Sudan activists wary of military despite end to state of emergency

Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan has lifted measures which had given security forces and domestic intelligence agencies far-reaching powers

Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan seized power in Sudan on October 25 last year, dismissing a civilian-led government and ending the military’s partnership with pro-democracy forces. AFP
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The lifting of Sudan’s state of emergency by the military leadership was designed to appease the West rather than revive the country’s transition to democracy, analysts and activists say.

General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan seized power on October 25, dismissing a civilian-led government and ending the military’s partnership with pro-democracy forces.

He has said the takeover, which dissolved a transitional administration that took office in 2019, was necessary to avoid a civil war.

But, as the country's battered economy significantly worsened, international pressure mounted on Khartoum, particularly after a violent crackdown against protesters that included security forces using gunfire on street marches.

Gen Al Burhan has been forced to soften some of his stances on retaining power, promising free elections in 2023 after Western donors cut vital economic aid in response to his coup.

The analysts say his latest promise is likely a ploy to persuade Western powers to release this economic aid and revive a debt forgiveness programme worth billions of dollars.

The order by Gen Al Burhan to lift the state of emergency was meant "to prepare the climate for a fruitful and meaningful dialogue that achieves stability for the transitional period,” according to a Sunday statement by the ruling, military-led Sovereignty Council.

The emergency measures allowed the military to arrest critics en masse, while security forces had widespread surveillance powers and could subject those arrested to lengthy pre-trial detention.

The lifting of the state of emergency was the result of domestic and external pressures, not decided for the sake of the democratic transition
Hesham Farouq, activist

Sudan has been rocked by violent, near-daily street rallies since the coup last year. Pro-democracy groups have demanded an end to military rule and retribution for the killing of nearly 100 protesters, the wounding of more than 3,000, and the detention of hundreds.

The coup has also plunged the vast Afro-Arab nation of 44 million people deeper into an economic crisis. This has pushed food prices beyond the reach of most Sudanese and diminished the value of the local currency against the US dollar.

The decree on the state of emergency, which followed a meeting of the top military and security commanders on Sunday, also promised the release of all political prisoners, except those held in connection with national security or criminal charges.

On Monday, authorities released 63 detainees belonging to the Resistance Committees, a pro-democracy group that is behind the anti-coup protests, said an association of defence lawyers aligned with the opposition.

More than 20 other members of the committees remain in detention, it said.

The association did not provide the total number of people detained since the coup.

Analysts and pro-democracy activists, however, remain sceptical of the military’s gesture and are questioning the generals’ motives.

“The coup (sovereign) council is not looking for the creation of a conducive climate (for a dialogue). It is looking for an exit from being held accountable for the crimes it committed,” said Hesham Farouq, a senior member of the Resistance Committees.

“Besides, the lifting of the state of emergency was the result of domestic and external pressures, not decided for the sake of the democratic transition.”

Another pro-democracy activist, Al Noor Adel, said that the lifting of the state of emergency was unlikely to make a difference on the ground.

“It is a kind of timid concession that came too late and it’s chiefly designed to appease the international community,” he said. “How is it that you want a dialogue when you have killed two protesters the day before and chased wounded protesters inside hospitals?”

Mr Adel was referring to street protests on Saturday that killed two protesters. The latest deaths triggered a sharp response from Volker Perthes, the UN representative in Sudan. He has been leading a months-old effort to persuade Sudanese stakeholders to negotiate a way out of the political crisis in collaboration with the African Union and the regional IGAD group.

The three parties issued a joint statement on Monday welcoming the lifting of the state of emergency. They said more steps were needed to encourage a dialogue on the country’s future and called for an end to the excessive use of force against protesters.

Khaled Al Faqy, a political analyst and managing editor of Sudan’s Al Mawakeb daily, offered a more nuanced reaction to Gen Al Burhan’s decision. He said it constituted a step in the right direction, but needed follow-up measures to build trust.

“Lifting the state of emergency is one of many complex steps that must be taken to resolve Sudan’s crisis,” he said. Mr Al Faqy blamed the coup for the country’s “constitutional vacuum,” the absence of the state’s “prestige”, and the multitude of armed groups outside the armed forces.

“If he (Gen Al Burhan) was genuinely interested in completing the democratic transition, he would not have seized power in a coup and collaborated with supporters of dictator Omar Al Bashir (who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2019)," said Mahmoud Al Amin of the opposition Republican Party.

“We will be repeating a failed experience if we trust them (the military) again to support the democratic transition. It is a ploy to buy time until Al Burhan gets a chance to pounce on power.”

Gen Al Burhan has repeatedly stated that he has no political ambitions of his own and that he and the military would quit politics when a government takes office after elections he promised for 2023.

However, pro-democracy activists say the general has been working towards perpetuating the military’s hold on power.

He has been seeking alliances with parties once loyal to Mr Al Bashir, influential tribal chiefs in Sudan’s “fringe” areas, like the remote east and west of the country, as well as leaders of rebel groups the government signed a peace deal with in 2020.

Gen Al Burhan has also been seeking the support of regional powerhouses such as neighbouring Egypt, where he was recently accorded a head of state reception during a brief visit to Cairo.

Meanwhile, he has been forging close security and intelligence ties with Israel, which he has publicly defended against criticism at home. He argued that the fledgling ties were necessary for the security of Sudan.

Updated: May 31, 2022, 9:24 AM