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Sudan: ‘The military wants to do a Bashir without Bashir’, says researcher Roland Marchal

By Achraf Tijani
Posted on Tuesday, 26 October 2021 16:18

Sudanese protesters waved national flags as they rallied on 60th Street in Khartoum to denounce the army’s overnight detentions of government members on 25 October 2021. – Armed forces detained Sudan’s prime minister over his refusal to support their “coup”, the information ministry said, after weeks of tensions between military and civilian figures who have shared power ever since Omar al-Bashir was ousted. © AFP

A coup took place in Sudan, when Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and several government members were arrested on 25 October. The military has declared a state of emergency. Researcher Roland Marchal, a Sudan specialist, explains the situation.

A month ago, Khartoum’s civilian authorities had denounced an attempted coup. However, on 25 October, the military seemed to have gotten it right this time round. On that morning, the Prime Minister and almost all of his government’s civilian members were arrested, communications were cut off in the country and borders were closed.

At the helm are the military’s top brass led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the Sovereignty Council’s military president. He announced that the transitional authorities would be dissolved, established a state of emergency throughout the country and promised that elections would be held in 2023.

The military, which ruled Sudan under former president Omar al-Bashir for 30 years, has been sharing power with civilians ever since the transitional government was established in 2019. However, they were due to hand it over in a few months. Roland Marchal, a researcher at France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, analyses the events underway in Khartoum.

On the morning of 25 October, we learned that the military had arrested part of the government. Who is in their hands?

Roland Marchal: Prime Minister Hamdok has been arrested as well as figures from the Forces for Freedom and Change. This coalition was the political embodiment of the protest movement that caused Bashir’s fall in April 2019. Government spokesman Fayçal Mohamed Saleh and Mohamed al-Faki Soleiman, one of the members of the Sovereignty Council, who were both very critical of the military, are now under arrest.

What accusations have the military leveled against prime minister Hamdok?  

Paradoxically, Hamdok was not the one who most bothered the military camp. To the contrary, he was rather naive because he let them keep all their influence. This is what allowed them to act as they did on 25 October. He is not seen as a real enemy, unlike Soleiman or Faisal Mohamed Saleh, whom they considered more troublesome. However, the military does not want to lose any of its power. They want to do a ‘Bashir without Bashir’, i.e. continue to control the country’s political affairs.

Why is the Sudanese military grabbing power?

There are several reasons. Firstly, because they were about to hand over power. According to the transitional timetable, Burhan is due to leave his post as president of the Sovereign Council in 2023 to make way for an exclusively civilian government.

More and more threats were then made against them. There were ongoing investigations into army abuses, including the Rapid Support Forces, a Sudanese paramilitary force that was operating under the command of the secret service. These proceedings worried some of the military personnel, as their “wallets took a hit”, meaning that many of their businesses, especially in the security sector, were taxed and confiscated.

Finally, in recent months, they became aware of divisions and weaknesses in the government. They saw that the electoral base was quite small. Perhaps they saw an opportunity and hoped that these civilians would have little support from the population.

Why are they acting now?

On 21 September, an attempted coup had taken place, according to the civilian authorities, who pointed the finger at those close to Bashir. Since then, there have been persistent rumours of arrests and purges taking place in the army.

Unlike at the beginning of the transitional process, when they had obtained guarantees, they lived under the threat of losing everything. They felt that the noose was tightening and probably wanted to act before it was too late.

The international community has called for power to be returned to civilians. What influence does it have?

The international community, led by the US, has been actively working to bring Sudan back into the fold. Illustrations of this include supporting Sudan’s transition through US financial assistance and international conferences, which took place in Paris [May 2021] and Berlin [June 2021]. Without these initiatives to support the economy, the regime – whether military or civilian – is doomed. Just after the coup, Burhan reassured the international community that free elections would be held in 2023. He knows to what extent his country is on life support economically.

However, there are different forces within the international community and the Sudanese military knows it can play them against each other. The country can count on its allies: Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

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