The deal to secure the release of the detained Sudanese prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, signed by Hamdok and Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who seized power in a military coup on 25 October, leaves Sudan in a continuing crisis.
While the agreement satisfies some of the immediate demands of the international community and mediators from the US and UN – not least securing the release of Hamdok and other political detainees – it leaves many of the country’s most serious issues in its political transition unresolved.
At the heart of Sudan’s problems since the fall of its longtime authoritarian ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019 has been the role of the military and security forces, accountability for the crimes committed during Bashir’s rule, and the question of how to build a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement that can incorporate the demands of the country’s rebel movements.
While the arrangement following the ousting of Bashir removed him from the scene, it also fudged many of those issues, leaving the military in a dominant position, not least at the head of the transitional sovereign council.
A major driver of the current and extended crisis in recent weeks and months has been the post-Bashir transitional timetable, which should have seen civilians take the driving seat on the sovereign council, and led to concerns in senior military circles that their long-lasting political and economic interests would be undermined.
Worse still was the military’s anxiety that senior figures – Burhan included – might be held responsible for the killings of protesters that occurred in 2019 at the end of Bashir’s time in power, and other crimes committed during the Bashir period.
Sunday’s deal appears to answer few of those issues. It reaffirms the constitutional arrangement and 2020 Juba peace agreement, initially signed with a number (but not all) of the country’s warring groups, leaving a route to a democratic transition still unclear.
While Hamdok has agreed to an arrangement that satisfies the military in one respect – delivering a less fractious and more compliant technocratic cabinet with himself at its head – it will leave many in the pro-democracy camp, who want the military to retreat from politics entirely, highly suspicious of the generals’ future ambitions.
For all sides it remains a highly risky undertaking. For the military it suggests that their position is perhaps not as strong as they would have liked to suggest, not least in the face of continuing protests, even with their use of deadly force.
On the civilian side, Hamdok’s agreement to the new interim arrangement has the potential to undermine the already fractious camp.
The main civilian bloc that spearheaded the anti-Bashir protests and signed a 2019 powersharing deal with the military was swift to reject Sunday’s agreement, and protests against the deal continued in a number of cities.
“We affirm our clear and previously declared position that there is no negotiation, no partnership, no legitimacy for the coup,” the mainstream faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change coalition said in a statement.
With little clarity and all sides still jostling for advantage, there seems little prospect that Sudan’s problems are over.