Sudan Military-Civilian Tensions Reach Low Point in Wake of Coup Attempt

Large divisions between military and civilian groups in Sudan have been exposed last week through a failed military coup by soldiers loyal to former President Omar al-Bashir. The two groups have been allowed to share power during the transition to free elections planned for 2023. The military has blamed the civilian politicians for “neglecting public welfare while consumed by internal squabbles,” per Al Jazeera. Reuters has argued that “the deteriorating relations have put the fragile transition to democratic civilian rule in its most precarious position in the two years since the removal of former President Omar al-Bashir.” 

The failed coup attempt led to around 20,000 protestors in Khartoum demonstrating  in favor of a civilian-led democracy. The protests were brutally broken up by Sudanese security forces. In an interview with Reuters, Eman Salih, a 22-year old university student is quoted saying “We came today to block any coup and achieve civilian rule…We will not allow the military to control our revolution.” 

The events of the past week have laid bare the large division between civilian politicians and the combined military-security forces who seem to remain loyal to the deposed leader of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. While civilian politicians came to greet the protesters, the security forces fired tear gas into the crowds. The attempted coup has lead civilian officials to accuse the military leaders of overstepping their bounds, while generals criticized civilian management of the economy and political process and said their forces were neglected and disrespected. 

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo is quoted in Sudanese news agency SUNA as saying “Politicians are the main cause behind coups because they have neglected the average citizen…and are more concerned fighting over how they can stay in power…This has created disenchantment among citizens.” Civilian politicians responded by strengthening calls to restructure the military amid suspicions regarding the group’s business involvements and for citizens to reject military rule to protect the revolution. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan called this proposal “unacceptable,” saying “Who should [the citizens] rise to protect the revolution against…From us, the military? We are the ones who are protecting it from them, the ones who want to steal it.”

Friction between the two groups has continuously escalated since Omar al-Bashir was ousted through a military coup in April 2019. The former leader, who is now in prison, ruled Sudan for 30 years after successfully leading a coup in 1989 against the democratically elected government. Omar al-Bashir’s tenure was marked by authoritarianism, corruption, and massive violence. Protests started in December 2018 amidst a severe economic crisis marked by austerity measures, inflation, and rising costs of basic goods.

After the coup, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the civilian negotiators came to an agreement that included the creation of a “sovereignty council,” a 39-month transition period leading to elections, a cabinet of ministers, a legislative council, and an investigation into the Khartoum massacre. The country has undergone significant legal and constitutional reform with the hopes of holding democratic elections by 2023. 

However, tensions between the TMC and civilian politicians have flared and mass protests have continued well into the start of the power-sharing agreement. The military has justified its actions by accusing politicians of neglecting the people. However true these accusations are, a rash coup attempt also puts the future of Sudan’s people at great risk. In the wake of this recent coup, with an angered reaction from the civilian representatives and a violently quelled public protest movement, it is difficult to see where Sudan goes from here. It is worrisome that the fractures between Sudan’s political factions, in charge of ensuring a safe and smooth transition to a democratic society, have led to a neglect of the people.