by DR. ABDELLATIF EL-MENAWY
After a period of push and pull, Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) on Saturday signed the constitutional and political declaration for the transitional period amidst a celebration called “The Joy of Sudan.” This was a long-awaited move, which some thought unlikely to occur due to some deep differences between the ruling military junta and the civilian alliance, as well as the recent bloody events in the country, most notably the killing of demonstrators — including students — in the city of El-Obeid. Members of the highly influential Sudanese Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were involved in these killings.
During a ceremony in a hall overlooking the Nile in Khartoum, the leaders of the TMC and the FFC signed the agreement, which defined a 39-month transitional rule that will end with elections.
The Sudanese people took to the streets to celebrate the signing of this agreement — an event attended by Arab and African dignitaries, who were witnesses to the agreement’s items and the long-awaited democratic transformation in a country that has long suffered from the domination of a single power.
Despite the festive atmosphere that accompanied the signing ceremony, and despite everyone counting on this agreement to end the crisis plaguing the country, the boycotting of key components, such as the Sudan Revolutionary Front and the Communist Party, overshadowed the event and raised questions as to how to reach a consensus with the armed movements. The Sudanese Communist Party highlighted that the declaration perpetuates military domination, while the Sudan Revolutionary Front, which comprises a number of armed movements in several regions, announced its rejection of the constitutional declaration document because it puts “obstacles to the implementation of any peace agreement,” and complained that it was excluded from the talks in the first place.
These differences within the coalition of Sudanese opposition forces are an indication that it will be difficult to maintain a united front. There are also some who are still skeptical and fear that the constitutional declaration is just words on paper and that democratization will be hindered by many obstacles. Questions remain about the fate of the thorny files, including the structure and system of the state, integrating armed movements into the army, and the economic conditions.
There are some who fear that democratization will be hindered by many obstacles.
The signed constitutional declaration should pave the way for a civilian government and a transitional parliament in Sudan. The declaration addresses the three governance structures, the first of which is the Cabinet. Opposition icon and economist Abdullah Hamdok is one of those nominated to head the Cabinet during the coming period. The second structure is the Sovereign Council, which will comprise five civilian representatives and five military personnel, with Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan expected to head it. The third structure is the Legislative Council, which includes 300 members, with 67 percent of its seats allocated to the FFC.
Hamdok is expected to focus his efforts on reforming the economy, which has been in crisis since the oil-rich south seceded in 2011. The living situation subsequently sparked the protests against Omar Al-Bashir’s rule.
However, there still are significant differences — even within the revolutionary alliance itself — on the RSF, which has considerable influence on the ground in Sudan. The constitutional declaration addresses the RSF issue in the chapter on statutory bodies. It says: “The armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces are a national military that protects the unity and sovereignty of the homeland under the commander-in-chief and the sovereign authority.” But what will the scope of the RSF’s influence be on the Sudanese street? This is what the opposition fears.
Some observers also believe the document has ignored other fundamental issues and leaves many questions unanswered about the mechanism of implementation. Among these is that the declaration places the Sudanese intelligence service, which was renamed last month to the General Intelligence Service, under the authority of the Sovereign Council and the executive authorities, but analysts have highlighted that the declaration does not specify a mechanism for sharing responsibilities. This body, formerly known as the National Intelligence and Security Service, was used by former President Bashir to crush the opposition and repress demonstrations against him. I believe that, if these concerns are not addressed, Khartoum will be led into other crises. However, I am not skeptical that everyone will do their best to survive the dangerous stage.
Past experiences, whether inside or outside of Sudan, are not reassuring, but there are advantages that I believe have been achieved through the signing of the agreement. It is expected to defuse the crisis during the coming period and even until free and democratic elections are held.
The first advantage is that the state of authoritarian and societal confusion in Sudan has ended. During the recent period, Khartoum was troubled by the conflict between the military and the opposition, which could have led to catastrophe. The second advantage is that Sudan has avoided the fate of the revolutions in some other Arab countries, like Syria and Libya, which turned into armed conflicts. In fact, Syria and Libya became hotspots attracting armed Islamist organizations, requiring Western intervention, heavy fighting and billions in funds.
Another advantage is the considerable Arab and international presence at the signing ceremony. This indicates the world’s great support for the agreement and the nature of the transitional period in Sudan. Many world powers participated in the formation of this transitional period, but Ethiopia had the greatest and most important involvement.
I hope that “The Joy of Sudan” marks the beginning of a period of stability in this brotherly Arab country, which has suffered many crises. These are wishes I hope will come true because this problem-ridden nation cannot bear another revolution after having reached a point described by the opposition forces as “final.”