Sudan braces for ‘worst’ after PM resigns

NAIROBI, Kenya – The military in Sudan is once again in command, jeopardizing the country’s already fragile hopes for a successful transition to democracy.

With the resignation of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on Sunday evening, Sudan has no civilian government to help run a country just emerging from a three-decade dictatorship.

There are now fears of an escalation in clashes between protesters and security forces that have seized the capital, Khartoum, and beyond in recent weeks, leading to the deaths of at least 57 people, a group of medics said.

A vast country of around 43 million people in northeast Africa, Sudan has neither the political structures nor independent political bodies in place to legitimately appoint a new prime minister, analysts said, restraining more the country’s hopes of swapping a military dictatorship for a democratic dictatorship. to reign.

“It is very clear that the army and its alliance will not hand over power peacefully, so they will try to crush resistance peacefully,” said Dr Sara Abdelgalil, Sudanese doctor and former president of the doctors’ union. “We expect the worst”

Mr Hamdok took office in 2019 as part of a power-sharing deal negotiated between civilian and military forces after widespread protests toppled the country’s longtime dictator, Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

“He was a gracious and enduring figure who truly symbolized a brighter future in himself,” said Cameron Hudson, senior researcher at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. “He came to symbolize the hope and change in Sudan.

But in the end, Mr. Hamdok, 66, faced the Herculean task of trying to unite the disparate actors who have strived to shape Sudan’s future.

There was the military, the force that had long dominated the country, which removed him from office on October 25, held him away under house arrest – then relocated him a month later. have signed an agreement with them.

There was the constellation of political parties and unions, many of which had consistently rejected any power-sharing deal with the military.

And then there were the demonstrators, who have been flooding the streets since the end of October, despite a violent crackdown. In songs and on placards, they called Mr. Hamdok a “traitor” who had undermined their quest for “freedom, peace and justice”.

On Monday, the United Nations and countries, including the United States, called on Sudanese political leaders to mend their differences through consensus and dialogue. US Senator James E. Risch, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Hamdok’s resignation “completes” the October 25 military coup and urged the military to “hand over power. to elected civilian leaders ”.

Sudanese military leader Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Monday promised to train what he called “an independent government”. He also said the military was committed to peace and the holding of elections, according to the Sudanese news agency. General al-Burhan’s office did not immediately respond to questions.

Experts say installing a legitimate civilian government now won’t be easy.

As part of a constitutional declaration signed in 2019, a legislative council reportedly chose a prime minister. This person would then be approved by the Sovereignty Council, a transitional body made up of civilian and military leaders.

But the transitional legislative council was never formed. And General al-Burhan dissolved the Sovereignty Council after the coup and created a new one filled with the military and their allies, said Lauren Blanchard, an African affairs specialist at the Congressional Research Service, a research institute. of the United States Congress. .

Another option, under the 2019 deal, said Blanchard, would ask the Forces for Freedom and Change – who led the civilian side of the transitional government – to select a prime minister. But with the general’s crackdown on protesters, the participation of the Forces for Freedom and Change seems unlikely, she said.

Without a prime minister or civilian government, the military, former rebel groups and the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces now control Sudan.

Magdi el-Gizouli, a Sudanese member of the Rift Valley Institute, a research group, said some of the names proposed for the nomination for prime minister – as the military tries to temper both international criticism and national protests – include former finance minister Ibrahim Elbadawi and Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, a human rights activist. But men and others are likely to decline the offers, he said, given the pressure from the general public.

“So for now, it is the generals who will make the decisions,” said Mr. el-Gizouli. “If you command an army and have weapons in Sudan, you are now making the decision. “

Mr Hamdok’s resignation puts increased pressure on the military, Mr Hudson said. The generals used Mr. Hamdok as a cover, he said, shielding them from international pressure and financial sanctions targeting their vast trade networks.

But even as they pretended to stand up for democracy and the elections, the generals have undermined Hamdok’s leadership and, over the past two months, have responded brutally to protests from those calling for a fully democratic Sudan. .

Despite the crackdown, anti-coup protesters continued to perform on a weekly basis, with neighborhood resistance committees increasingly organizing to stand up to the military. But with the departure of Mr. Hamdok, many civilians and analysts are now worried about a wider and more severe repression.

Sudan is going “further in the wrong direction,” said Mr. el-Gizouli of the Rift Valley Institute. “He is moving towards a hollow political system where words and structures mean nothing, and where killing people costs you nothing.”

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