Sudan: President Arrested, but the Revolution Continues

Despite the removal from power of President Omar al-Bashir on April 11, mass protests in Sudan continue. On April 19, after the Friday prayer, hundreds of thousands of Sudanese again flocked to the streets, demanding the early transfer of power from the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which had taken power, to a civilian government. The coalition of opposition parties and movements, the “Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces” (DFCF), has called on the population to continue protesting until the TMC fulfils a number of requirements. The foremost among these is the immediate transfer of power to the transitional civilian government, which has been formed by the DFCF for a four-year term. Other demands include the dissolution of the National Congress Party (NCP) and the transfer of its property to the state; the disbandment of the state security apparatus and the NCP paramilitary units; the abolition of all laws restricting freedoms, including those which discriminate against women; and the release of all political prisoners.

The military leadership has agreed with most of the points, but insists on the TMC maintaining power for at least one month to ensure the "stabilisation in the country". The opposition categorically disagrees with this; it considers the TMC to be a new incarnation of the old Islamist military regime, and the overthrow of al-Bashir as essentially a “palace” coup, orchestrated in order to save the ruling group and its financial assets, beating “revolution from below”, while giving the crowd the illusion of victory.

The ruling group, including the top army and state security brass, rightly fears that the opposition will initiate an objective investigation, not only of the use of force in the recent suppression of protests, but also of war crimes committed during armed conflicts, primarily in Darfur. In 2005, the UN International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur indicated that the use of military force against the civilian population of the region was disproportionate to the threat posed by the rebels and therefore could be qualified as a crime against humanity. In addition, there is a high probability that high-ranking military officers will be subject to a criminal corruption investigation. The army’s leadership and other power structures, seeing that private soldiers and low-ranking officers had begun to side with the revolution, took over, displacing the president, but not giving any new power to the DFCF.

At the same time, pressure on members of the Transitional Military Council has begun to grow. The coordinator of one of the refugee camps in Central Darfur has already issued a statement that the current head of the TMC, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, was involved in arming the pro-government militia responsible for attacks against settlements in the region in the late 2000s. Moreover, according to the Sudanese opposition, the deputy head of the TMC, Hamdan Dogolo “Hemeti”, commander of the paramilitary “Operational Support Forces”, had even illegally taken control over several gold mines in Northern Darfur. Some other TMC members are accused of sympathising with the NCP and harbouring Islamist views.

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At the same time, the world community is also putting increasing pressure on the military. The TMC has officially been recognised by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Chad, Russia and some other countries, but the African Union has threatened to suspend Sudan’s membership if the military did not transfer power to a civilian government within the next two weeks. The European Union has declared that it does not recognise the TMC, and the United States called the transfer of power to civilians a prerequisite for the normalisation of bilateral relations. Due to the serious financial crisis in Sudan and the lack of the most essential goods (food, fuel, medicine) the offer of economic assistance could be an important lever in influencing the internal situation in the country.

In general, we can say that the TMC has faced a number of factors that are not conducive to the continued preservation of its power. These include the strong position of DFCF, which insists on the immediate transfer of power to the opposition; the reputational risk the TMC has incurred due to accusations that key figures are guilty of war crimes and corruption; the lack of recognition from the African Union and the EU and the cool reaction of Washington. At the same time, domestic political instability in Sudan opens up a variety of opportunities for global and regional players, depending on their willingness to provide economic assistance to the country and on their ability to establish special relations with the TMC or (likely in the near future) a new civilian government. On April 21, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi announced the provision of $3 billion to Khartoum in financial and humanitarian aid, thus highlighting the importance of strengthening their relations with Sudan.

The prospects for a strategic partnership between Sudan and Russia, as well as the expansion of military-technical cooperation between the countries (as former president al-Bashir wanted, wishing protection from Washington) has become doubtful. Although interest in economic cooperation with Russia and in Russian military technology will remain to some extent, Moscow may lose the opportunity to use Sudan as a “staging ground” for expanding influence in Africa. A transitional civilian government could be more pro-Western or, at best, will pursue a balanced, multi-vector foreign policy.

The development of events in Sudan could have a direct impact on the situation in neighbouring South Sudan, where, through the active mediation of al-Bashir, the opposing sides agreed in 2018 to end a deadly civil war that had been raging since 2013. Without al-Bashir, who was the “architect” and sponsor of the agreement, Riek Machar, leader of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), will have a hard time defending his interests within the framework of the future coalition government, and President Salva Kiir will be tempted to once again violate the terms of the agreement with the opposition.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.