Sudan’s ruling military and a major pro-democracy coalition are scheduled on Monday to sign a preliminary deal to end their country’s crippling political crisis, but it may be weeks, perhaps months, before the vast Afro-Arab nation can expect a semblance of normality.
A deal between the generals who seized power 13 months ago and the Forces for Freedom and Change, the FFC, was reached on Friday, bringing to fruition months of secret negotiations between the two sides in which the UN, western powers and Saudi Arabia played a mediating role.
Last year’s coup derailed a fragile democratic transition that followed the 2019 ousting of dictator Omar Al Bashir and plunged the country into political and economic crises.
It also sparked a wave of street protests demanding civilian rule in which nearly 120 people were killed and about 6,000 injured at the hands of security forces.
The “framework” deal, according to the FFC, will restore a civilian-led transitional administration and ensure that the military stays out of politics. It said a new, 24-month transitional period will begin the day a new civilian prime minister is sworn in.
In a goodwill gesture authorities on Sunday released from detention several opposition politicians, including senior members of the FFC, according to a lawyers group aligned with the pro-democracy movement.
Details of the deal emerging since Friday speak of lofty goals that could prove difficult to realise. They also echo a historic agreement between the military and the FFC in August 2019 that underpinned a unique, albeit fragile, military-civilian government that took the reins of the nation after months of political tumult.
Ironically, that FFC-military administration was toppled by army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan in last year’s coup, which he claimed was necessary to spare the country a civil war.
Sudan has been ruled by the military for most of the nearly 70 years since its independence in 1956, with power-hungry generals toppling democratically-elected governments. Neither the generals nor civilian politicians have managed to resolve Sudan’s many chronic problems. These include ruinous civil wars, ethnic and religious rivalries, ensuring a fair distribution of wealth and political inclusion.
Returning from economic isolation?
The durability of the new deal may be rooted in the fact that most of Sudan’s 44 million people are struggling to cope with the fallout from the worst economic crisis in living memory.
Political stability, many of them believe, may eventually bring about the easing of the economic crisis.
Last year’s coup prompted Sudan’s western backers and international agencies such as the World Bank to suspend billions of dollars’ worth of aid and debt forgiveness, pushing the country deeper into economic difficulty.
Sudan has three-digit inflation, a plunging currency, lengthy power outages and a security vacuum that has invited bout after bout of ethnic and religious bloodshed in the country’s outlying regions.
“There isn’t a reasonable man who can reject a deal that ends the coup,” said Khaled Mouhieyeldeen of the Resistance Committees, a neighbourhood-based, pro-democracy group that has splintered in recent months over ideological differences.
“Every reasonable and patriotic Sudanese must support it,” he said.
Sulaima Ishaq, a prominent women's rights campaigner, said the deal was likely to win acceptance in large part because of the country’s dire economic situation.
“The country is in a bad way and things are getting worse every day,” she said. “If the country quietens down and people start to see that something, anything really, positive is being done that will be enough. Ordinary folk are really exhausted.
“The absence of a government has killed us.”
The military and the FFC say the deal will be fleshed out with more concrete measures and a timeline. A new government will take office within weeks, they said.
Significantly, the deal has provisions for the assimilation into the armed forces of the powerful Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a militia whose genesis was in the civil war in the western region of Darfur in the 2000s when it fought on the government’s side against ethnic rebels seeking an end to perceived discrimination.
The deal also stipulates the integration into the army of former rebels whose groups signed a peace deal with the military in October 2020.
In general terms, the deal declares Sudan a federal and democratic state with a parliamentary system. It defines the role of the armed forces as the defender of its democratic and civilian political system.
The Sudan envisioned in the document enshrines peaceful politics and the rejection of all forms of violence, extremism and military coups. It also denounces any breach of constitutional legitimacy or undermining of the democratic system.
“We have waited for too long and all we got was the military suppression, killing the dreams of youths and the deterioration of our living conditions,” said Hesham Farouq of the Resistance Committees. “The deal they reached is the solution because it ends the coup and affords a chance for a civilian government.”