The Transitional Military Council, which has ruled Sudan since the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir's regime on 11 April 2019, and the main organized popular opposition in the country (the Declaration on Freedom and Change), finally reached a political agreement to oversee the transition period on 5 July 2019. The agreement, brokered by Ethiopia, included the formation of an 11-member sovereign council made up of five military and five civilian personnel with one additional member to be jointly agreed upon. In the first 21 months, the Council would be headed by a military officer, before being transferred to a civilian figure in the remaining eighteen months. The agreement also included a provision that the Declaration of Freedom and Change forces form a ministerial council, that the formation of the transitional parliament be postponed, and a national inquiry would be run to address the recent violence.
Conditions of the Agreement
The agreement comes about a month after the sit-in opposite the SAF headquarters on 3 June 2019, where at least 100 demonstrators were killed and more than 500 wounded. This process started after the military council failed to enforce its own conditions in administering the transitional period on the opposition forces. The Council believed that a clampdown on the sit-in would strip of these forces of their main pressure tool and enable the council to overcome them completely. But the African Union, which gave the military council 60 days to hand over power to the civilians responded to the attack on the protestors by announcing Sudan’s suspension from the union; a huge blow to the military council.
Moreover, the massacre at the sit-in destroyed the remaining confidence between the military council and the opposition, which then called for a political strike and civil disobedience, beginning on 14 June 2019 and lasting 3 days, with a huge turnout. The military council responded by canceling all previous agreements with the opposition, including the formation of a civilian council of ministers composed entirely of nonpartisan forces, and that the forces behind the Declaration of Freedom and Change would be represented 67% in the Legislative Council. In the end, the dispute was confined to the powers of the sovereign council and the number of military personnel and civilians in it. The military council would hold the majority and the president also came from the military, justified by the security threats facing the country.
This was the backdrop that saw the Ethiopian mediation led by Prime Minister Abe Ahmed, who proposed that the 15-member sovereign council should oversee the transitional phase, comprised of seven civilians and seven military representatives. The fifteenth member would be a civilian to be agreed upon by both parties, provided that the military shall assume the presidency of the sovereign council for a period of eighteen months, to be followed by a civilian for a similar period.
The military council has failed to respond to the Ethiopian initiative and has been trying to divide the opposition forces in order to weaken them and force them to accept the council’s conditions. It also encouraged the creation of political bodies hostile to the revolution, like the coordinated collective of national forces, which included parties and youth organizations that were part of the former regime in the so-called Al-Wathba/Khartoum dialogue put forward by President al-Bashir in 2014. Although Bashir ignored the outcome of that dialogue, these forces remained at his side until the end. Mohamed Hamdan “Hametti”, Vice President of the Transitional Military Council and commander of the rapid support forces, engaged in intensive meetings with members of the old civil administrations and Sufi orders, and with the masses of the Sudanese capital, to create regional and sectarian divisions. The military council also tried to distort the image of the sit-in to justify its clampdown through an inflammatory media speech broadcast on state television.
June 30 Demonstrations
To demonstrate its popular support, the opposition forces staged major demonstrations on 30 June 2019, in several major cities of Sudan, with great success. The major demonstration in Khartoum restored the balance between both parties, which after the sit-in, had tipped in favor of the military council. The demonstration made it clear to all parties, including external forces, that an important segment of the Sudanese population support the opposition against the military. These events led to a secret meeting between representatives of the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and representatives of the council and opposition forces, paving the way for the agreement announced by the African Union and Ethiopian government on 5 July 2019. The main point of disagreement regarding the proportion of representation of civilians and military personnel in the sovereign council was resolved. The agreement also stipulated that the opposition forces would create a Ministerial Council as well as deciding to postpone the discussion of the legislative council for three months and to conduct a national commission of inquiry into the recent violence. It is not clear whether the 67% of the legislative council which has already been approved by the military council to be comprised of the opposition, will remain as it is. The agreement also set a transitional period of three years and three months followed by general elections to restore democracy.
Despite general satisfaction with the deal, a sense of uneasiness about the intentions of the military council remains. The agreement places the power of decision in the hands of the military council; at least, in the first eighteen months of the transitional period. It also appears that the decisions of civilian ministerial council and the legislative council will be subject to the approval of the sovereign council. In addition, the agreement has made no indication that the management of resources, decision-making authority and control of the security and intelligence apparatus will be in the hands of civilians.
It was noted that the focus of the debate on the issue of civilians or the military when talking about the sovereign council has marginalized a crucial issue for any democratic transition: agreement on the principles of the future democratic system and how to get there. An agreement to hold elections in three years is not enough. Using the term civilians rather than democratic forces clearly obscures the main issue and the motives of the popular Sudanese revolution.
Other challenges facing the agreement include the growing opposition to it. The coordinated collective of national forces, representing the Popular Congress Party and the parties that were allied with the Bashir regime, have rejected the agreement. In addition, the survival of Bashir’s security apparatus that has governed the state for thirty years represents another threat to it, as well as the economic crisis, the pressure of the public treasury’s bankruptcy and the large debts of the state, as well as the continued classification of Sudan as among the state sponsors of terrorism. It is also unclear how ready the armed movements are to abide by the agreement, especially since they are not a party to it, nor how to bring Dagalo’s militias, the so-called rapid support forces, and the State’s monopoly of arms under one hierarchical military command of a professional army not engaged in politics. A major question remains about accountability of those responsible for the killings, considering the agreement included an investigation into the responsibility for the massacre. The length of the transitional period is hardly enough for the political parties to reorganize themselves and restore rules. The revolution also showed a great deal of aversion among young people to the old parties that seemed unable to keep pace with the demands of change.
Under these fragmented conditions, in addition to the military council’s control over the agreement, it is unlikely that the deep state will reorganize itself to re-establish its control over the post-transitional elections. Some parties, which feel weak public support, may resort to alliances with the deep state forces to counter the tide of youth that is pushing for change. Therefore, achieving the goals of the revolution remains dependent on the survival of the pro-democracy forces and their ability to keep the course to democracy in check.
Overall, it can be said that the agreement clearly reflects the balance of power that tends to benefit the military council by virtue of its existent control over the state and the choice of the opposition forces to avoid escalation that could lead the country down the road of violence and chaos. There are also many legitimate concerns about the ability of the agreement to move Sudan towards democracy and to force the military junta to abandon its ambitions for power; and disagreements about its wording have also emerged. But the Sudanese people have unequivocally demonstrated that they are determined to achieve their goals of freedom and development and that they are able to work in all circumstances to reach them. The achievement of the revolutionary goals will depend more on the transformation of the great youth energy demonstrated by the revolution into an organized force with clear programs for democratic transition that will lead to building a strong democratic civilian state.
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Mahjoub Erwa, "On the National Forces Coordination Initiative," Gulf 365, accessed 11/7/2019, at: https://bit.ly/32cqV0S
 Declan Walsh, “In Sudan, a Power-Sharing Deal Propelled by a Secret Meeting and Public Rage,” TheNew York Times, 5/7/2019, at: https://nyti.ms/2xylpI0