Sudan's Deal Has Volatile Clauses That Threaten Its Fragile, Temporary Regime

The international community lauded the agreement between the army and the ousted prime minister, but with the deal lacking details, the U.S., UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel may have to ensure calm

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Sudanese in Khartoum on Sunday protesting last month's military coup.
Sudanese in Khartoum on Sunday protesting last month's military coup. Credit: Marwan Ali/AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The agreement signed between the chairman of Sudan’s temporary Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is still far from calming down the Sudanese people.

On Sunday, tens of thousands took to the streets of Khartoum and other cities demanding that the agreement be canceled and the government be placed in the hands of civilians without the army’s participation. The United States has asked Israel to use its connections to “explain” to Burhan the best way forward.

As expected, the demonstrations were suppressed with a heavy hand. A 16-year-old boy was killed and dozens were wounded, bringing the number of people killed in the protests to 41 since October 25, when the military coup took place. The number of wounded is estimated at 400.

“Hamdok sold out democracy,” the protesters declared. “He signed an agreement forced on him by the army while he was a prisoner.” “Put those responsible for the killing on trial.”

The agreement, which includes 14 clauses, states that not only will Hamdok be released, he’ll return as prime minister and form a government of technocrats. Also, people arrested during the coup will be released, a move that began Sunday. A parliament and constitutional court will be established, and the rest of the state’s institutions will continue with their work. But the deal also includes volatile clauses that could serve as pretexts for dismantling the fragile temporary regime.

Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan speaking in Khartoum after the coup.Credit: Marwan Ali/AP

For example, Article 6 states that the transition period will be managed based on defining the relationship between the political and civilian forces, the army, the opposition groups, the putschists, young people, women and even the scouts.

But who will draw up the political agreement? Who will be the source of authority and how will power be divided between the army and the civilians? There are no details in this concise agreement, and every side can interpret it as it sees fit.

Irritant off the agenda

Another clause talks about investigating those responsible for the killing and wounding of protesters. This clause ostensibly needs no explanation. But will the police investigators and civilian judges be able to interrogate and judge members of the military who took part in the killing of civilians?

The agreement also states that the Juba peace agreement, which was signed in August 2020 and determined the division of powers on the temporary Sovereign Council, the length of its rule and the establishment of the government and state institutions, will be implemented in full. But that’s the same agreement that convinced Burhan to launch the coup.

On the face of it, in the coming weeks Burhan will pass on his leadership of the Sovereign Council to a civilian for the next 18 months. Is this clause in the Juba agreement still in effect or does the new agreement on the division of powers affect the date of the transfer of control and the preparations for the 2023 election?

In a florid joint statement, the United States, Britain, the European Union and Norway quickly praised the new agreement, which could bring Sudan frozen American aid of $700 million. Most of all, it could get the irritating issue of Sudan off the international agenda.

Protesters Sunday. Forty-one people have been killed since the October 25 coup.Credit: Marwan Ali/AP

It’s hard to attribute to these countries anything but naiveté, especially considering the renewed clashes, the realization that the new agreement was born of coercion and not national consensus, and that the army will remain the main factor deciding the country’s moves.

Still, this agreement once again demonstrated the power of the people, even when they’re divided among tribes, geographic regions and ideologies. Just as the people triggered the ousting of the tyrant Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, they were the force that stopped the army’s takeover less than a month after the coup.

It may be assumed that the new agreement and Hamdok’s new government will continue under the supervision of the army, which has proved itself more than armies in other countries racked by coups during the Arab Spring.

It’s easier with a general

The guarantee that may now ensure good conduct by the new-old regime is the involvement of foreign countries, mainly the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. Their leverage was their strong connection with the military leaders, especially Burhan, who realized that he couldn’t rule without U.S. financial assistance, the UAE’s contribution and the political support of Egypt and Israel.

Egypt as well was asked to “explain” to Burhan the best forward. Mossad officials and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel arrived in Khartoum at the same time; it seems they managed better than Jeffrey Feltman, Joe Biden’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok speaking in Khartoum in February. Credit: Marwan Ali/AP

It’s hard to forget that in September 2020, Feltman and his deputy Payton Knopf published a well-reasoned article for the United States Institute of Peace in which they warned against a rush for normalization between Israel and Sudan. “A unified Sudanese government with a popular mandate will be better able to forge a warm and sustainable peace with Israel, whereas a rushed Israeli-Sudanese agreement has the potential to unravel Sudan’s transition [to democracy] and generate renewed support for Sudan’s Islamists and their foreign backers,” they wrote.

Eight months later, Feltman and Payton were appointed. They would probably like to forget this article, because without a normalization deal and the consent of then-U.S. President Donald Trump to remove Sudan from the list of countries supporting terror, and a pledging of generous financial aid, the new temporary government in Khartoum probably wouldn’t have been formed.

At the same time, international pressure on Burhan has ended only the military coup but hasn’t suppressed the military’s ambition or resolved the balance of political power. And it has highlighted the international community’s weakness when it comes to the country’s civilian powers. Ostensibly, once again it has been proved that, as opposed to negotiating with democratic governments, it’s much more convenient to seal the deal with a leader who’s also a general in a country dependent on foreign aid for its existence.

But then there’s no choice but to remember leaders and generals like Muammar Gadhafi, Omar al-Bashir and Bashar Assad who smashed this theory. The “new” Sudan still isn’t immune to the military coups that have plagued it since it won its independence in 1956.

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