Sudan’s ousted prime minister was back to work after reaching a deal with coup leaders. But he will have a hard time easing the wrath of opposition forces, experts say.
Uncertainty continues to grip Sudan as the country’s opposition forces show no let-up in their resistance to the reinstatement of Abdalla Hamdok, who resumed his prime ministerial duties after signing a deal with coup leaders.
Hamdok, a respected figure in the global community, signed a new agreement with powerful military generals, who ousted him and his cabinet after a coup on October 25.
While the deal provides for the release of all political prisoners, it has sidestepped some of the key constitutional declarations, which both generals and civilians had agreed upon after a power-sharing agreement in August 2019. Burhan suspended some of the negotiated declarations after the coup.
As a result, pro-democracy groups opposed Hamdok’s newest agreement with the country’s top general Abdel Fattah al Burhan while much of the international community backed the deal.
Hamdok acted “unilaterally and under the pressure of the military junta and the international community's advice,” says Elsadig Elsheikh, a Sudanese researcher with the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.
Critics say Hamdok signed the deal without any proper consultation with opposition groups such as the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), which were instrumental in bringing him to power after the 2019 protests led to former dictator Omar al Bashir’s ouster.
In light of these events, the deal “is not legitimate from the perspective of the entire civilian bloc and civil society,” says Khalid Mustafa Medani, a Sudanese political science professor, who is also the chair of the African studies program at McGill University.
The FFC, which appears to control the largest crowd in the protesting movement, strongly opposes the deal. Two largest insurgent groups fighting the central government also oppose the deal. Out of the total 17 ministers in Hamdok's cabinet, 12 have resigned protesting the deal.
“He miscalculated the most critical voice of the Sudanese people, which demanded no negotiations, no partnership, and no legitimacy with those who carried out a military coup,” Elsheikh tells TRT World, reiterating opposition groups’ resistance to the deal.
Medani also thinks that the mood in Sudan’s civil society has drastically changed since the coup. Unlike the period after Bashir’s ouster, “Now they reject any partnership with the military,” Medani tells TRT World, indicating a change in their political positions.
With or without a deal
Hamdok, a typical technocrat, understands the difficult political terrain of a country, where the military rule has been a rule not an exception for much of Sudan’s history since its independence from Egypt in 1955.
“There is no perfect agreement. There is a good agreement. There is a workable agreement. There is a possible agreement that would allow things to be normalised and allow the country to move forward,” the prime minister told CNN in a recent interview, responding to the criticism of his deal with coup leaders.
“We basically signed this agreement for us to save the lives of our people and avoid bloodshed,” Hamdok said, referring to the deaths of at least 41 protesting people killed by security forces under the command of coup leaders. He clearly suggested that his agreement aimed to decrease tensions, preventing the political crisis from deepening further.
"This is not a personal interest for me," he added.
Both internal bloodshed and the international pressure appear to be the main reasons for Hamdok’s decision to sign the deal. But his decision surprised many in and out of Sudan including Medani, who thought that Hamdok would not accept his reinstatement to the prime ministry in the absence of the military’s acceptance of civilian rule.
But the international community ranging from the US, the EU, the African Union to China, Russia and oil-rich Gulf countries have demanded Hamdok to end the political stalemate in Sudan, according to Elsheikh.
In neighbouring Ethiopia, which is the second most populous African state, a bloody civil war is raging as the country’s Nobel Peace laureate prime minister has recently moved to frontlines to defend his capital against marching Tigrayan rebels.
The international community has been furious at any prospects that both Ethiopian and Sudanese political turmoil could lead to further instability across the poor African continent.
“This arrangement was possible because of two dynamics. On the one hand, you have a powerful institution - the leadership of the military and security apparatuses - that has hijacked the state, and it has avoided any accountability throughout Sudan's post-independent history,” says Elsheikh.
“On the other hand, it's the possible consequence of the country's fragile state, particularly given that many regional powers can intervene in the Sudanese internal affairs,” says the Sudanese political analyst.
“Such fear of such a scenario has justified the solution of a lesser evil-a deal between a criminal, military junta, and most admirable professional technocrat - to lead the country with a delicate balance between Sudanese people and foreign power interests.”
Is the military also under pressure?
Burhan, the coup leader, who has not found any civilian leader to lead a government appointed by him following the army’s intervention, was also under the pressure of the international community, which largely condemned the military rule.
“Burhan and the military in Sudan really really need some sort of legitimacy in society and it’s impossible for them to rule alone. This is why Burhan has been trying to find civilians to get a partnership with him,” says Medani, the Sudanese professor. To Medani’s disappointment, Hamdok appears to accept to be one of those civilians Burhan has sought since the coup.
For Burhan, the deal also relieves a lot of pressure coming from the international audience.
“Burhan put it together for the international community’s consumption,” says Medani, referring to his deal with Hamdok. While the deal provides the release of all political prisoners, dozens of them are still reportedly under detention.
In terms of the transitional period, which supposedly carried out the country to a full democracy, there are still a lot of uncertainties. The deal appears to include some kind of unspecified restructuring regarding the country’s interim constitution, accepting amendments, which might secure some concessions for the military’s role in governance.
While the deal has largely benefited the military, according to both Elsheikh and Medani, their power is no longer an incontestable matter. On Wednesday, Hamdok brought “an immediate halt to dismissals and hirings in national and local public institutions until further notice.”
After that, even some pro-coup Sudanese commentators wrote sarcastically on Twitter that at some point, Hamdok might also fire Burhan if he is not opposed by the military regarding his policies.
But Medani thinks that the military still has the upper hand because of the deal allegedly written by Sudan’s infamous Rapid Support Forces commander Mohamed Hamdan "Hemeti" Dagolo’s brother. According to the professor, it can essentially be implemented in the allowance of the army.
“It’s really a way to consolidate his military regime,” says Medani, referring to the deal and Burhan’s current leadership.