Sudan: Protesters Log Victory but Military Still Calls the Shots

The Chairman of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), Lt. Gen. Abdul Fattah Al-Burhan

The Sudanese military and civilian opposition have agreed on democratic elections in three years' time. Meanwhile, they're supposed to share power in a council. But will they? And can they without more violence?

No more violence, no more bloodshed. Instead, Sudanese military leaders and civilian opposition protesters have agreed upon a compromise negotiated by a mediator from the African Union, Mohamed Hassan Lebatt, some six months after the start of mass demonstrations and three months after Sudan's longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir was overthrown.

The agreement is a road map for the political future of the country and one that will, at least initially, avert the threat of further escalation of the conflict. According to various sources, 140 demonstrators were killed by Sudanese security forces in two violent confrontations in June.

Power-sharing council

Protesters — mostly middle-class doctors, students, teachers, and lawyers — had to make some painful compromises.

According to the agreement, democratic elections will take place after a transitional period of more than three years, during which time there will be no parliament.

What will instead take shape is a form of power sharing at the highest level: A transitional council is to determine the country's fate in the coming years. Its composition will be largely balanced between leaders from the military and the civilian protest movement, with each side sending five representatives.

An eleventh civilian member agreed upon by both the military and the opposition will complete the council. This member could be decisive in any future stalemates, so especially difficult negotiations are expected when it comes to agreeing upon the individual.

The deal also foresees a transitional Cabinet consisting of civilians with area expertise. This is being seen as a concession on the part of military because, according to currently available information, the protest movement will have the final say over a majority of seats in the Cabinet. For this very reason, it is unlikely that this "technocratic Cabinet" will have a level of power that is in any way comparable to that of the transitional council.

'Last resort' measures in waiting

For now, the battle over Sudan's future will take place in the transitional council — but both sides do have external "backup battalions" to call on, if necessary.

For the military this means armed soldiers, especially the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a notorious paramilitary force that emerged from the Janjaweed militias that fought in the long-running war in Darfur. The RSF is being blamed for the violence in Khartoum in June. In turn, the civilian protest opposition can exert pressure again as needed in the form of strikes and mass protests.

However, it seems unlikely that either side would use their "last resort" measures, for such a scenario would ultimately undermine the laboriously negotiated power sharing arrangement and lead to fresh violence. But both sides are likely to continue to threaten to do so as a means of exerting pressure.

Arab neighbors and Sudan's military

Ultimately, however, the Sudanese military has the upper hand. In addition to weapons and its long-standing central role and experience in the country's political and economic power structures, the army also has the support of important regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Moreover, these states will only tolerate democratic experiments in Sudan in so far as they do not contradict their own interests. Among other things, they want to limit the power of their regional rivals Qatar and Turkey, as well as that of the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia also desperately needs the continued support of Sudanese soldiers for its coalition fighting in the war in Yemen.

Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemeti, is the man who has voiced Sudan's loyalty to all three Arab "brother states." He is not only the deputy chairman of the Sudanese military council that currently holds power but also the leader of the RSF — and the acts of violence allegedly perpetrated by the RSF are supposed to be investigated by an "independent" committee. This could become another flare-up point, especially if Hemeti's role is brought into question.

For the second time since al-Bashir's ousting, demonstrators can claim a partial victory based on the power sharing agreement. But this also applies to Hemeti and the military, which will officially remain in a position of full power for at least three years. With the help of its strong financial allies in the Gulf region, the military will continue to do everything in its power, even after the transition period, to remain the ultimate power broker in Sudan.

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