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Sudan given new deadline for civilian handover, army resists

By Patrick Smith, in Khartoum
Posted on Thursday, 2 May 2019 15:24

Sudanese protesters attend a demonstration in front of the Defence Ministry compound in Khartoum, Sudan, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

As demonstrators gathered in Khartoum today for another million-strong march, pressure is mounting on the ruling junta to reach a deal with the civilian opposition.

The critical issue is whether the proposed executive council in charge of the transitional regime is led by the military or civilians.

  • At stake will be control of budgets, rewriting of the constitution and the reform and restructuring of the armed forces and security forces.

With agreement on the question proving elusive, a group of Sudanese business people, including Osama Daoud Abdelatif, chairman of Dal Group, are trying to mediate between the Transitional Military Council and the main opposition grouping, the Forces for Freedom and Change.

  • Yet even the role of these mediators is being contested by oppositionists who insist that there can be no compromise on the question of civilian control.

Some of the country’s biggest companies are backing the protestors, offering food and water and free medical care to the thousands of people on the streets.

No letting up

Although the holy month of Ramadan starts on Monday, there is no sign of the protests letting up in Sudan. Quite the reverse.

  • In recent days, more opposition groups have been arriving in the capital from the hinterland from Atabara, where the protests started in December, from Darfur in the west and from Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains.
  • Across the capital, the new arrivals have pitched tents and have joined the political rallies and cultural festivities at the sit-in in front of Alqiyada al Amaah, the military headquarters complex in the centre of Khartoum.
  • On their side, the opposition FFC and the Sudan Professionals Association, have hundreds of thousands of activists on the streets in the capital but millions more supporters across this vast country.

The wind is still in their sails after the mass demonstrations were seen as critical in the toppling of Omer al-Beshir on the night of 10 April.

  • Momentum is key to the opposition strategy. Activists say there is no prospect of letting up the demonstrations, calling this the best chance for political change in the country for 30 years.
  • They are also calling on civic activists across Africa to back their campaign. They have been lobbying governments and the African Union hard.

That resulted in a strong statement from the AU Commission’s chair Moussa Faki Mahamat calling on Sudan’s generals to hand over to the civilians in the wake of the ousting of Al-Bashir. That was followed up by a meeting of the AU’s Peace & Security Commission which gave the TMC just 15 days to cede power to the civilians or face suspension from the AU and further sanctions.

  • This was flouted by Sudan’s generals, apparently with the blessing of Egypt’s President Abdul Fatteh El-Sisi, who has been calling, along with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, for international backing for the junta in Khartoum. That complicates the situation because El-Sisi, as revolving political head of the AU is contradicting the organisation’s statutes against military takeovers.

At a meeting in Tunis on 30 April, the AU’s Peace & Security Commission gave the ruling generals another 60 days to hand power to a civilian-led transitional government and offered its support to help the country reach a workable settlement.

Bottom line: The arm wrestle between the military backed by Egypt on one side, and the civilian protestors on the other, is likely to last well into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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