Sudan's Democratic Transition Takes Shape After Months of Violent Unrest

Hiba Salah waves Sudan’s flag outside Friendship Hall as the agreement is being signed.

Sudan is set to be ruled by a joint civilian-military coalition for the next three years, with elections to follow. Many Sudanese welcome a new era after months of unrest, but how serious is the military about democracy?

Sudan's protest movement celebrated another milestone over the weekend on the way to what many hope is a democratic future. After mass protests forced the ouster of long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir in April, months of negotiations -- sometimes interrupted by violent clashes -- followed between the military and the opposition democracy movement. Now they have agreed to lead the country together.

In the presence of regional leaders, the two sides on Saturday signed a road map for the coming weeks. The agreement establishes a joint sovereign council made up of military and civilian representatives that will rule the country for next three years and three months, ultimately paving the way for democratic elections.

Lack of confidence in the military

Many people within the protest movement have expressed doubts over whether the military is actually serious about implementing democracy. Sudan's armed forces seized power after al-Bashir's ouster, and only came to the negotiating table as a result of international pressure. After months of talks, the military finally agreed on a compromise with the Forces of Freedom and Change, the main civil opposition coalition.

Hanging over the transitional government is the Khartoum massacre on June 3, when armed men dressed in combat fatigues violently broke up a sit-in outside military headquarters in the capital. Protest organizers say more than 100 people were killed.

Philipp Jahn of Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Khartoum told DW that "many people celebrated" the transitional government agreement, but "others don't feel like celebrating at all." The losses were too high, he said, adding that the "euphoria" people felt before the June crackdown on the protesters is gone.

Student Alaa Salah, who has become a symbol of Sudan's democracy movement after she was photographed chanting atop a car during an anti-al-Bashir protest, is only cautiously optimistic. "We must wait and see whether the military transitional council fulfills its commitments," she said. "They have not done so in the past and killed demonstrators in cold blood."

Who will ultimately lead Sudan?

The sovereign council will have five military members and six civilian members. It will replace the current ruling military council, and will largely delegate executive authority to a cabinet of ministers. With the exception of the Defense and Interior Ministry, all ministries will be headed by civilians. Abdallah Hamdok, a former UN economist, is expected to be named interim prime minister.

Once named prime minister, Hamdok is expected to focus his attention on economic recovery. Sudan's weak economy, which led to a spike in bread and gas prices, was a primary driver of the popular uprising against al-Bashir, who is now on trial for corruption.

The main task for the next three years will be to make sure the Sudanese people can lead decent lives, Jahn said. The country suffers from "power blackouts cuts and a lack of gas while prices are exploding," he added.

Sudanese journalist Dorra Mokhtar believes the worst of the unrest in Sudan is now over. "People are cautious because the al-Bashir system still exists in the highest ranks of the military," he said. "People are also optimistic because a new era has dawned."

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