Sudan impasse: Will the army really step away from politics?

 MAY 03: Protesters chant above the crowds from the railroad track on May 03, 2019 in Khartoum, Sudan. Thousands of demonstrators continued their mass sit-in outside military headquarters in Khartoum to call on the country's military rulers to cede control. (Photo by David Degner/Getty Images)
7 min read
27 September, 2022

On 4 July 2022, the commander of the Sudanese army and head of the Sovereign Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, issued a surprise statement on state television, announcing the withdrawal of the military from all political negotiations regarding the government.

Burhan promised that civilians would be left to agree on an independent civilian government, pledging that the military would completely withdraw from political life with one exception: a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would be formed whose tasks would encompass security and some foreign policy matters.

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Opposition forces immediately questioned Burhan's intentions. Some believe that the Supreme Council Burhan intends to form is a tactic by which he plans to secure wide-ranging powers, including the supervision of the Central Bank of Sudan, the army, intelligence services, police, and the finance ministry.

Some also suspect that Burhan deliberately conditioned the military's withdrawal from politics on civilian groups coming to a consensus, because he realises it is unlikely they will.

He believes the divisions between civilian camps will deepen as a result, especially between pro-military groups like the Freedom and Change Coalition (FCC) – National Consensus Group, which supported him before and after the 25 October Coup, and the FFC – Central Council, which have opposed him before and after the coup.

"Some suspect that Burhan deliberately conditioned the military's withdrawal from politics on civilian groups coming to a consensus, because he realises how unlikely it is they will"

Sudanese initiatives in support of the military

In the midst of this impasse, a flurry of national initiatives have emerged, most notably the 'The Call of Sudan's People' initiative, sponsored by Al-Tayeb Al-Jed, a renowned Sufi religious leader, with ties to the military.

Around 40 initiatives have been proposed by different organisations, including the FCC – National Consensus, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Directors of Sudanese Universities, and others.

Notably, most of these initiatives propose that the military retains a presence in the government to come. Moreover, they all support the initial proposal made by the coup organisers – that a technocratic government be formed.

Sudanese demonstrators lift a placard with a crossed-out image of Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan stating 'Get out Burhan' during a rally demanding the return to civilian rule in Khartoum on 13 September 2022. [AFP via Getty]

Some politicians and analysts in Sudan believe that Burhan seeks to take advantage of the torrent of political initiatives to solve the current crisis by forming a civilian government that he will control and be the ultimate decision-maker, after the series of missteps made by the military since the October coup.

Political analyst Taher Mutasim, who spoke to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication, thinks Burhan will be drawing up a number of scenarios which could help secure an exit from the current impasse. 

First Scenario: Pro-military initiatives get the green light

"The most prominent of these is that the national initiatives will gain acceptance and can be gathered into one initiative, which will serve to create a consensus - even if only superficially - which will let him enact what he promised on day one of the coup – the formation of a technocratic government, and building the rest of the transitional government structures".

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"Burhan's idea is to form an alliance for a new authority composed of the FCC – Central Council, the FCC – National Consensus, the DUP under Mohammed Uthman al-Mirghani, and the Popular Congress Party," he added.

"Some FCC factions have accepted the proposals, like the National Umma Party and the Unionist Association, while others are showing reserve, like the Baath party under Ali al-Sanhouri, as they fear the military will control any government established in this way, via the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces".

However, he stresses that this idea has "regional and international support, especially from the US, Britain and Saudi Arabia".

Mutasim believes that this scenario may enjoy some acceptance on the Sudanese street due to the lack of any alternative solution, as the economic situation deteriorates and citizens' living conditions worsen. He deems it likely that opposition to this initiative will be led by the Communist Party and a number of resistance committees that completely oppose the continuation of the military in politics.

It is notable that since the end of July, as the economic and living conditions in the country continue to deteriorate, there has been a significant reduction in the popular resistance movement: the processions no longer have the same momentum in terms of numbers and organisation, and fewer cities are participating.

"Some politicians and analysts in Sudan believe that Burhan seeks to take advantage of the torrent of political initiatives to solve the current crisis by forming a civilian government that he will control"

FCC: Determined to oust the military

However, spokesman for the FFC, Shihab Ibrahim Tayyeb, forcefully denies that the FFC coalition would agree "to any political initiative which does not end the military coup, maintains the military in power, and returns the old regime in one form or another to key positions off the back of these initiatives, which are definitely supported by the former regime and the parties that shared power with it in the past".

He asserts that "if Burhan enacts this scenario […] the mass movement will continue its daily struggle until he is toppled".

Second Scenario: The university directors' initiative

Tayyeb believes it possible that Burhan might proceed with another scenario, based on accepting the university directors' initiative which proposes the formation of a temporary government as soon as possible to administer the country until civilian forces have agreed on the transitional government. This would buy Burhan time to consolidate his position.

"All the initiatives want a PM appointed, without agreeing on a constitutional framework to govern the transitional period, and are showing reluctance to stick to the constitutional document or legislate for a new constitution," he says.

"The FFC will reject either scenario, because neither leads to the end of the military coup, nor returns the military to the barracks, nor achieves a full civil state, as the Sudanese people are calling for".

"Aside from this, the initiatives break with basic values, among them transitional justice and retribution for the martyrs," says Tayyeb, stressing that the FFC "is not ready to make any concessions in this regard, or offer assurances to not prosecute the complicit, because that is the right of the families of the victims".

General Abdel Fattah Burhan overthrew Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok's government last week [Getty]
Burhan led a coup last year that removed the country's transitional government. [Getty]

Third Scenario: Militarising the government

Editor-in-chief of Alyowm Altali newspaper, Al-Taher Satti, thinks there is likely a third scenario: the complete militarisation of the government and for Burhan to take ultimate power over all decision-making.

Satti says that almost a year after the coup, "Burhan shows day after day his desire for absolute authority, in violation of what he promised and what he has been saying in past months".

In his opinion, "Burhan seized power on the pretext that four FCC parties were dominating the authority. However, he confiscated all powers for himself with the coup, and this is the case until today, but he will collide with the Sudanese people who toppled Omar Bashir with his seeming omnipotence, and it will be easy to topple Burhan if he does not fulfil what he promised - that he was correcting the path by completing the structures of power, forming an independent government of technocrats and advancing towards elections".

Regarding the current lull in the revolutionary movement, Al-Rih Mohammed Sadiq, a leading figure from the FCC, thinks that one factor is the poor coordination between different revolutionary groups, and the lack of a broader political vision, despite the huge sacrifices the Sudanese have made, and the many political charters proposed.

"If a consensus around shared goals is not reached, then the inevitable result will be the further expansion of the military and its entrenchment, the return of the old regime, and the forming of a de facto government"

Sadiq says the question of feasibility is on the mind of many who participated in the processions, especially when they can't see any political vision pushing them to continue, and he insists that everyone bears responsibility for the failure to work together to forge even the bare minimum of a joint vision.

However, he says, "there is hope in a vision recently put forward by the Resistance Committees Coordination Khartoum East, which suggests establishing mechanisms for coordinating political and field work, encompassing the resistance committees, political parties, movements and the professional associations".

He says the FCC are completely open to such proposals and are continuing to communicate with all anti-military revolutionary forces to reach the required consensus.

He warns that if a consensus around shared goals is not reached then the inevitable result will be the further expansion of the military and its entrenchment, the return of the old regime, and the forming of a de facto government, which might take years to bring down.  

This is an edited and abridged translation of two articles from our Arabic edition. 

The first was published on 03/09/22 and you can read it here.

The second was published on 08/09/22 and you can read it here.

Translated by Rose Chacko

These articles were taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirror the sources' original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.