‘Repeating cycle’: Protesters decry Sudan agreement

Critics fear the deal extends a lifeline to the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group which led the 2021 coup.

Protests in Sudan
Sudanese demonstrators attend a rally to demand the return to civilian rule nearly a year after a military coup led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in Khartoum, Sudan, on Tuesday, October 25, 2022 [File: Marwan Ali/AP Photo]

Khartoum, Sudan – Sudanese protesters have denounced a framework agreement between the military, powerful armed groups and political parties.

The deal, signed on Monday, is aimed at ending the standoff that exceeded a year between security and political elites following a military coup on October 25, 2021.

Critics fear the deal extends a lifeline to the army and the powerful paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), both of which spearheaded the putsch.

Sudan’s resistance committees, which are neighbourhood groups leading the street pro-democracy movement, say the deal effectively restores a partnership between political and security elites and thereby betrays the aspirations of the 120 people killed in anti-coup protests.

“We believe that if there is no justice then the killing and raping will continue,” said Ahmed Ismat, a spokesperson for the Khartoum south resistance committees. “We are just repeating the same cycle.”

International observers and mediators have touted the agreement as a “positive step” towards restoring a pathway to democracy, with the settlement ushering in a two-year transitional period ahead of elections.

“There is now a credible path to a final agreement that would take Sudan out of the current political crisis – we respectfully urge all Sudanese stakeholders to seize that opportunity,” tweeted John Godfrey, the US ambassador to Sudan.

Despite the optimism, important issues such as transitional justice and security sector reform still need to be worked out in the second phase of the framework agreement, preceding a final settlement.

The Juba Peace Agreement, which was signed in October 2020 to bring an end to protracted internal conflicts, will also be revised. Many Juba signatories to the deal later backed the coup and are now excluded from the framework agreement.

Nabil Abdullah, the spokesperson for the military, said the army was committed to the deal.

“The position of the army was made clear by its commander-in-chief [Abdel Fattah al-Burhan] in his speech yesterday morning … where he [expressed] the commitment of the army … to the agreement and that [the army] is open for all political forces to join it,” Abdullah said.

Sustainable deal?

While the army and RSF have agreed to give up control over Sudan’s economy and political decision-making, the framework agreement does not provide a clear mechanism for them to do so, said Kholood Khair, founder and director of Confluence Advisory, a think-tank in Sudan’s capital Khartoum.

“Even if it is just a symbolic agreement meant to lay the framework … it doesn’t show how it will functionally work,” Khair told Al Jazeera over the phone. “Clearly, the deal means more to the people that were in the room – the generals and politicians – and little to everybody else.”

Across Khartoum, most people were apathetic to the news, while many others braved tear gas and violence to oppose the settlement.

There was a heavy police presence throughout the downtown quarters of the city, including dozens of white Toyota pick-up trucks that transported plain-clothed men with scarves over their faces to crack down on demonstrators – a frequent strategy deployed by security forces.

On the eve of the agreement, many protesters were also outraged that Mohamad Adam – a 17-year-old boy that goes by the nickname Tupac – reportedly arrived at his court session visibly beaten and bruised.

Tupac, a hero of the protest movement, stands accused of killing a police official, yet his lawyers say the charges were fabricated and he was tortured into giving a false confession.

“Tupac was beaten badly. He was tied to a chair and his front teeth were chipped and broken,” said Sara Hamdan, a human rights advocate who was at Adam’s court hearing.

Dania Atabani, the spokesperson for a resistance committee in Khartoum, told Al Jazeera that protests will continue in the coming days since young people have no faith that the security forces will stop violating human rights or surrender power, regardless of what they agreed to on paper.

“We negotiated with them before. We gave them many chances. But what did they do in the end? A military coup,” Atabani, 22, said. “They have martyred [us], injured [us] and fabricated charges against innocent civilians. They betray and kill their own people.”

Al Jazeera attempted to contact the public prosecutor and police officials for comment, but phone calls and emails went unanswered.

Regional influence

Since former President Omar al-Bashir was deposed in April 2019, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been competing for influence by backing rival security forces. Now, the framework agreement enables both players to bring civilian politicians closer into their orbit, while maintaining their security clients.

Just last month, Sudanese political and religious leader Al-Sayid Mohamed Orthman al-Mirghani returned to Sudan after nearly a decade in exile in Egypt. High-level members of the National Umma Party also visited Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials in October.

Meanwhile, the UAE has close relations with Mohammad al-Hassan al-Mirghani and Ibrahim al-Mirghani – two politicians with the Democratic Alliance Party (DUP) – which signed the framework agreement, according to Khair.

“The engagement of [Cairo and Abu Dhabi] causes a lot of concern for a lot of Sudanese people,” said Khair. “Any good feeling one might get from having a civilian governing structure is largely diminished because the fingerprints of the Emiratis and the Egyptians are clearly visible.”

Khair added that civilian politicians have predominantly been motivated to acquire legitimacy from external actors, and if they were more focused on acquiring trust internally, then the negotiations and deal may have looked better and had broader support.

Instead, members of the resistance committees told Al Jazeera their mistrust of political elites is irreparable. They say the only way forward is to continue organising in their respective neighbourhoods and protesting together.

“As politicians were signing the agreement, we [protesters] were getting beaten up just two kilometres away,” said Ismat. Political elites – be it in the military or civilian – are aligned against the revolution.”

Source: Al Jazeera