Four months after the fall of the Bashir regime on 11 April 2019 – and following difficult negotiations during which a sit-in at the General Staff headquarters was bloodily dispersed on 3 June – the Forces of Freedom and Change (Quwat I`lan al-Hurriyya wa’t-Taghyir; FFC) that led the uprising have finally reached agreement with the Transitional Military Council (TMC) regarding the constitutional document that will frame the transitional period. The TMC chairman, Abdulfattah Burhan, has issued a decree appointing a Sovereignty Council (Majlis as-Siyada), which he will lead, and he and its other members have taken the constitutional oath. The agreement, which was signed with great ceremony and in the presence of several African leaders and representatives of foreign governments, has strengthened the hopes of many for a successful democratic transition in Sudan. Others, however, remain sceptical because of the ambiguous wording of parts of the agreement, the continuing atmosphere of distrust between the signatories, the absence of several major opposition forces from the agreement, and the difficult path that lies ahead regardless.
The Constitutional Document
The Constitutional Document lays out the arrangements for the transitional period, set to last some 39 months. During this period both civilian and military figures will be involved in the governing of the country through the so-called ‘Sovereignty Council’, which will include five representatives of each party alongside a ‘patriotic figure’ whose identity will be agreed upon later. It has also been agreed that a military man will chair the Council during the first stage, which will last 21 months, while civilians will take the helm for the remaining 18 months. The Council’s authority is largely restricted to legislative matters and other powers pertaining to political and security issues and peace negotiations with armed movements fighting the government in various regions of the country.
The Document also provides for the formation of a Cabinet whose leader will be recommended by the FFC (a well-known economics expert, Abdullah Hamaduk, has been nominated); he will then appoint a government of no more than twenty ministers subject to the Council’s approval. The Cabinet will have full executive jurisdiction, with some powers shared with the Sovereignty Council – including legislative powers. A Legislative Assembly (Majlis Tashri`i) is also to be formed, a majority (67%) of whose members will be provided by the FFC. The Assembly is to be appointed within twenty days of the Sovereignty Council’s establishment. The Document also stipulates that a special committee will be formed in order to investigate the 3 June massacre and other incidents.
The functions and aims of the transitional period are also laid out in the Constitutional Document, the most important of which is ‘putting in place policies and effective strategies to bring about comprehensive peace in Darfur and the Blue Nile and Cordovan regions through consultation with armed movements, and to bring about a just and comprehensive peace by addressing the roots of the Sudanese problem and dealing with its effects.’ The document calls on the international community to provide economic, financial and humanitarian support to help the transitional authorities to implement the agreement, to strike Sudan off the list of countries that finance terrorism, to remove the economic sanctions against it, and to cancel its debts.
Major Challenges Facing the Agreement
Implementation of the agreement faces a number of problems which can be summarized in four main points:
1) Forces that reject the agreement
Various major political forces have rejected the agreement because their interests or positions have not been taken into account. There are five major armed movements in the country, all of which boycotted the signing ceremony. Three of them are active in Darfur in the west of the country: the Abdulwahid Nur and Minni Minawi factions of the Sudan Liberation Movement (Harakat Tahrir as-Sudan) and the Justice and Equality Movement (al-‘Adl wa’l-Musawah) led by Jibril Ibrahim. The other two until recently constituted a single entity, the Popular Movement–North (al-Haraka ash-Sha`biyya – Qita` Shamali; PM-N), active in the south of Cordovan and the Blue Nile region. This group has now split into a faction led by Aziz al-Hilw and another led by Malik Aqqar. They have formed an alliance, the so-called Revolutionary Front (al-Jabha ath-Thawriyya), which has announced its rejection of the Constitutional Document Agreement after failing to reach an agreement with the FFC in two rounds of negotiations that took place in Addis Ababa and Cairo. The RF has prepared an annex it wants added to the agreement. It appears from its leaders’ statements that it is seeking reasonable representation in the Transitional Authority’s various organs, since its armed activities helped to weaken Bashir’s regime. The disputes over who will occupy government offices seem to be rooted in the fact that both sides view the transitional period as the foundation on which the future political position of each side will be built: the more portfolios one controls in the transitional government, the better the results in the elections to follow.
The Sudanese Communist Party (al-Hizb ash-Shuyu`i as-Sudani) has also been hostile to the agreement ever since it was first signed on 17 July.1 The Islamists of the Popular Congress Party (Hizb al-Mu’tamar ash-Sha`bi) have also announced their opposition to the transitional period arrangements and any decisions made by the Sovereignty Council, the Cabinet or the Legislative Assembly because of their total exclusion from negotiations. Various young veterans of the protest movement have also criticised the FFC, particularly the Professionals’ Association (Tajammu` al-Mihaniyyin; PA), accusing them of a lack of transparency and of seeking to cynically parcel out government roles in negotiations. The FFC’s slow progress in announcing its nominees for the Sovereignty Council indicates that there is a debate over the distribution of offices.
If we consider the positions of the various political groups generally, it might be said that the transitional period has begun in an atmosphere of disharmony and disunity between the forces that helped to topple the Bashir regime. Trust between different political factions has been shaken, and the foreign connections of some groups and the lack of a consistent political vision even within the FFC all represent a threat whose importance should not be downplayed during the transitional period. The protest began in the provincial centres, with the Professionals’ Association only taking leadership of it later; the PA thus sought to form a united front with the forces that had signed the so-called ‘Declaration of Freedom and Change’ with it despite the significant differences between them. The FFC took the declaration of the transfer of power to civilian hands to mean the transfer of power to the FFC specifically rather than a democratic transition with a determined timeline. The lack of agreement between its constituent elements became clear as soon as the regime fell, which has allowed the Transitional Military Council to win concessions in the negotiations and to retain control of the government in the transitional period.
2) Lack of Trust and Overlapping Powers
The Agreement gives the Sovereignty Council the right to approve or reject nominees to the various cabinet offices, the Legislative Assembly and the judiciary. In the last few days, it has come to light that the TMC rejected the FFC’s nominee to head the judiciary, while the previous incumbent managed before leaving his post to make a number of changes, including promoting a number of judges. This may make effecting real change within the judicial establishment difficult for the new government.
The issue of accountability for the Khartoum massacre on 3 June and other incidents that took place during protests is also likely to take centre stage in the coming period, particularly once the independent investigative committee begins its operations. This committee will also be appointed by the sovereignty council. It is well known that it was the TMC itself that carried out, or at least was responsible for, the massacre – the same TMC which is now one of the main parties to the agreement. There has also been controversy over soldiers’ demands for full immunity, which was only overcome by making it possible to revoke immunity conditional on the approval of two thirds of the Legislative Assembly (67% of which will be made up of representatives of the FFC). The restructuring of the army, security establishment and militias – most importantly the Rapid Response Forces led by Muhammad Hamdan Hamidati – will also be controversial: it has been agreed that the army itself will be responsible for reforming these forces, under the oversight of the (newly created office of) Commander-in-Chief and the sovereign authority. This has raised fears of a deep state resurgence in the army.
Some critics of the agreement also believe that the FFC have made a mistake in accepting military leadership for the first and longer part of the Sovereignty Council’s administration. It is during this period that the most important legislation and decrees will be issued, which will determine whether democratic transition will succeed, or the army will take control of the government. The eleventh member of the Council, who will have the deciding vote between the five military and five civilian members, will play an important role during this period. Care must be taken in deciding who will fill this position.
3) Economic Challenges
By handing leadership of the government over to civilians and distancing itself from management of citizens’ daily affairs, the TMC will have passed on the burden of dealing with the issues that are most urgent for the majority of people and which present the greatest challenges: education, health, services, infrastructure, etc. These are the issues by which people will judge the success or failure of the new government. It is certain that Hamaduk’s government will face many difficulties in righting the economic ship and living up to people’s hopes and expectations, which are typically very high following the fall of a regime. It will not be easy to bring about tangible improvements in the economic situation in the short term. Sudan owes more than $60 billion in external debt and has been suffering for some time from ongoing petroleum and flour crises as well as a sharp increase in living costs and inflation rates. The necessary structural economic reforms, the success of administrative reform and combating corruption represent the major challenge facing Sudan during the transitional period and will be used as the measure of the new government’s competence. It is also very important that the government adopt a measured foreign policy that helps it secure debt relief, regional and international foreign aid, and foreign investment.
4) Foreign Attitudes
The agreement has been welcomed internationally and regionally, including by Egypt, Ethiopia, Turkey, Qatar, the UAE, the UN, the African Union, and the Arab League. The US State Department applauded the agreement, describing it as ‘an important step forward’ and calling for cooperation between civilians and military figures during the transitional period.2 The UK’s Foreign Office also welcomed it while noting that there were some issues that remain unsolved, encouraging all parties to engage in constructive dialogue to overcome them quickly.3
However, these statements are insufficient to guarantee the success of the transitional period in Sudan. As the Constitutional Agreement itself notes, this will require the provision of financial and humanitarian aid, ending of sanctions, and the removal of the country from the list of terrorist financiers, as well as the forgiveness of its foreign debt. In particular, there is an obvious danger of attempts by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt – influential in some military circles – to pull Sudan into their regional orbit.
The protesters’ strong popular administration and their persistence in daily struggle in the capital and the provinces and their refusal to abandon pacifism despite the violence directed against them over nine long months have won them great international and regional sympathy. This sympathy helped prevent the demise of the movement for change and placed pressure on the military to accept a transitional period set to end with civilian democratic rule, in a country ruled by the army for 53 of its 63 years of independence. Despite all the dangers that threaten the implementation of the Constitutional Document, Sudan stands before an important opportunity to finally break with the era of military coups and move toward democracy in order to replace violence and disorder with stability and development.
An earlier version of this paper was published on August 22, 2019 by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) in Doha, Qatar.
1 “SCP rejects agreement between “Soldiers” and FFC,” al-Quds al-‘Arabi, 17 July 2019 (accessed on 22/8/2019 at https://bit.ly/2Hl9ceX).
2 “Sudan: USA welcomes signing of Constitutional Declaration, thanks mediators,” Arabi 21 (accessed on 22/08/2019 at https://bit.ly/2KJB92d).
3 “Sudan Declaration: Minister Stephenson’s statement,” Gov.UK, 17/08/2019 (accessed on 22/08/2019 at https://bit.ly/2YVm5XM).