Sudan in Crisis: What is going on?

BY HANNA BAJWA

Protests in Central London on October 30th, 2021 in support of Sudan, showing solidarity with striking workers.


In late October, pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets to resist the military takeover in Sudan, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Demonstrators used strikes, mass demonstrations, and protests to signify their support for a civilian-led government. Residents in the capital, Khartoum, and other towns have taken to the streets, culminating in coordinated country-wide demonstrations numbering hundreds of thousands on October 30th. Simultaneously, workers were on strike, which paralysed the Sudanese economy. Dreadful as it has been, with nationwide restricted internet access, the arrest of civilians, and the death of 20 protesters, the military’s response has been less violent than in June 2019, when soldiers killed at least 120 protesters and injured hundreds.


Recently, on November 21st, Adballa Hamdok, the Sudanese Prime Minister, signed an agreement to re-join the government to prevent further unrest, yet many are demanding a purely civilian-led transition. General al-Burhan continues to portray a peaceful transition to the international community, despite the military reserving the right to seize power whenever it feels threatened.


So what has led to the crisis in Sudan?


Back in 2019, the Sudanese military joined forces with the pro-democracy movement to overthrow Sudan’s authoritarian president, Omar al-Bashir – one of Africa’s longest ruling leaders. Bashir was toppled by the military, but mass street demonstrations demanding civilian rule forced the military to negotiate a plan aimed at moving towards democratic governing, with elections in 2023. However, differences between the military and civilian leaders led to various problems. The military leaders sought to maintain their immunity for past crimes and exclusive access to economic opportunities, as they would have nothing to gain by allowing the citizens to have their election if they did not have any control.


How has the international community reacted, especially powers in the Middle East?

On the one hand, the United States and other Western powers released a statement ‘welcoming’ Hamdok’s reinstatement, but this is a premature response. International powers insisted the peace within Sudan should be reinstated by releasing political detainees, as well as targeted sanctions aimed at individuals most involved with the current crisis. These international powers also reiterated the economic relief Sudan could gain if they have a credible and genuinely democratic government. The World Bank and the United States froze aid funds to add pressure to the continuing economic crisis, causing inflation to reach 360%, which seemingly worked due to the current deal being agreed upon.


On the other hand, some countries have seen they can benefit from Sudan’s current situation. Russia, for example, is seeking naval access to Port Sudan, which the civilian leadership in Sudan has been less eager towards than the military has. Egypt’s government has proven to be sympathetic towards General al-Burhan’s military dominance and have shown their support for the coup, considering it a necessity for Sudan’s stability. Despite sharing similarities with Egypt’s governance, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have signed agreements urging Sudanese military leaders to find an agreement. And their requests were met on November 21st, when Hamdok signed an agreement to restore the civilian element of the transitional government, paving the way for elections in 2023. These international powers also reiterated the economic relief Sudan could gain if they have a credible and genuinely democratic government.


Despite the agreement, the coup is seen as a dangerous power grab that could open the door to worsening deadlock and violence, however, the military continues to believe it has little incentive to relinquish control. While the generals hope to win eventual public acceptance, through such actions as slashing commodity prices, they are likely to face considerable opposition on the street for now.


So, what should happen next?


Primarily, the military should take steps to de-escalate tensions by pulling soldiers back into the barracks; release all those detained since the coup, and restore telephone and internet service. On the other side, the government should commit to keep seeking a consensus on contentious issues that widened the gap between the civilian and military wings of the ousted transitional government. Priority issues to be dealt with include reform of the economy, the woes of which triggered the street protests that led to Bashir’s removal.


Image: Flickr (Steve Eason)