Sudan transition at ‘critical juncture’ as power struggle deepens
Analysts warn rising political tensions risk derailing transition towards full civilian rule.
Khartoum, Sudan – Pro-civilian leaders in Sudan have called for mass protests on Thursday amid rising tensions between those in charge of steering the country towards elections.
The demonstrations have been called in response to a continuing sit-in staged since last week in front of the presidential palace in the capital, Khartoum, by an alliance of rebel groups and political entities.
These groups used to be part of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), a loose coalition that was at the helm of the months-long protests that led to the military removal of former President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.
Under an August 2019 power-sharing deal between the military and the FFC, the country has been run by a Sovereign Council of military and civilian members tasked with overseeing the transition until elections scheduled for 2023, as well as a council of ministers under civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
However, long-simmering tensions within the FFC boiled over in recent weeks, with several groups splintering from the coalition and joining forces to launch a new Charter of National Accord. The members of the breakaway grouping have complained of marginalisation in the transitional period which, they said, is monopolised by the mostly centric and urban political parties that currently comprise the FFC: the Sudanese Congress Party, the Umma Party, the Arab Socialist Baath Party – Region of Sudan and the Federal Gathering.
“We’ve all participated in 2019’s revolution but … the four parties took everything for themselves and all the power has been between the four of them,” said Mohamed Adam, a leader at the Sudan Liberation Army movement of Mini Minawi, the current governor of Darfur.
The splinter faction and their supporters have demanded the dissolution of the government and the formation of a new one led by technocrats. There have also been disagreements with the FFC about the Committee to Dismantle the June 30, 1989 Regime and Retrieve Public Funds, a task force established to recover assets lost to al-Bashir and his associates.
The continuing power struggle was described by Hamdok this week as the “worst and most dangerous crisis” that does not only threaten the political transition but Sudan as a whole.
Hafiz Ismail, a Khartoum-based analyst, said the crisis has been the “result of the shortsightedness in politics, in addition to concentrating on the personal benefits rather than the public benefit”.
He added, “The rebel groups have their own agendas and the selfishness of some of the FFC members who do not care about what will happen; it’s just so bad that we reached to this level.”
The protests on Thursday coincide with the anniversary of Sudan’s 1964 revolution, which overthrew a military government led by Major General Ibrahim Abboud.
“We have been communicating with the resistance committees all over the country to have one day of protest to preserve the gains of the revolution,” said FFC spokesman Erwa el-Sadig.
El-Sadig also said he expects that talks with the military leadership would resume following Thursday’s protests, and added, “We will continue the political messages of the revolution, till they hand over the presidency of the sovereign council to a civilian person”, as stipulated by the constitutional declaration which was signed by the two sides in 2019.
The document had initially set a date of May 2021 for General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan to hand over the leadership of the Sovereign Council to a civilian representative.
While organisers expect Thursday’s protests to be massive, the breakaway FFC faction has no intention of letting up. Earlier this week, a bus loaded with people from various parts of Sudan arrived in Khartoum to join the sit-in outside the presidential palace.
“The transition is standing at a critical juncture,” said Mohamed Osman, a political analyst. “Pulling back from the brink seems improbable at this point but it’s not impossible. There’s always a possibility that cooler heads would prevail.
“But if that doesn’t happen, I’m afraid the chances of that transition descending into chaos would be great.”