Sudanese generals have displayed their power hunger by launching a military coup days before civilian leaders in the governing Sovereign Council could have taken up the reins of the country.
Sudan’s pro-democracy supporters felt optimistic about the country's future after the 2019 mass protests led to the ouster and arrest of its long-time dictator Omar al Bashir.
But it turned out to be short-lived optimism as Bashir's generals returned with a show of strength, arresting Sudan’s transitional Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and several top anti-military figures in his cabinet on Monday.
“The coup attempt timing coincided with the timeline of the civilians in the sovereignty council who were supposed to take the leadership of the council from the military council,” says Elsadig Elsheikh, a researcher with the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.
The Sovereign Council is a body established in mid-2019 amid Sudan’s turbulent revolution, replacing the country’s Transitional Military Council (TMC), the country’s ruling military junta at the time after Bashir's ouster. The Sovereignty Council, which includes both civilian and military leaders, has powers including the prime minister's appointment.
“It’s fair to infer that the military junta is planning to shut down the peaceful transition of power and the peaceful transition toward democracy and civilian rule,“ Elsheikh, a Sudanese political analyst, tells TRT World.
Before the coup, there were pro-military protests across Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, demanding the resignation of the civilian government. Abdel Fattah al Burhan, the head of the Sovereign Council and the country’s top military leader, should have given his chair to a civilian last February, according to the 2019 power-sharing agreement between civilians and generals.
But his term was extended to another year and was getting closer to its end. Ahead of the coup, he visited Egypt, where there were also anti-civilian government protests in 2013 against the country’s first democratically-elected president right before the country’s current general-turned-President Abdul Fattah al Sisi launched a coup.
“As the relations between the leaders of the transitional government, which is made up of civilian and military officials, have been strained, the pro-military protesters have demanded the dissolution of the transitional cabinet,” Elsheikh says.
Mayada Kamal Eldeen, a Sudanese academic, thinks that what’s happening in Sudan is “a political showdown” between generals and some civilian leaders, whose governance has made the country poorer under the pandemic measures, according to her.
“Since the 2019 power-sharing agreement, civilian and military leaders have continued to accuse each other for the country’s economic troubles,” Eldeen tells TRT World. She also reminds last month’s failed coup as a clear indicator of political tensions inside the country.
According to Eldeen, Burhan, the apparent force behind the current coup, has long urged the civilian government to call for elections. But the elections were scheduled for late 2022, according to the 2019 agreement, and Burhan, himself, has also dragged to give up power in the Sovereignty Council to a civilian member.
Who is behind the coup?
Eldeen claims that Hamdok knew that a coup was coming up. A well-educated Hamdok and other civilian leaders met with Burhan and his generals on the weekend. During those meetings, the US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman was also present, mediating between the two sides.
But detained Hamdok called people to march across the country to go against the coup. There are reports that people protest against the coup in Sudan while pro-military rallies were also held.
Also, some civilian leaders and groups appeared to side with the coup leaders.
“It’s not clear who’s behind the military coup attempt; however, given the fact that the leaders who are arrested are those who were very critical of the military junta,” says Elsheikh.
Pro-coup group includes some rebel movement leaders and loyalists of the former Bashir regime, according to Elsheikh.
“They share the same political strategy as it relates to how Sudan must be ruled during the second phase of the transitional period,” he adds.
According to the 2019 power-sharing agreement, the leadership in the Sovereignty Council would be under a military leader in the first 21 months. Then, the second phase would start under a civilian member. In late 2022, the country will go to elections, according to the agreement.