Sudan in Dire Straits

SUD

Free from house arrest, the Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Khamdok and Lieutenant General Abdel Fatakh Al Burkhan have signed an agreement at a public ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum in order to put an end to the political crisis in the country which has lasted for a month.  In accordance with the agreement, Khamdok’s position to the Prime Ministerial post has been reinstated.  The 14-paragraph political agreement provides for strict adherence to the country’s 2019 constitutional declaration pending amendments by consensus of all forces of the revolution, the release of all ministers and politicians arrested since October 25, the formation of a non-partisan technocratic cabinet, and a transparent investigation into all crimes connected with murder. Khamdok stated, “we will work on the creation of a lasting democratic system for Sudan.” Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Al Burkhan vowed to “preserve the transition and spare the blood of the Sudanese people.”

However, the main civilian bloc, which led protests against former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and signed a 2019 power-sharing agreement with the military, rejected the agreement. “We reaffirm our clear and previously stated position that there is no negotiation, no partnership, no legitimacy for a coup,” the main Forces for Freedom and Change faction said in a statement.  Sudanese security forces fired tear gas on hundreds of protesters who protested last month’s military coup and subsequent crackdown, which killed more than 40 people.

Egypt, alarmed by the situation in Sudan, was one of the first to welcome the agreement and commended the “wisdom and sense of responsibility shown by the Sudanese parties to reach an agreement that ensures the success of the transition period in the best interests of Sudan.” In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed the hope that the November 21 agreement would be “a step towards achieving sustainable stability in Sudan and thereby contribute to the development and prosperity of the Sudanese people.”

The United States, Great Britain, Norway, the European Union, Canada and Switzerland also welcomed the reinstating of Khamdok and in a joint statement called for the release of political prisoners, detained recently. The United Nations also welcomed this deal from their own position.

But the agreement reached is only the first step on a long road ahead and reflects the many challenges that countries in the region typically face following a popular uprising that ousted a leader who had dominated the political arena for decades. Whether in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Iraq, Syria, Algeria or Yemen, it was not just political disputes or disagreements over democratic values that were at stake, but the territorial integrity and even the existence of some of these states. The serious threat of terrorism and political groups that use religion as a cover to promote sectarian and fanatical agendas further complicates efforts to build a stable and prosperous future for the peoples of this troubled region.

So therefore, as is the case with other countries in similar circumstances, the only way out of the complex reality of Sudan is a compromise between the various key players and a willingness to share responsibilities. In planning for future transitions, neighboring African countries and international partners need to support the Sudanese parties, not only to resolve differences, whether between military and civilian leaders or between civilian parties themselves, but also to address many security and economic challenges.

Sudan has already come a long way to rebuilding its international and regional status The United States, in an attempt to subordinate Sudan to its will, demonstratively and loudly excluded this state from the list of countries accused of supporting terrorism. This opened the door to successful negotiations with US-based international financial institutions to provide Sudan with debt relief funds and much-needed development finance. It is worth recalling that it was these financial institutions of the West that skillfully organized Khartoum’s huge debt, and now it will not be easy for the Sudanese to remove this financial noose from their neck.

Sudan is in the orbit of the Western economy, which has cost most Sudanese people to cope with large-scale economic reform programs that have raised prices following the devaluation of the Sudanese pound. Food shortages and power outages have been frequent complaints from the people. Meeting the basic needs of the Sudanese and improving their living conditions is a top priority for the new transitional government, led by Khamdok, which should recruit experts and technocrats, not divide positions among political factions.

Long-standing regional grievances in various parts of Sudan are another major problem facing any government in Khartoum, be it military or civilian. This is why both Al Burkhan and Khamdok have reaffirmed their commitment to the Juba Peace Agreement, signed by various rebel groups in Darfur and Eastern Sudan. This should be followed by tangible steps to integrate all armed rebel groups into a unified Sudanese army to ensure security and stability throughout the country.

According to political analysts, Abdullah Khamdok, the reinstated Prime Minister of Sudan, faces three key tasks. The first is to go to an angry Sudanese street and ask people to give a chance to a political agreement he signed with Abdel Fattah Al-Burkhan, head of the Sudanese Military and Transitional Sovereign Council. The second task is to form a new government of technocrats to replace the government that Al-Burhan overthrew during the events of October 25. Unlike the previous government, Khamdok will have to avoid representatives of political parties in the new cabinet. He needs a government that can work together to tackle Sudan’s dire economic problems and improve poor quality services that the previous government could not fix.

The third challenge is to encourage the international community, which has pushed for Khamdok’s return, to continue pushing the Sudanese military to change course and ensure a possible transfer of power. Khamdok needs international support to get Al Burkhan to release all political prisoners arrested since demonstrations against the October 25 decrees, get international donors to restore economic aid packages, and help Sudan move away from the brink of economic collapse.

None of these tasks will be easy. Khamdok’s deal with Al Burkhan is not something that the street will easily swallow, according to Hamdi Salah and Mohammed Al Asbat, two leading civilian politicians.  “The deal legitimizes the October 25 decrees,” Salah said. According to Al Asbat, this significantly falls short of the demands of the demonstrators.  Speaking in Khartoum, Tarek Sayed, a doctor who participated in demonstrations against military decrees, said that while the deal signed between Al Burkhan and Khamdok contained an opportunity for the head of the military to make some of his decisions that “violated the agreement he signed in 2019 ”, the credibility of Khamdok is still in question. Al Burhan, Sayed argued, clearly wanted to exclude civilians from the government, and now, “after being forced by the street to submit to international pressure, despite the bloodshed, is looking for a puppet government of civilian allies.”

While some Sudanese political parties rejected the November 21 deal and pledged to continue the street protests, Khamdok said he agreed to the deal to prevent further bloodshed. According to a number of political scientists, he deserves respect for taking such a position. “Sudanese blood is precious,” he said after the deal. “Let’s stop the bloodshed and channel the energies of youth towards creation and development.”  Putting aside his personal grudges after his sudden ousting as Prime Minister, Khamdok emphasized what is most needed in Sudan: “Hand in hand, we can all reach a peaceful shore.” This is the only way to fulfill the dream of a peaceful revolution in Sudan of almost three years ago: freedom, peace and justice.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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