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Sudan’s power-sharing deal will crumble if the civilian-led coalition loses sight of the vision that gave them power

The new government mustn’t forget that popular support for its authority is the one and only source of the legitimacy of its power. In order to shield the new regime from a potential military coup, it must maintain unity

Ahmed Aboudouh
Tuesday 06 August 2019 09:10 BST
Sudan's protest movement holds mass rally in Khartoum following last month's overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir

Sudan has embarked on a new chapter of its modern history. Military generals and civilian activists, who led the ousting of Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year reign, have finally come to an agreement on the constitutional declaration, which will pave the way to a new transitional period. It will also create three ruling institutions: a legislative body, a civilian government and a sovereign council.

The coalition Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), a mishmash of ideologically dissonant parties and unions, would form the government, hold 67 per cent of the seats in the transitional parliament, and control half of the sovereign council, with army generals dominating the other half.

The new arrangement looks like a historical moment for civilians who have been tangled in a ferocious power show against the military since al-Bashir’s fall last April. But a closer look into the details of the pact reveals murky details about the future of Sudan, driving home some of the naked truths surrounding the generals’ real plan – essentially taking a step back and elbowing civilians into the thick of it.

From this September onwards, civilians will be all by themselves. According to the new deal with the military, they are required to provide the people of Sudan with democratic rule, peace, economic welfare, security and stability, suddenly making them the helmsmen of Sudan.

Most leading politicians in Sudan have literally zero experience in running the state. Throughout decades of authoritarian rule, opposition leaders were completely excluded from taking up high offices as part of al-Bashir’s crooked regime. They have had no direct contact with Sudan’s feeble economy, which has been constantly plunging, and has been in decline for the past three decades.

In the last five years, the Sudanese pound tumbled, inflation rates skyrocketed, the foreign currency reserve dwindled to $1.44bn, and the national debt reached a record high. This fuelled public anger and people took to the streets last December asking for a regime change.

Now the new civilian patrons must come up with a plan B that can soothe the angry masses. If any vision for a new Sudan is to succeed, it will require the restructuring of an outdated legislative system, and putting in place a clear roadmap to rebuilding the old institutions and reshaping their identity.

The old regime’s well-established interests network will create resistance mechanisms to maintain the “deep state” and its economic and political alliances. This will require cohesion within the civilian sphere of politics, which has already begun to face early fractions. The lack of discipline and harmony within the neonate political establishment could well result in the disintegration of the FFC, dealing a fatal blow to the dreams of millions of Sudanese who are eager to see real change.

On Saturday, a group of armed factions, which were involved in the prolonged civil war against al-Bashir by Darfur and South Kordofan and later joined the civilian uprising, blamed the FFC’s leaders for sidelining them in the run-up to signing the deal. Alienating the armed opposition risks blowing up the peace process and giving a lifeline to the ongoing civil war.

Peace was one of the main demands to emerge from protests, after all. Sudanese people grew tired of the endless bloodshed in their country. The protest leaders promised peace and justice to a nation made up of a hodgepodge of dozens of ethnicities, religions, and identities. Failing to integrate the armed factions as part of the new political and social fabric would disaffect the long-marginalised parts of Sudan and loosen the civilians' grip on power.

In the Middle East, promising to establish a democratic rule is painless, but fulfilling it is the toughest challenge any government may come across.

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During the three years transition agreed as part of the deal, the new government will be dealing with a desperately difficult task: maintaining the people’s patience. The failure to accomplish it will open the door for the military to take back control once and for all.

With some go-getter generals waiting for that moment, chances for democracy to prevail are still on the brink.

One of those generals is Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, also known as Hemedti. He commands the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary force which looks much more like a private business venture. Top military commanders have barely any control over Hemedti’s militia or his dreams to become president.

The new civilian rulers need to understand that power in Sudan is not an adventure. In order to shield their new regime from a potential military coup anywhere down the road, they must maintain their unity and the popular acceptance of their authority, which is the one and only source of the legitimacy of their power. Losing the people’s support means the military, and the Islamists who are left out, will take them for a free ride.

Signing a deal with the generals is just the beginning. The transition between existing revolutionary stints to the comparatively mundane daily management of people’s lives is the biggest challenge to the future of civilian rule in Sudan.

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