Hamdok’s deal with the coup leaders did not stop protests, leading to his resignation, giving way to greater uncertainty.
Sudan is one of the poorest states in Africa and has been led by a military rule for much of its existence since its independence from joint Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1956.
But since the 2019 uprising against former dictator Omar al Bashir’s rule, the country’s opposition forces, which organised widespread protests across the country, have shown an unexpected resilience to keep the revolution alive despite efforts by the military to seize all power.
In late October, the country’s top general Abdel Fattah al Burhan launched another coup against the transitional civilian government of Abdalla Hamdok. The coup happened just a month before Burhan was scheduled to leave his position of the head of the Sovereignty Council to a civilian according to the power-sharing agreement in August 2019.
The Sovereignty Council is an interim political structure with a lot of powers including appointing the prime minister. As soon as the coup took place people took to the streets protesting Burhan’s military intervention. In the face of continuing protests, Burhan approached Hamdok, the man his coup overthrew, to persuade him to return to power.
Hamdok was back to the prime ministry seat after he signed a controversial agreement with Burhan, who promised to release all political prisoners. But the deal left the military’s role in the country’s political structure unclear, triggering more protests. On Sunday, under pressure from protesters, Hamdok resigned as an army crackdown killed dozens of people.
“General Burhan is supposed to announce a new prime minister. Everyone is waiting to see who that person will be,” said Khalid Mustafa Medani, a Sudanese political science professor, who is also the chair of the African studies program at McGill University.
“The next prime minister will probably be the current finance minister Gibril Ibrahim, who is the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) of Darfur,” Medani tells TRT World. It will be announced this evening or tomorrow, he says.
Medani, who previously predicted that it would be too difficult for Hamdok to stay in power through his deal with Burhan, is currently in Khartoum, observing the protests. “He [Ibrahim] is very much opposed by a majority of Sudanese people,” due to his connections with the former Bashir regime, he says.
“Nothing has calmed down here. In fact, there are a lot of protests. Every two days, there are very large protests in Khartoum,” he says. Outside Khartoum, in at least 20 cities, people continue to protest despite military crackdowns.
Even if Ibrahim, who is close to some Sudanese Islamist circles, is brought to power, it’s not clear he could stabilise Sudan. “Gibril Ibrahim, in particular, would constitute one of the stumbling blocks to pacification, stabilisation and democratisation,” says Abdo Mukhtar Musa, a Sudanese professor of political science at the Islamic University of Omdurman.
“Leaders of major political parties should agree to a non-partisan, technocratic cabinet,” Musa tells TRT World. Hamdok, a man with a lot of prestige in international circles, was trying to lead such a technocratic government until the October 25 coup. But he clearly failed.
“Elites are contesting for seats and conflicting for their interests at the expense of the country's stability,” Musa says. He thinks the clashing nature of “partisan elites” hurt the country.
Where is Sudan leading?
While some Sudanese believe the country is moving toward civil war, Medani says it won’t be complete chaos. “I think there is no question Burhan in the military is now moving toward consolidating the military rule.”
But after leading the country single-handedly for a long time, the military faces serious obstacles to consolidate power, and Hamdok’s resignation was a sign of its weakness, according to Medani.
All of the civilians to whom generals proposed the country’s top position, which was probably the dream job of many Sudanese politicians and activists in the past, refused the offer, Medani says. “That’s why a lot of people say that they will choose Gibril,” he says.
There is another serious problem generals face: a deepening economic crisis. They need someone like Hamdok, a former UN official, to attract international aid to ease the country’s economic recession.
Ongoing protests will make the economic situation worse, but a lot of young people, who have long suffered unemployment and low wages, believe that they have nothing to lose.
Fight for controlling election process
While protesters understand that the military will use more ‘brutal’ methods, they are also aware that they can’t return to the old status, Medani says. As a result, they say “no partnership, no negotiations and no legitimacy with the military coup.”
Like Egypt’s Abdul Fattah el Sisi’s coup, the Sudanese military aims to dominate the transitional period and control the election process to ensure a pro-army politician makes it to power, Medani says.
This was the main reason for them to launch the coup in October, preventing a civilian from leading the Sovereignty Council on the way to elections in 2023, he adds. According to the military-civilian power-sharing deal, a civilian should have taken over the head of the council from Burhan in November.
“In Sudan, unlike Egypt or other countries, the military is not strong enough to wield the complete consolidation of power. What they are looking for is to co-opt some groups in civil society, even political parties, in order to consolidate their power through the elections next year,” Medani says.
But all political parties and civil society groups are aware of the military’s election strategy and are continuing to protest across the country, the professor says.
Medani also believes that Burhan and his ally, Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’ Dagolo, the head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, represent Sudan’s intelligence community established by Bashir, having no complete hegemony over the military establishment.
“Most of the people here understand that they can be isolated through not only domestic pressure but also international isolation. They do wield power, but they are not unified among themselves as many people think.”
That’s why they are insistent on having a civilian leadership to give “a cosmetic face” to their military rule, he says.