After nearly a week of intense pressure, both internally and internationally, UN representatives are opening talks between the military forces of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who seized power in a coup last Monday, and the deposed prime minister Abdulla Hamdok in hopes of finding a peaceful resumption of civilian authority. Leading up to last Monday, there had been rumors of a coup following increasing tension between the military and the transitional government. Protests against the military had begun before al-Burhan dissolved the Sovereign Council and arrested a number of government officials, including Hamdok. Tensions have only intensified in the week since, with the capital of Khartoum at a standstill as hundreds of thousands of protestors and strikers filled the streets, decrying the military’s take over and expressing their desire for the civilian government to be reinstated. Exact numbers are difficult to verify, but Human Rights Watch estimated that on Friday five protestors died and at least 200 were wounded, while the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors reported three protesters killed on Saturday alone.
A number of international and regional actors, including the UN, the United States, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, have swiftly denounced the coup, according to Reuters. White House deputy spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said that the US administration was “deeply alarmed at reports of a military takeover,” and President Biden has suspended $700 million dollars in aid promised to the transitional government. The US has also asked Israel to leverage its influence in Sudan to pressure the coup to step down. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, whom only last month congratulated the progress of Hamdok’s government, said through a spokesperson that he, “strongly condemns the ongoing military coup d’état in Khartoum and all actions that could jeopardize Sudan’s political transition and stability.”
This coup is not the first of its kind in Sudan, and the military has long had a hand in the country’s unstable politics. Against a shaky democratic regime, al-Bashir rose to power through a military coup in 1989. Ironically, when the longtime dictator was officially deposed after months of protests, it was also through the means of a military coup. The military is an extraordinarily powerful institution in Sudan: a country beset by sectarian violence and civil war. After the military grew critical of al-Bashir, amid a violent year of protests, they removed him and reached a power-sharing agreement with civilian authorities to transition the nation into democracy by 2023.
UN Special Representative to Sudan Volker Perthes has reportedly spoken to Hamdok, who is unharmed but under house arrest, about possible mediation with the military. According to Reuters, proposals have been made to allow Hamdok full executive powers, appointment of a cabinet of technocrats, end the Sovereign Council and replace it with a smaller honorary council, share power between the political parties, rebel groups, and the military, and allow the military to keep leading a “Security and Defense Council.” But, Hamdok has also stated he won’t continue talks until the military releases the people it arrested and reinstates the pre-coup power-sharing arrangement.
The coup was a disappointing occurrence, but the rapid and concerted response by the Sudanese people make clear this is far from a fait accompli. With quick and decisive international condemnation, there is an opportunity for a civilian government to return without more bloodshed. Despite the military cutting communications and restricting travel points, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to express their disapproval of the military. Neighborhood barricades were set up, protestors went door to door to gather followers, and unions of doctors, bankers, and teachers have gone on strike in an organized campaign of civil disobedience. Combined with what Reuters describes as “internal splits within Sudan’s sprawling military apparatus,” and a lack of support from international groups, the coup is clearly weak, while the will of the Sudanese people is strong. With continuing UN mediation and civil disobedience, there is a strong possibility that the military will step down peacefully and Sudan will resume its path towards democracy.
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