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Sudan

Premier Hamdok reinstated but military's fight with civilian opposition intensifies

Pro-democracy groups reject post-coup deal as transitional government ministers resign en masse

The pact announced on 21 November between the generals that seized power last month and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok keeps the military in the driving seat with control over the transition to civil rule, due by the end of 2023.

Hamdok has been freed from house arrest, and the generals have promised to release all other political prisoners and relaunch the transition plan negotiated two years ago.

Yet the generals are already demanding amendments such as the inclusion in the transitional parliament of two Islamist parties, the Popular Congress Party and the Reform Now Party. Both were founded by acolytes of ousted President Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir, who remains in detention but whose future treatment is another source of friction between the military and civilians.

The generals hope the deal with Hamdok will be enough to unblock the billions of dollars in foreign aid and debt relief that were suspended after the coup last month.

Despite their close ties with the regimes in United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Sudan's ruling generals Abdel Fattah al Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo 'Hemeti' have not been able to secure enough pledges of cash from the regional autocracies to ease their country's deepening economic crisis.

Within hours of its announcement, the Hamdok-Burhan deal won conditional backing from the United States, the European Union, Britain and Norway as well as from the UN. That will not mean an immediate reopening of financial flows to Khartoum. Much will depend on political conditions.

All the main pro-democracy groups have rejected the deal. The Sudan Professionals' Association called it 'treacherous'. Demonstrators in Khartoum chanted 'You let down the street Hamdok'.

The Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the coalition of parties that had been sharing power with the military until the coup, rejected it outright. Most of the ministers from the FFC who served under Hamdok in the cabinet have resigned and say they will not join the new arrangement.

Former Foreign Minister Mariam Sadiq al Mahdi said she and 10 of the other ministers had met Hamdok in person on 21 November to tell him they opposed the deal.

Speaking online the following day to a seminar organised by the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, Al Mahdi said the military had comprehensively broken the terms of the transition negotiated in 2019 believing '… that they can disband the [civil-military] partnership when they like and replace parties …with partners of their own choice'.

Like other civilian politicians, Al Mahdi, who was detained many times under Beshir's National Congress Party rule, railed against the lack of accountability for the shooting dead of at least 40 protestors since the coup on 25 October, and the wounding of hundreds more. There was a paragraph in the latest agreement to an investigation into the loss of civilian lives as well as those of security service officers but no details about its terms of reference.

A similar probe was promised into the killing of over 100 protestors in June 2019 by fighters from Hemeti's Rapid Support Forces but the military has obstructed progress on that. Some rights activists want to launch legal actions against Hemeti and Burhan for crimes against humanity over the past two years. According to the military, that was one of the triggers for last month's coup.

It is also the reason why the Sudanese street is so opposed to a deal that leaves the military with any political power. In the short term, demonstrations will spread.

Speaking to the media after signing the deal, Hamdok said he would protect the right of every Sudanese to demonstrate and oppose the deal if they so wished. That will complicate matters for the new government.

Opposition groups, including the national network of resistance committees, pledge to continue strikes and protest. They will be easier to organise if the junta lifts its suspension of mobile internet services and stops shooting people.

If the majority of civilian parties, such as the National Umma Party, the Sudan Congress Party and the Federal Gathering, maintain their boycott of the Hamdok-Burhan deal, it is difficult to see how the new government can make much progress.

Some in Khartoum believe the opposition could turn the impasse to its advantage, organising ever bigger demonstrations and putting more pressure on the military.

Protestors could use their numbers on the street to speed up the setting up of the transitional parliament, pushing through judicial reforms, restructuring state-owned companies and agencies such as the electoral commission as well as organising a constitutional conference.

Although Burhan and Hamdok both refer to a partnership between the military and civilians, it looks much more probable that Sudan is set for an extended confrontation.



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