But the question still remains: Will the agreement fulfill the democratic promises of the Sudan uprising, especially if the military retains control?
The Sudanese military and the country’s civilian opposition leaders have reached a preliminary power-sharing deal. It’s the first step toward a resolution after President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a coup in April after months of protests — but a lot of uncertainty remains about the future of political power in Sudan.
The preliminary deal, which was reached Friday, would put Sudan under the control of a joint sovereign council, with power shifting between military and civilian leadership over about three years.
The authority will be led by a military leader for the first 21 months, and then a civilian leader would take over for 18 months. After that, the country would hold democratic elections. The sovereign council will consist of five military officials and five civilian leaders, along with one additional civilian, selected and agreed to by both groups.
Talks resumed this week after a month-long standoff between the military and civilian leaders following a June 3 massacre of protesters by Sudan’s security forces, known as the Rapid Support Forces, that left about 100 dead and hundreds more injured. Witnesses also said the forces raped women and robbed protesters during the violence.
An independent investigation on the June 3 crackdown is also included as part of the power-sharing agreement, though there’s little doubt Sudan’s paramilitary carried out the bloody campaign, leading to questions of whether such an inquiry will actually hold the military accountable.
And that’s just one of the many concerns regarding this preliminary deal between the Transitional Military Council — the armed forces controlling Sudan since al-Bashir was deposed — and the Alliance for Freedom and Change, the civilian leadership that’s supposed to be representing the protesters.
There’s a preliminary deal in Sudan. But what comes next?
On Friday, the African Union — which helped mediate negotiations over the past two days— said the Transitional Military Council and the Alliance for Freedom and Change had reached a “consensual and balanced peace agreement towards a democratic transition and civilian rule in Sudan.”
Some in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, cheered the deal — but that jubilation might prove short-lived, as there’s still a lot of skepticism about the agreement that keeps elements of the Transitional Military Council in power.
Niemat Ahmadi, a survivor of the genocide in Darfur and president of Darfur Women Action Group, an advocacy organization in Washington, DC, told me that “giving the military a lead in the first interim period is the most dangerous” part, one that has her and other activists extremely worried.
“There’s no guarantee by the end of the three years that they will surrender the power completely to civilians,” Ahmadi said.
Ahmadi added that the decision to let the military remain in charge feels like a betrayal of the goals of the protest movement, which had advocated democracy and civilian rule.
Those who negotiated the agreement said they believed in the deal, despite some of those concerns. “It is a difficult path, but we’ve tried to convince our people that it’s a success, and we think that it will pave the way to an end of any military rule in Sudan,” Siddig Yousif, one of the main negotiators, told the BBC.
But that will probably do little to assure many in Sudan. Ahmadi told me that, in a “country torn apart by the military, there will not be trust between the people and the government.”
The person who perhaps best represents this is Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — known as “Hemeti” — who is deputy head of the Transitional Military Council. Hemeti is accused of human rights atrocities in Darfur, and he’s the head of the Rapid Support Forces, the paramilitary group responsible for the violent crackdown against protesters on June 3.
As the Washington Post points out, the agreement doesn’t appear to keep him out of power. Hemeti himself said Friday that “this agreement will be comprehensive and will not exclude anyone.”
There are also concerns about representation in this new transitional government, specifically whether women and marginalized groups, particularly in those regions scarred by conflict, including Darfur — where the Sudanese government carried out a genocide in the 2000s — will be represented in government.
“We are the ones bearing the brunt of the violence, facing sexual harassment and rape, to organize and propel the movement on the street level,” Tahani Abbas, co-founder of the No to Women’s Oppression group who joined the protests, told Channel 4’s Yousra Elbagir. “Why then exclude us when it comes to decision-making?”
These disagreements and the dissatisfaction among civilian groups risk fracturing the protest movement that’s been largely led by middle-class professionals and students, particularly in the capital of Khartoum. That distrust is dangerous — and fomenting it was the “prime method” of the al-Bashir regime, Eric Reeves, a Sudan expert, told me.
“Divide and conquer, divide and conquer, that is how they work,” Reeves said. “This junta may have a new name, it may be called the Transitional Military Council, but it is in its methods, and its ruthlessness, and its capability of violence, it’s every bit as nasty as the al-Bashir regime.”
Another complicating factor to this deal: The internet is still mostly blacked out in Sudan, allowing the state-run media to control the narrative and making it hard to gauge reaction to the agreement. That’s a troubling sign if this is to be a transparent and accountable transitional government.
Freedom, peace, and justice were both the chants and the goals of the Sudan uprising. Doubts persist on whether those aims have been achieved by this deal. Many remain wary that the Sudanese government will commit to its promise to honor civilian leadership — and instead use this agreement to weaken the opposition and consolidate power. A deal in name only, in other words.
“This is not the best agreement possible,” Ahmadi said. “There can always be a better agreement because the people of Sudan have paid the highest price for change.”
“This is not change,” she added. “This is just the status quo.”
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