Protestors across Sudan are objecting to a preliminary deal signed Monday, December 5th, between ruling military forces, arms groups, and political parties signaling Sudan’s transition to a civilian-led government. The framework boasts a pathway to Sudanese political stability after repeated turnovers in governance since the 2019 removal of President Omar al-Bashir. Dissenters span the political spectrum from al-Bashir loyalists to pro-democracy activists. Civilians critical of the deal cite its lack of clear solutions regarding issues in national politics, tribal conflicts, and economic recovery as a signal of unpreparedness. The deal was met with approval by foreign officials from Norway, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States who made a joint statement calling for cooperation by all stakeholders. If successful, the deal would end a years-long battle between political elites and the military, following the 2021 coup of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. A second, more comprehensive framework is to be released in the weeks to come.
John Godfrey, the U.S. ambassador to Sudan, took to Twitter to designate the signing as a “credible path to a final agreement that would take Sudan out of the current political crisis.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pronounced his support while expanding visa restrictions to include Sudanese nationals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic transition in Sudan. Words of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk mirrored U.S. statements saying, “the framework agreement is a huge opportunity to ensure that this vision [the restoration of a civilian-led government] becomes reality.” Countries across Africa have also voiced their approval, with Egypt committing to ensuring a final agreement is reached.
Signatories included military leaders Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and his deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo as well as representatives of the pro-democracy group Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC). The deal’s efficacy is under question as the pact sets no formal date for a final agreement nor outlines the appointment of a new prime minister. Sudan state employee and protestor Ahmed Fateh al-Rahman told Reuters that activists will “defeat this agreement because it is an extension of the coup.” Kholood Khair, the founder of a Khartoum-based think tank, spoke to the Sudan Tribune saying the deal allows for Al-Burhan to survive, politically, with “a very low-level commitment.” During the signing ceremony, protestors were met by security forces using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds. With military control of the state and a new partnership including the political elite, protestors lack the consensus agreement and resources to challenge the integrity of the framework.
Years of anarchy and infighting began in 2018 after a series of peaceful demonstrations in the northeastern region of Atbara were met with tanks. Violent clashes in the streets led to 37 deaths within the first five days according to Amnesty International. In April 2019, the military removed President Al-Bashir from power and closed Sudan’s borders. Protestors filled the streets demanding civilian rule, but peace talks between protest leaders and the military rapidly deteriorated leading to bloody crackdowns attributed to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a notorious paramilitary group. Civilian and military parties agreed to share power until a full transition to democracy could occur in 2023. Leaders appointed a council of ministers led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. But in October of 2021, the nation’s armed formed detained civilian leaders including Prime Minister Hamdok in a coup. He was released but later resigned from office in January of 2022. Hamdok claimed that despite his best efforts, Sudan was “sliding towards disaster.” Today’s civilian mistrust of government proclamations is rooted in years of unsuccessful pledges to deliver democracy.
The validity of Monday’s agreement will be tested in the weeks to come. Sudanese citizens have lost years of international aid, adequate public spending, and reliable judicial systems due to political instability. International communities supporting the reform must oversee the transition of power on the ground. Any newly formed establishment should enable representation for the diverse ethnic, religious, and tribal groups present throughout the country. The December 5th framework was not a resolution to Sudan’s contentious leadership but the beginning of a difficult journey requiring compromise, discussion, and change from reigning officials.
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