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