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Situation Assessment 13 June, 2019

Where is the Sudan crisis Headed?

The Unit for Political Studies

The Unit for Political Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


Three days after a campaign of civil disobedience was met with a brutal crackdown and in response to the bloody attack on the protesters occupying the square in front of the army HQ in Khartoum, the leaders of the protest agreed to the mediation proposal led by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, to cease their action and resume negotiations with the military council. At the same time, the United States has entered the fray, sending the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs to Khartoum in an attempt to prevent further deterioration of the situation after this massacre left more than 100 dead.

The Crackdown

Security forces’ units stormed the sit-in at the army HQ at dawn on 3 June 2019, shooting at protesters, despite repeated pledges by the transitional Military Council to representatives of the protesters not to forcibly remove the mass sit-in. According to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, a professional body supporting the movement, the raid resulted in the death of 118 people, including 40 bodies recovered from the Nile. Photographs showed that some of the bodies were strapped with weights, so as not to float and the death toll could yet rise given the number of missing people. There were alarming reports of cases of rape and sexual abuse. Hours after the sit-in started, the military council decided to stop internet service across the country and a vicious campaign of indiscriminate intimidation followed across the capital, which included the use of snipers.

On the evening of the crackdown, chairman of the Transitional Military Council, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, appeared on television and announced the annulment of all agreements reached with the protesters (the Declaration of Freedom and Change movement), his intention to form a government of technocrats, and hold elections in the next 9 months. But as a result of Sudanese determination, the failure to break the forces for change, and external pressure (especially on the allies of the junta in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), Burhan backtracked the next day and announced that the NTC is ready to resume negotiations with the Declaration of Freedom and Change movement.

Negotiations

Negotiations between the protest leaders and the Transitional Military Council were launched in late April 2019. In the first meeting between the parties, the opposition representatives put forward six main demands: the dissolution of the former regime, the formation of a transitional civilian government for four years, the appointment of a legislative body and a civilian presidential council, and to fight against corruption, reform the economy and re-structure the security forces. But the two sides differed on defining the transitional period and forming the leadership council. The military insisted on reducing the transitional period from four to two years and rejected the proposal to replace the military council with a civilian council. They worked with the other political forces outside the framework of the Declaration of Freedom and Change to support their position and obtained support for the continuation of the military council to lead the transitional period. They then recognized the right of these political forces to form the legislative body and executive council. The bloc of "Support for Sharia and the rule of law", which rejected the bilateral negotiation process with the forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change, describing it as leftist forces seeking to secularize the Sudanese state, and demanded their right to participate in the formation of institutions of the transitional period.

The military council not only sought for political forces to strike each other, but also resorted to a strategy of winning time and dispersing political choices. This led the Declaration of Freedom and Change movement on 1 May 2019 to submit a detailed "constitutional document" to the Military Council. This document illustrated its vision of the transitional period including the three levels of governance (federal, regional and local), the formation of institutions of the transitional government from a national sovereignty council, an executive council and a legislative body with the authority to oversee the executive council, an independent judiciary, and regular armed forces subject to sovereign and executive authority decisions. They then demanded that the Transitional Military Council respond to their constitutional document in writing within a maximum period of 72 hours.

In response to the document, the Military Council held a press conference on 7 May 2019, in which the Council's spokesman, Shamseddin Kabbashi, refuted the contents of the "Constitutional Document" and accused the creators of ignoring the "sources of legislation". He criticized the idea of a four-year transitional period and suggested that some sovereign responsibilities and tasks should be at the heart of the work of the presidential (or sovereign) council. At the same time, Kabbashi rejected the idea of the two chambers mentioned in the Mediation Memorandum, arguing that the proposed Security and Defense Council should not be seen as parallel to the Sovereign Council, but as an executive body. He threatened to hold early elections if the parties reached a deadlock in the negotiations, and announced a general meeting with leaders of other political forces that did not fall under the banner of the forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change to consult with 177 proposals on the formation of the transitional period. In this way, the military council mixed negotiation papers and turned to a strategy of dispersing options and buying time.

The second round of direct negotiations took place on 13 May 2019 despite the increasing suspicion of the civilian forces around the intentions of the military council and its desire to retain power and lasted two days in an atmosphere of optimism. The negotiations concluded with a three-year transitional period, the presidential council's responsibilities, and determining the membership of an advisory body with 300 members (67% for the Freedom and Change Declaration and 33% for other political forces). That left the only outstanding issue as the question of determining the proportions of representation in the presidential (sovereign) council and the presidency of the Council itself.

However, the atmosphere of optimism near the reach of an agreement that was soon lost because of eight people being killed in the vicinity of the sit-in, under the pretext that they were trying to close the main roads located around it and harassing the regular and rapid support forces. Accordingly, on 15 May 2019, Burhan announced that the negotiations with the forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change would be suspended for 72 hours until "all barricades were removed from the perimeter of the sit-in, and harassment and provocation of the armed forces and the rapid support forces and the police ceased" and railway lines in the sit-in area were opened. Hence, Burhan closed the door on the final session of negotiations expected that evening.

Foreign Intervention

It seems that the sudden announcement of the suspension of the negotiations was the result of the intervention of some local and regional political forces rejecting the control of the forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change on the transitional period and supporting the continued leadership of the Transitional Military Council. The decision to break up the sit-in seems to have won the support of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, which have been supporting the Transitional Military Council from the start. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi also expressed their willingness to support financially to overcome Sudan's economic problems at this stage, and pledged to provide USD 3 billion.[1]

It seems that the UAE's involvement in supporting the military council and specifically the rapid support forces led by the Vice President of the Military Council, Mohamed Hamdan “Hametti”, reached the limit of sending military vehicles to strengthen its position, according to Foreign Policy magazine. A New York Times reporter reported seeing US military vehicles patrolling the streets of Khartoum. “Humvee” US-made military vehicles do not exist in Sudan because of the decades long US sanctions. Egypt has also tended to support the military council retaining authority and, as it holds the current chairmanship of the African Union, has been able to amend the African Union's 60-day ultimatum, demanding that the military council hand over power to a civilian government within a maximum of two weeks, which would lead to Sudan's membership in the Union being frozen.

The most recent suspension of negotiations has been a general frustration in Sudan and has also heightened the political tension between the parties. The resolution overshadowed the third round of negotiations, which began on 19 May 2019 and lasted for two days. But a final agreement was not reached; the problem of representation in the Presidential Council is yet to be solved. Among the solutions proposed is equal representation (50% + 50%), and the presidency of the Council shall be periodic between the parties, one and a half years for each party, or the majority of the Council shall be civilian and its presidency shall be military. However, the military council did not like any of the options, and requested 48 hours to study them and announce their final opinion. Meanwhile, the Declaration of Freedom and Change movement called for civil disobedience and a general strike throughout Sudan, while the military council began waving early elections to resolve the conflict with protest movement, or at least dismantle its unity. The situation continued until the Council used shocking force to break the sit-in in front of the army headquarters. The opposition forces responded by calling for a full-scale civil disobedience and an open political strike until the military council is overthrown.

Ceasing Civil Disobedience: Ethiopian Mediation and Washington's Entry into the Crisis

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Khartoum on June 7 to mediate between the two sides as a result of the deteriorating security situation after the sit-in massacre and fears that the country is sliding into violence and chaos. He proposed the resumption of negotiations and the solving the problem of the formation of the Presidential Council to manage the transitional period, consisting of 15 members, 7 military and the rest civilians. As a result of the opposition's rejection of any direct negotiations with the Transitional Military Council before an investigation into the sit-in massacre and the accountability of those involved, the Military Council began to talk about laying the blame with some officers and elements of the regular forces, and pledged to announce the results of an investigation into the massacre to the public within 72 hours. He discharged ninety officers from the security services, many of whom were in the rank of Major General, in another apparent attempt to vent tension and facilitate a return to negotiations.

These steps may generally increase the resentment of the army, which is already attacking the influence of the rapid support forces. These contradictions within the armed forces may have a bearing in the future.

In parallel with the Ethiopian mediation efforts, the United States decided to send Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy to Sudan. Reports of a split within the administration of President Donald Trump explain a lack of interest in what is going on in Sudan. The president himself does not show any support for the Sudanese revolution and fully adopts the positions of the anti-change axis in the region, while some officials in his administration tend to entrust the file to the three regional allies (Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE). However, the bloody crackdown of sit-ins and international reactions proved the failure of this policy and led to the pressure of US civil forces that were already active against Omar al-Bashir's regime (including right-wing and church forces) as well as China and Russia's support for the junta. These factors placed Washington in the awkward position of having to return directly to the issue, send Tibor Nagy to Khartoum and appoint a special envoy to deal with the Sudan crisis. Former diplomat Donald Booth, who had previously held the post was thus assigned to contain the damage caused by the policies of Egypt and the UAE And Saudi Arabia. Direct US involvement is not in the interest of this trio.

Ultimately, the protest movement discontinued civil disobedience because they realized that indefinite continuation in a poor country was impossible, as people would need to live their daily lives and manage their livelihoods.

Conclusion

The massacre at the sit-in has affected the confidence of the Sudanese people in the military council, and the existing doubts about its desire to cling to power with external support have increased. It also placed it with the country's deep state components in the field of defense amid a state of mutual blaming and accusations, which may open the door to cracks between the ruling military and security elites, especially in the light of some forces’ preference for external support. The battle of civil and democratic forces will not be easy with the counterrevolutionary forces insisting on aborting any democratic achievement in Sudan and trying to reproduce the old regime. The situation makes it more difficult for the US to tolerate the Saudi-UAE intervention. China and Russia have also blocked any attempt by the United Nations Security Council to pass resolutions condemning the military council and hold them responsible for the massacre. All this makes the ability to withstand, mobilize peacefully, maintain unity, and to attract more allies at home, the main weapon in the hands of the revolutionary forces to reach the goal of peaceful democratic transformation.

[1] According to Foreign Policy magazine, $250 million has been received so far, representing the first installment of the total pledged.