While a coup ousted Sudan’s civilian government, anti-military protests continue. Here is an extensive interview with Khalid Mustafa Medani, a prominent Sudanese academic, on how things are evolving there.
Sudan has gone through difficult periods in its history from the civil war to a long military dictatorship under Omar al Bashir. While Africa has recorded more military coups than any other continent in the world, Sudan keeps the top spot in the poor continent having most successful coups.
But in 2019, the country’s military-dominated political life has taken a different direction toward a civilian government after a popular uprising against Bashir ousted his government.
A new civilian government was established under Abdalla Hamdok, a respected academic, appointed by the country’s Sovereignty Council, a transitional body formed after Bashir’s ouster. The council, which has had both civilian and military members, was designed to lead the country’s three-year transitional period from military rule to democratic governance.
This month, according to the country’s power-sharing agreement in August 2019, the council’s chairmanship should have passed to a civilian member from Abdel Fattah al Burhan, the country’s top general. Instead, Burhan chose to oust the civilian government last month, also dissolving the Sovereignty Council.
In order to assess the situation better, TRT World talked to a prominent Sudanese political science professor, Khalid Mustafa Medani, who is also the chair of the African studies program at McGill University.
There is a debate in some circles that even the latest Sudanese military intervention might not be a coup because it was launched against a government, which the people did not elect. What do you think?
Khalid Mustafa Medani: I think it’s definitely a military coup because it disbanded the civilian government and the council not only at the national level but also provincial level. In that sense, it’s a coup. There is also a state of emergency that has been decreed (by the military). I am a political scientist, it’s a military coup by definition. They are trying to find some civilians to appoint to run the government so that they can say it’s not a coup.
Is that going to be a successful coup?
KMM: That question has been answered by millions who went out to protest the coup on October 30th. It showed that there is still a very strong opposition across the entire country. I would describe the current situation as a standoff between the military leaders who waged the coup and many million Sudanese (opposing the coup).
All of the political parties in the country condemned the coup. All different opposition and civil society groups objected to the coup, so there is no support for the military in Sudan except members of the old party of Omar Bashir called National Congress Party.
Of course the military has the power of their arms, which is very very important. But they don’t have the power of people or any other political parties at the moment.
Some speculate that Hamdok will be reinstated by the coup leaders as the head of the government. Will that happen?
KMM: No, that’s not going to happen. He clearly said that the only way he will be agreed to be reinstated requires the fulfillment of three conditions. One of them is that they have to release all political prisoners they put in prisons. Number two is all constitutional declarations agreed in 2019 have to be returned in full, including all the articles that were repealed by Burhan. Also he wants to bring the military under the authority of civilian rule.
He says he will not accept any mission unless those three strong conditions are met. In other words, he wants them to reverse the military coup and return the country to the way it was transitioning to civilian government prior to the coup and to resume the implementation of constitutional declarations. It means the [previously agreed] schedule has to be continued for the handover of power to the civilian-led government.
Also there is an enigmatic situation. If the coup leaders want to reinstate Hamdok to the prime ministry, why did they oust him in the first place?
KMM: The reason he [Burhan] wants the same prime minister is because he does not have any legitimacy in the country. He also wants to persuade the international community that this is not a coup if the government is led by a civilian, Hamdok. He knows Hamdok is very popular with Americans and the West in particular and Europeans as well.
Do you think the coup was launched because the handover time for the chairmanship in the transitional Sovereignty Council from Burhan to a civilian was approaching fast?
KMM: Yes, it was clear. I think everyone knows that the constitutional declaration would have them hand over power to the civilian government under Hamdok on November 17. The day before the coup American envoy Joseph Feldman went to Khartoum and he spoke to both Burhan and Hamdok and both agreed that they will hand over power to the civilian leadership, Hamdok. But the next day Burhan took over power. That’s the reason the coup happened.
How long could generals stay in power?
KMM: I think it's a very difficult time to perpetuate military rule. First of all, the international community ranging from the US, the EU to the African Union and UN Security Council, is very strongly against the coup so far.
Arab countries are keeping quiet because they don’t want to make big decisions. But they are also very closely attached to America and Europe. Sudan is important to them but it’s not as important as their relationship to the West. The international isolation makes it very hard for generals to continue.
Sudan is also different from some other Middle Eastern countries. The military has a lot of money and of course arms. But they don’t have any real constituency or social group and society that they can use to help govern. That’s their biggest problem right now. They are unable to find any individuals or groups or political parties that are willing to support them.
They are feeling very isolated internationally and also domestically. That’s why, they try to bring back people who worked for Omar al Bashir and the National Congress Party. Unlike Egypt and other countries, where militaries find support in society, this is not happening in Sudan. Civil disobedience and protests are continuing.
As long as the international community, especially the West, which is influential in the region, continues to side with protesters, chances of this military regime to continue its power is very low. That’s why they are trying very hard to find anyone who can help them govern Sudan.