four months on from the dramatic toppling of Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year
autocratic rule of Sudan, the military and a coalition of the country’s
opposition announced earlier this week that they had finally reached a
power-sharing deal. The deal, still to be signed by the two sides, involves
creating an 11-member ruling authority that will take over for a three-year
interim period until elections are held. The authority will be made up of five
members each from the opposition and the military, with a sixth civilian appointed
by agreement between the two sides. An army general will run Sudan for the
first 21 months of the transition, followed by a civilian for the next 18
months. The first step will be to appoint a technocrat government of experts.
The agreement comes one month after the military crushed a sit-in in front of the Ministry of Defense that resulted in the death of more than 100 civilians. While the head of the transitional military council, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has blamed the violence on a third party, the opposition points the finger at the commander of the notorious Rapid Support Forces, Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, known as “Hemeti.”
The recent deal comes as a result of mediation efforts by the African Union, supported by the US, UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It was welcomed by what looks like a majority of the Sudanese people, who expressed hope and jubilation.
But is it too early to celebrate? There are a number of reasons why the deal may still fall apart — especially considering the relatively long three-year transitional period. What happened in Sudan in April was extraordinary: It was both a popular uprising and a military coup, resulting in a stand-off, a lack of trust and growing acrimony between the opposition and the military council.
One of the immediate challenges will be to restore trust and good faith between the two sides. Burhan is expected to be named as head of the new authority for the first stage, but he is being challenged by Hemeti, whose forces are much more organized, better equipped and battle-hardened, especially in Darfur. Hemeti has been vocal in his criticism of the leaders of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) — the coalition that represents the opposition. And it is no secret that he has influence inside the transitional military council.
Looking back at the post-independence history of Sudan, there is always the specter of a military coup led by ambitious generals, who are driven by ideology, a hunger for power or by outside parties. The transitional military council announced a few weeks ago that it had foiled a coup attempt that led to a number of arrests. With the military taking over the authority for the first two years of the interim period, the fear that it will resist giving up power is genuine.
Another challenge has to do with the FFC itself, whose long-term unity remains questionable. There are conflicting reports that one member of the coalition, Nida’a Al-Sudan, has voiced opposition to the deal and may withdraw from the FFC. Certainly, when we approach the end of the three-year interim period, there will be heated debates about the type of civilian government that will eventually take shape and the role of political parties, the judiciary, the media and civil society in the democratic process.
Regardless of the recently reached deal, the new authority will have to negotiate with a number of separatists and armed rebel forces, especially in Darfur. Only two of at least five rebel militias have joined the FFC, while the others want to negotiate directly with the military or are vowing to fight the central government.
Meanwhile, even if the new ruling authority overcomes the above challenges, it will have to work to dismantle the so-called deep state that was created under Bashir’s three-decade rule; chief among them being the National Congress Party. While the party has lost its popular base and is blamed for the country’s failures, prominent members remain powerful and influential and will do their utmost to derail Sudan’s fresh march toward democracy.
And, finally, there is the most immediate challenge, which is the failing economy that triggered the popular uprising in the first place. Here Sudan needs the support of its neighbors and other nations that have a stake in the country’s stability. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have stepped forward to support Sudan’s ailing treasury and the US has given signs it will soon lift economic sanctions. These are all important gestures but, for them to work, the opposition and the army must respect the spirit of the deal and find ways to maintain trust and commitment to its main goals.