The international community and regional allies of Sudan are, obviously, cautious about the proper way to react to the recent political turmoil in Sudan. They are hopelessly trying to reverse the move taken by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan against the civilian wing of the Sovereignty Council, which he has chaired since April 2019. However, we can hardly be optimistic that any of the concerned parties have the forte to effectively alter the gloomy course of events in Sudan. That is simply because they do not appropriately understand that the recent developments are bigger in size and deeper in influence than being labeled as yet another coup attempt, in a country notorious for military coups and chronic feebleness in the civilian political leadership. Hence, what exactly does the international community need to do to retrieve Sudan back on track for democratization?
On the morning of Monday, October 25th, the Sudanese people woke up to find out that airports were closed and a state of emergency was being applied nationwide. Over that night, Al-Burhan dismissed his civilian co-leaders at the Sovereignty Council, dissolved the government, and arrested senior state officials, including Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. In a speech, later that day, Al-Burhan justified the forced seizure of power as a “necessary procedure to avoid the eruption of a civil war.” For months, the policy disagreements between the teams of Hamdok and Al-Burhan, within the Sovereignty Council had not stopped. In September, Al-Burhan launched an impulsive coup attempt against Hamdok, but it failed because of international pressure and a lack of proper planning. In response to reports about the kidnapping of Hamdok, Al-Burhan confirmed that the Prime Minister was not detained or kidnapped, but respectfully hosted in his own house “as a guest.” The next day, Hamdok was released from Al-Burhan’s house, thanks to pressures from the United States.
In reaction, the Sudanese people poured into the streets, in large numbers, to protest the decisions taken by Al-Burhan and call for the return of the Sovereignty Council, which had been jointly led by civilian and military leaders, since 2019. The majority of the 45 million Sudanese population is youth, passionate about democratic change, but also burdened with a heavy heritage of political corruption and the economic failures of the state. About ten citizens got killed as military forces fired on angry rallies outside the Ministry of Defense building, on that day. Although security forces, reportedly, arrested all protest organizers, the protests have not stopped up till now.
On the regional level, the Arab League condemned Al-Burhan’s move, without openly labeling it as a “coup d’état.” Turkey and Qatar issued official statements expressing their concern for the turmoil in Sudan and described it as a “coup attempt.” Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have not issued any statement on the issue, up till this moment. Following Omar Al-Bashir’s fall in 2019, Saudi Arabia and UAE promised three billion dollars to support the transitional leadership of Al-Burhan. Five hundred million of which has already been deposited to the Sudanese Central Bank, two years ago. Likewise, Egypt, Sudan’s closest neighbor and ally, has not reacted to the turmoil in either a negative or a positive way. That is despite the fact that Egypt previously condemned the failed coup attempt by Al-Burhan, in September. Apparently, Egypt prefers to remain silent, this time, in order not to push Sudan to side with Ethiopia in the ongoing conflict over the Nile River.
On the global level, the turmoil in Sudan is surprisingly attracting a lot of attention. Sudan’s geographic location makes it a focal point for the trade flow across eastern Africa. Moreover, Sudan’s stability and security are essential to control the growing presence of terrorist organizations in that region. Therefore, the United States and other major international powers, such as the United Kingdom, rushed to condemn the military’s takeover accompanied by applying economic pressures, in the hope of forcing Al-Burhan to loosen his grip and restore the civilian leadership. On the next day of Al-Burhan’s coup, the U.S. Secretary of State, Blinken, announced that the Biden Administration would suspend the aid due to Sudan (700 million dollars) until Al-Burhan reverses his action. Despite that, the U.S. officials have been very careful not to openly label the current events in Sudan as a coup.
In parallel, the World Bank decided to suspend the aid it previously planned to provide to Sudan, until the civilian government is re-installed. Unfortunately, such economic sanctions are going to increase the suffering of the already impoverished Sudanese people without leveraging any tangible pressure on Al-Burhan. On October 28th, the U.N. Special Representative in Sudan met with Al-Burhan and offered to intervene as a mediator for a political settlement between the military and the civilian leadership. Yet, logically speaking, why would Al-Burhan need to negotiate with the civilian leadership if he already holds all powers in his hands, right now.
In academic terms, the procedures taken, on Monday, by General Al-Burhan can only be defined as a coup d’état. If it is not a coup against a civil authority, then at least it is a betrayal of the agreement that resulted in the formation of the Sovereign Council and promised the people with a democratic future, which now seems impossible. However, in a realistic assessment of the bitter truth, what Al-Burhan has done is merely grab the powers that he has been already holding, since the overthrow of the Al-Bashir regime in the Spring Revolution of 2019.
Those who have followed the complex political scene in Sudan, since then, should have guessed that Al-Burhan, and the military that he leads, may not allow a civilian government to rule the country, independent from the military institution. Al-Burhan has been the de facto ruler of Sudan since the ouster of Bashir in 2019, and it seems that he will remain in this powerful position for years to come. In light of this fact, the regional players and the international community need to figure out new methods to deal with the situation in Sudan and control the future damages as soon as possible.
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