Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 531, 14 July 2022

Sudan: Military steps down, following protests
Padmashree Anandhan

In the news
On 30 June, thousands of Sudanese gathered to mark the third anniversary of mass protests that took place when the former autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir was toppled in a coup. This led to the creation of a power-sharing agreement between the civilian groups and the military. Nine demonstrators were killed by the police forces.

On 04 July, Sudan’s coup leader Lt Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan announced that the army would no longer involve in talks mediated by the UN or any regional bloc. He asked the revolutionary and civilian groups to henceforth engage in establishing the transition government. In a statement al-Burhan said: “I call on the various components of the people, especially the youth, to adhere to peace. Everyone has the right to express their opinion, and your sacrifices are appreciated, and your hopes for a democratic transition are fulfilled. Your armed forces will not stand in its way.” On the same, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said: “I again stress to the Sudanese authorities that force should be used only when strictly necessary and in full compliance with the principles of legality, necessity, precaution, and proportionality.”
 
Issues at large
First, military’s tactical withdrawal. The announcement of the coup leader was aimed to convince and act as a cover to put down the increasing objection amongst the people and revolutionary groups against the military. On the sidelines, the military has vowed to step down only from the process of forming the transitional government while still having its clutches through government institutions such as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, an alternative to the Sovereignty council and lucrative industries. The decision can also be seen as a way to shift the blame on the booming economic crisis, and political impasse and highlight the divisions within the civilian groups.

Second, the reaction of the protest groups. The protestors consist of pre-democracy groups, and resistance committees; some of the well-known include the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), and Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC). They have been demanding that the military completely disengage from government institutions and Sudan’s political and economic systems. Although the announcement gives an opportunity for them to form the transitional government, there is high uncertainty amongst the groups on the Sudan military’s stand. Besides, there is a divide at the institutional level where they feel the decision was highly influenced by the hard left and communists, marginalising the conservative Islamic voices.

Third, international responses. The UN announced its withdrawal in 2021 in line with the African Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development. It has been trying to mediate talks between civilian groups and the Military, but since its withdrawal, the mediation process has been weak. Apart from the international organization, the US, UK, and Norway have decided to launch a Sudanese dialogue, a three-way talk to initiate negotiation after the military withdraws.
 
In perspective
First, derailed process towards forming transition government. When the military overthrew Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in 2021, it assured forming a democratic transition government and promised to stay until such transition government was formed with civilians and revolutionary groups.

Second, the political divide. The faultlines between the left, communist and conservative Muslims in the “Sovereignty Council,” has led the military to reason it to bring a new type of supreme council, therefore the split within the civilian groups have also barred Sudan from furthering its political impasse.

Third, the role of international powers. The UN withdrawal is a major setback for Sudan, especially when the military is using force and torture practices to put down the people protesting against its leadership. Other countries - the US, the UK and Norway have come forward to help Sudan establish it’s transition government, but only upon withdrawal of the military. With the military holding control over Sudan’s political and key industries, the success of such dialogue or mediation is narrow.

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