Sudan Crisis

Hamdok reinstated as Sudan PM but public protests against military continue

Print edition : December 17, 2021

A public protest in Omdurman on November 21. Post the October 25 coup, millions of Sudanese people have been participating in continuous protests, one of the largest witnessed in recent years. Photo: AFP

A public protest in Khartoum on November 21. Abdalla Hamdok’s acceptance of the Prime Minister has further fuelled anger among the Sudanese people. Photo: AFP

General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan with Abdalla Hamdok, who was reinstated as Prime Minister at a ceremony in Khartoum on November 21. Photo: Marwan Ali/AP

Despite the Sudan military’s reinstatement of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and his civilian government, in an ostensible reversal of the October 25 coup, the continuing massive public protests indicate that the people of Sudan are determined to see that the Army gets detached from politics and returns permanently to the barracks.

Three weeks after the Sudanese Army derailed the transition towards democracy by ousting the interim government with which it shared power, the military under the leadership of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan announced that it was reinstating the Prime Minister and withdrawing the state of emergency it had imposed. On November 21, the military signed an agreement with Abdalla Hamdok, the civilian Prime Minister who had been deposed, to restore the transitional government a month after the military coup. Massive protests had erupted in the capital, Khartoum, and other major cities in the country after the military staged its coup on October 25. Millions of Sudanese people have been participating in continuous protests since. The protests are among the largest witnessed in the world in recent years.

The announcement of the 14-point “political” deal between Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Hamdok, who has been under house arrest since October 26, came as the Sudanese people were getting ready to stage yet another massive rally in Khartoum against the military government. The latest agreement provides for the release of all political prisoners and stipulates that the 2019 constitutional declaration will continue to be the basis of the transition to civilian rule. A statement issued by the mediators said the deal was reached after consultations with political parties, former rebel groups and the military leadership.

Khartoum had witnessed one of its bloodiest days in recent months when 16 protesters were killed a few days before the agreement to restore the civilian government was signed. Since the ouster of the interim government, more than 40 people have been killed in military and police firing. The Army and the police used live rounds and tear gas to disperse protesting crowds. Despite these strong-arm methods, the people of Sudan seem determined this time to see that the Army gets detached from politics and returns permanently to the barracks.

Also read: Sudan's military sign deal to reinstate ousted PM Abdalla Hamdok

After the announcement of the so-called political deal, civilians protesting against the military showed their dissatisfaction with the latest developments by staging another big march to the presidential palace where the signing ceremony was taking place with Burhan and Hamdok in attendance. “Hamdok has sold the revolution!” the protesters chanted. In demonstrations that took place in Omdurman on the same day, a 17-year-old youth was killed after being shot in the head by the security forces.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has been in the forefront of the movement to restore democracy in the country, described Hamdok’s decision to accept the Army’s offer as “treacherous”. The Umma Party, Sudan’s largest political party, rejected the deal even before it was inked. The Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), which also has been playing a very important role in the organisation of the countrywide demonstrations, has declared that it will never again accept any government in which the military has a role. In a statement issued on November 21, the FFC reiterated its opposition to any further political cohabitation with the military.

It is clear that Burhan was the main instigator of the October coup. The statement issued by the FFC said: “We are not concerned with any agreement with this brute junta and we are employing all peaceful and creative methods to bring it down. We affirm our clear and previously announced position: No negotiation and no partnership and no legitimacy for the putschists.” The FFC is unwavering in its position that those who carried out and backed the coup should face justice.

Hamdok claims that he accepted the Prime Minister’s post again to prevent more bloodshed among the civilian populace. Speaking after the swearing-in ceremony on November 21, he said: “Sudanese blood is precious, let us stop the bloodshed and direct the youth’s energy into building and development.” Speaking during the swearing-in ceremony, Burhan claimed that the new political deal was an inclusive one. He said: “We do not want to exclude anyone as we agreed, except the National Congress Party.” He was referring to the former ruling party that ran the country under General Omar al-Bashir, whose supporters had called on the Army to stage a coup.

Also read: Why many in Sudan are angry over PM Abdalla Hamdok's return

Burhan has been under tremendous pressure internationally to restore the interim government led by Hamdok. The Army chief and de facto head of state earlier claimed that the military had not staged a coup but had only taken steps “to rectify the transition”, alleging that the interim government had become dysfunctional. There were not many takers for this argument, either within the country or outside. Even those countries that initially welcomed the coup, such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, now seem to be having second thoughts, given the massive public protests that have erupted across Sudan. Most observers of the region believe that Burhan would not have carried out the coup without getting the green signal from Egypt. Sudanese protesters carried portraits of the Egyptian President, Muhammad Fattah al Sisi, and the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, chanting slogans against them.

U.S. pressure

Following the October coup, Western governments suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in economic assistance to the Sudanese government. The U.S. government, which now has considerable leverage over the Sudanese military, demanded the speedy reinstallation of the Prime Minister and the interim civilian government. Last year, the Donald Trump administration had arm-twisted Sudan into recognising Israel in exchange for the lifting of draconian U.S. sanctions imposed on the country more than three decades ago. It was the Sudanese military which rubber-stamped the country’s decision to recognise Israel, despite public opinion in the country being decisively against such a move.

The Joe Biden administration, despite calling for the restoration of the status quo, has preferred to give the military the benefit of the doubt. Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. Special Envoy to the region, said in the first week of November that the Sudanese military had exercised restraint while dealing with the protesters. Feltman was in Khartoum just before the Army overthrew the civilian government in October. According to reports in the U.S. media, Burhan had assured the U.S. envoy that although he preferred the replacement of the civilian government with a purely technocratic government, the military was open to negotiations. The day after Feltman left Khartoum, Burhan launched his coup. “They lied to him,” said Nureldin Satti, Sudan’s Ambassador to the U.S. Washington now seems to have put its weight behind the formation of a technocratic government dominated by the military after the overthrow of the interim government.

Also read: From coups to crisis - what next for Sudan?

Hamdok, a technocrat with no known political views, who has earlier served in senior positions in the United Nations and regional organisations, was the U.S.’ preferred choice for the Prime Minister’s job. U.S., European and Emirati envoys were allowed to meet him when he was under house arrest. They apparently convinced him to accept the military’s offer, further fuelling anger among the Sudanese people. A spokesman for the resistance committee, representing the broad opposition, said that Hamdok’s capitulation paved the way for continued military rule in Sudan.

The coalition of political parties that signed the 2019 power-sharing agreement with the Army after the ouster and jailing of Bashir also rejected negotiations with the military rulers and called for the restoration of civilian rule and demanded accountability for the military leaders who had carried out the latest coup. Bushra al-Saim, a leading FFC member, said: “Burhan was looking for recognition through Hamdok’s reinstatement. Hamdok chose the side of the coup leaders, which means he does not care about the thousands of Sudanese who are on the streets protesting against the coup.”

Many older Sudanese remember the days when Gaffar Nimeiry, a military general who had seized power during the height of the Cold War, was a close ally of Washington. Nimeiry was also the one who first introduced Sharia law in the country and banned the consumption of alcohol. Before he came to power in 1969, Sudan and Lebanon were the only two multiparty democracies in the Arab world. The Communist Party of Sudan was the strongest political force at the time in the country. After seizing power, and with encouragement from the West, Nimeiry sent the top leadership of the party to the gallows on trumped-up charges and persecuted the party cadre. The party is now considerably smaller but continues to be in the forefront of the struggle against authoritarian rule.

Also read: Crisis in Sudan: 'The world has a right to be worried'

There has been a lot of disquiet among the majority of the Sudanese population about the outsized influence that countries such the U.S., Egypt, the Gulf monarchies and now Israel have on Sudan’s politics through the current military leadership. The latest patchwork agreement that has reinstalled a nominally civilian government is also being viewed as the handiwork of outside players. The Sudanese street is also upset that the perpetrators of the coup have seamlessly returned to the status quo that prevailed until mid October. The main architects of the coup have not only gone scot-free but have also been able to retain their powerful positions.

The main players in the October coup were Burhan, the Head of the Sovereign Council; General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (popularly known as Hemedti), who ranks number two in the Sudanese security establishment; Gibreil Ibrahim, Minister of Finance; and Mini Minawi, Governor of Darfur. Hemedti is the head of the paramilitary Rapid Action Force (RAF) that was responsible for the massacre of more than 100 protesting civilians in Khartoum in 2019. There are reports of a growing rift between Burhan and Hemedti. Burhan is known to be close to Egypt, while Hemedti is said to have the backing of the Saudis and the Emiratis. Ibrahim and Minawi are former rebel commanders who were upset because they were not given their due in the transitional process and were ignored by the civilian politicians in the interim Cabinet.

There was an earlier coup attempt in September by sections of the Army and supporters of Bashir, who were angry with the decision of the interim government to allow the former military strongman to be sent for trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes committed in Darfur decades ago. The decision to cooperate with the ICC was taken by the civilian Cabinet.

Also read: Sudan protests: 'Now we are driven by anger'

If Bashir is convicted by the ICC, other senior Sudanese Army officers, including Burhan and Hemedti, who were both actively involved in the military operations in Darfur and have been accused of committing war crimes, have much to fear. The current Army chief served as regional Army commander in Darfur. More than a million people were displaced in the fighting in Darfur from 2003 to 2008. Around 3,00,000 people perished in the conflict. Burhan and Hemedti had played key roles in dispatching thousands of Sudanese fighters, including children, to fight in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The Army also does not want the civilians to look into their business activities and ventures. The armed forces and the intelligence agencies control hundreds of state-owned enterprises, including lucrative gold mines. Burhan heads the board of trustees of Defence Industrial Systems, one of the country’s biggest companies.

After staging the coup, Burhan said that he was forced to dissolve the interim government in order to avert another civil war in the country, claiming that civilian politicians were stoking animosity against the armed forces among the populace. In fact it was the military leadership which was trying to destabilise the interim government by encouraging rebel groups. The blockade of Port Sudan (the country’s main port, through which oil and other goods are imported) by a tribal group for six weeks has seriously damaged the economy. One of the main demands of the protesters was the dissolution of the civilian-led interim government. The blockade was lifted soon after the military staged its coup. Only a few Islamist groups and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Darfur supported the latest military coup.

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