Sudan faced political and economic disarray on Monday following the resignation of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, whose supporters had hoped he would steer the country through its democratic transition.
His departure leaves the country with unrivalled, unpopular military rule that is steadfastly resisting pressure to step aside.
But the opposition is tenaciously demanding civilian rule, despite a continuing deadly crackdown against demonstrators and activists.
What comes next could only make things worse, say analysts and activists.
The departing prime minister, Mr Hamdok, spoke plainly and directly about his resignation in a televised address on Sunday night, presenting Sudan’s 44 million people with an unpolished picture of the situation in Sudan.
“Our country is going through a dangerous juncture that could threaten its very existence unless something is done quickly,” warned the former UN economist, whose resignation has for weeks been the subject of intense speculation.
“The people are the ultimate sovereign authority and the armed forces belong to the people and take their orders from the people,” he said, aligning himself with the pro-democracy movement.
The country's military leaders claim to be the guardians of the democratic transition, after the removal of dictator Omar Al Bashir nearly three years ago.
Sudan’s economy could slide further into chaos, since foreign donors who suspended hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of aid when the military seized power in October are unlikely to reverse their decision without guarantees that a democratic transition is back on track.
This will be a significant dilemma for donors. Millions of Sudanese depend on foreign aid, with the US State Department estimating that the total number of Sudanese needing assistance in 2021 was around 13.1 million, or 30 per cent of the country's population of 44 million.
The pro-democracy movement, meanwhile, seems determined to see the military out of politics altogether, a tall order in a country where generals have ruled for more than 50 of the 66 years since independence.
Its resolve in the face of the military’s entrenchment in power means more violence — nearly 60 have been killed in street protests since the coup and there are no signs the violence will abate soon.
Not for the first time in the country's tumultuous history, the deep uncertainty engulfing Sudan could create a climate conducive to yet another military coup.
According to one study of military takeovers by economist Paul Collier, the risk of a new coup d'etat following a coup rises sharply in the first year following the takeover.
“We will never leave the streets. We are not afraid of death,” said Sulaima Ishaq, a prominent pro-democracy activist and a veteran of the 2018-19 uprising against Al Bashir that forced the military to remove him in April 2019 and enter a transitional partnership with the pro-democracy movement.
Compounding Sudan’s political woes are divisions within or between the key components of the pro-democracy movement: The Forces for Freedom and Change, the Sudanese Professionals Association and the Resistance committees.
Calls for unity and to rally around a new political charter to be agreed through dialogue have intensified in recent weeks, but have yet to yield concrete results.
“We clearly need to identify our past mistakes and those behind them. We must do that not to punish those who erred but to learn from them and avoid them going forward,” said Youssef Mohammed Zein, of the Forces for Freedom and Change, a loose alliance whose origins are rooted in the uprising against Al Bashir’s rule and which has taken the lead in reconsidering its policies since 2019.
“There’s no alternative for everyone to chart a way out of this crisis for all of us,” he said.
A new era of crisis?
That could be easier said than done in a country where political, ethnic and religious rivalries run deep and have often in the past boiled over into conflict or stalemate, making the vast Afro-Arab country look close to becoming unhinged.
Sudan, which has seen decades of ruinous civil wars since independence in 1956, remains bedevilled by civil strife in its western and southern regions. The impoverished east is running out of patience, threatening crippling action unless it gets a more proportionate share of state funds.
The gravity of the situation in Sudan following Mr Hamdok’s resignation has not escaped the attention of some of the country’s main foreign backers, with Washington calling for a return to the power-sharing document signed by the pro-democracy movement and the military in August 2019.
Sudan’s leaders, it said, must set aside their differences and find consensus to ensure continued civilian rule.
“Sudan's next PM and cabinet should be appointed in line with the constitutional declaration to meet the people's goals of freedom, peace and justice,” the US Bureau for African Affairs said.
In London, Minister for Africa Vicky Ford said on Twitter that she was “deeply saddened” by the departure of Mr Hamdok, who “was serving Sudan and its people's desire for a better future.”