Sudan protesters call for military to leave politics

Thousands take to the streets across the country in opposition to Abdalla Hamdok's deal with Gen Al Burhan

Thousands of protesters rallied in Sudan on Thursday against a deal with army generals that led to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok being reinstated after his ousting in a military coup last month, witnesses said.

Demonstrators in Khartoum chanted “the people want the downfall of the regime” while others in the capital's twin city of Omdurman shouted “power to the people, a civilian government is the people's choice".

Some of the protesters, who included men, women and children, carried Sudan's red, white, green and black flags and held banners denouncing the military.

'Down with the (military) coup council', read one banner. 'Soldiers must return to their barracks', read another.

Speakers addressing protesters demanded that leading general and coup leader Abdel Fattah Al Burhan and his associates be put on trial for overthrowing a legitimate government. "Hang them," shouted some protesters.

Security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters in Khartoum, Omdurman, the central state of North Kordofan and in North Darfur west of the capital, witnesses said. Videos posted online purported to show protesters in Khartoum pelting policemen with rocks in response to the tear gas.

Gen Al Burhan seized power and detained Mr Hamdok on October 25 but after international condemnation and mass protests he reinstated the prime minister in a deal signed on Sunday.

“I initially went out to protest to demand retribution for people killed after the coup and now I am protesting against the Burhan-Hamdok deal,” protester Soheir Hamad told AFP in south Khartoum.

This deal “blocks the way towards a full civilian rule. We don't want the military to play a role in politics,” she said.

Protests also broke out in other states including Wad Madani, Kassala and the western Darfur region, witnesses said.

Thursday’s rallies showed significant opposition to the deal announced on Sunday to bring back Mr Hamdok, who has, in the eyes of Sudan’s powerful pro-democracy groups, morphed overnight from a popular hero to the man who betrayed the 2018-19 revolution that toppled autocratic ruler Omar Al Bashir.

Mr Hamdok maintains he agreed to return as prime minister to resume the country’s democratic transition derailed by the coup and stop the spilling of blood of Sudan’s youth. At least 41 protesters have been killed since October 25 and hundreds injured.

He said he wanted to protect the economic gains made by the reforms he introduced since he took office in 2019. On Wednesday, he said the deal he struck with the military prevented Sudan from sliding into the chaos that is engulfing other countries in the region, including Yemen and Syria.

His reinstatement after nearly a month under house arrest, however, has raised questions on the extent of authority he will now wield and whether he would be beholden to the military, led by Gen Al Burhan.

Significantly, Mr Hamdok has lost the support of the Forces of Freedom and Change, a loose pro-democracy alliance that played a key part in the anti-Al Bashir uprising before it went on to become the prime minister’s power base and political patron.

He has also lost the support of the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, another coalition formed during the uprising, as well as the neighbourhood resistance committees, the grass roots movement that mobilised rallies during the uprising and in the weeks that followed the takeover.

“What we have right now is not a recipe for stability or the success of the democratic transition,” said Michael Hanna, the New York-based US programme director at the International Crisis Group.

“There is a lot of disquiet and concern over the trajectory of events, including the loss of civilian support for the government, the rejection of the deal on the streets and Hamdok’s own credibility. The military has burnt Hamdok, who has been made to look like the cover of military control.”

The deal struck on Sunday provides for the release of all political detainees rounded up since the coup but says nothing about the nationwide state of emergency announced by Gen Al Burhan on October 25.

It also makes no mention of the parts of the power-sharing agreement reached in 2019 between the military and the FFC, which was repealed by Gen Al Burhan. These parts enshrine the FFC as the military's partner in a transitional administration that governs until elections are held.

Mr Hamdok has been seeking to discredit speculation that the military, not him, would be dictating policy now. His office said he had instructed security agencies and the police to protect protesters on Thursday.

It also said he had instructed the relevant authorities to free political detainees who remain in custody and ordered a review of the sackings and hirings in state agencies made by Gen Al Burhan in the four weeks Mr Hamdok was under house arrest.

“The Burhan-Hamdok deal means the acceptance of the military as guardians of the political process; and that is a serious setback,” the professionals’ association said.

“The military now can at any time of their choice decide that the political process is not going well and they upend it again. Our immediate objective now is to end the military’s patronage of the political process through peaceful protests.”

But analysts believe the campaign against Mr Hamdok could prove short-lived and the international community, along with opposition on the streets in Sudan, will eventually force the military to roll back all they had done in the four weeks up to the prime minister’s reinstatement.

Already, the US is saying more must be done to put Sudan’s democratic transition back on track and is putting off the resumption of millions of dollars’ worth of aid it suspended in response to the coup.

“If the streets continue to simmer as they do now, the changes made by the military will be dismantled one by one,” said Moussa Gouda, a Sudanese political analyst.

“The international community, for its part, will force the military to restore the conditions on the eve of the coup.”

As for Mr Hamdok, he could, with time, regain his popular hero status, said Rashed Mohammed Ali, a political science lecturer at Khartoum’s Bahri University.

He cited Mr Hamdok's legitimacy as the choice of the political forces behind the 2018-19 uprising and the negotiating skills he has shown to rehabilitate Sudan internationally after three decades as a pariah state.

In the two years he has been in office, he freed Sudan of sanctions negotiated the resumption of badly needed foreign aid and the absolution of $50 billion in overseas debt.

“Hamdok remains a symbol of the revolution no matter how scathing the criticism he has been subjected to,” Mr Ali said.

Updated: November 25th 2021, 4:58 PM
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