Sudan’s army chief orders release of four ministers held in coup

The move comes as the UN is working to find a way out of a political impasse since the military seized power in late October.

Sudan's top army general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan speaks during a press conference at the General Command of the Armed Forces in Khartoum
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said last week he wants to form a new government of technocrats [File: Ashraf Shazly/AFP]

Sudan’s army General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has ordered the release of four civilian ministers detained since he led a military coup last week, state-run television said.

Sudan TV on Thursday identified the four ministers as Hashem Hassab Alrasoul, telecommunications minister; Ali Geddo, trade minister; Hamza Baloul, information minister; and Youssef Adam, youth and sports minister. Several others remain detained.

Also on Thursday, al-Burhan held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, agreeing on the need to accelerate the formation of a government, according to the general’s office.

The US State Department said Blinken in the call urged al-Burhan to immediately release all political figures detained since the coup and “return to a dialogue that returns Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok to office and restores civilian-led governance in Sudan”.

Alex de Waal, the executive director of the World Peace Foundation, told Al Jazeera that the US could use economic leverage to speed up the formation of a civilian government.

“The US has quite a considerable leverage because of the very deep economic-financial hole that Sudan is [in],” he said.

“Other countries might have been able to get by on the bailout of the Gulf states, but in the case of Sudan, it can only actually stabilise its economy with considerable assistance, debt rescheduling, debt relief, assistance from the World Bank and the IMF, which requires the United States.”

“So the US actually has very strong cards to play,” he said.

Way out of crisis

The United Nations has been coordinating efforts to find a way out of Sudan’s political crisis following the October 25 coup in which top civilian politicians were detained and Prime Minister Hamdok was placed under house arrest.

Pro-democracy protesters have staged large demonstrations denouncing the coup, which derailed the country’s fragile transition towards civilian rule.

The UN special envoy for Sudan said talks had yielded the outline of a potential deal on a return to power-sharing, including Hamdok’s reinstatement, but added it had to be agreed in “days not weeks” before both sides’ positions harden.

Last week, al-Burhan said he wanted to form a new government of technocrats, and that Hamdok could return to lead it. On Wednesday, Hamdok’s office denied a report he had agreed to lead a new government and insisted that he wanted detainees released and governing bodies restored before entering into any dialogue.

Neighbourhood resistance committees, which have led protests since the coup and held demonstrations on Thursday, have rejected negotiations and have demanded that the military exit politics.

One proposal under discussion would see Hamdok given greater powers but with a new cabinet more palatable to the army, diplomats said, requesting anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to the media.

The army, in control for much of Sudan’s history since independence in 1956, would be in charge of the government’s powerful security and defence councils under the deal, they added.

The formation of a new Sovereign Council, the top executive body headed by al-Burhan until he said he was dissolving it, is still being discussed, according to the diplomats.

The army and politicians are at odds over the cabinet appointments component, they said, describing a deal as still elusive. The UN special representative said on Monday that “the contours of a package would become visible” in the coming days.

Thursday’s announcement about the four ministers came a day after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which enjoy close ties with Sudan’s ruling military, revisited their stance against the military coup by joining a call by the US and the United Kingdom for the restoration of the civilian cabinet. The two Arab states had previously only emphasised stability in the country.

Kholood Khair, a member of the Insight Strategy Partner think-tank, told Al Jazeera the move by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, coupled with the necessity to show some engagement during the ongoing negotiations, had triggered al-Burhan’s decision to release the four ministers.

“These two things have pushed them to reconsider their stance and meaningfully engage by releasing some of these detainees,” she added, noting that the coup leaders had to deal now with “a new political reality”.

The coup was a setback for Sudan’s path towards democracy two years into a fragile power-sharing agreement between members of the military and civilians established after the removal of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir two years ago.

Tens of thousands of anti-coup protesters flooded the streets of the capital, Khartoum, on October 25 as al-Burhan dissolved the cabinet and imposed a state of emergency across the country. Pro-democracy protests have since continued, triggering a crackdown by security forces that has left at least 11 people dead.

The coup triggered a wave of international condemnation and several punitive measures, with the World Bank and the US freezing aid – a big blow to a country already mired in a dire economic crisis.

Sudan’s military has also faced pressure from the African Union, which suspended the country from its activities until “the effective restoration of the civilian-led transitional authority”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies