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Munzoul Assal

The Arab autocracies blocking Sudan's path to democracy

Sudanese protesters at a demonstration in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman, 3 June 2019 [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 June, 2019

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Comment: Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia are working to entrench a brutal military dictatorship in Sudan, writes Munzoul Assal.
The situation in Sudan is becoming more alarming by the day. This week alone, the bodies of protesters have been exhumed from the Nile, and security forces and the police violently dispersed the months long sit-in, killing over 30 people and injuring hundreds. The death toll is increasing, as many injuries are fatal.

Following these events, the Chairman of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) made a short statement in which he suspended talks with the citizen-led Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), promised to form a transitional government, and pledged to hold elections in the country in nine months.

Since the sit-in was crushed, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) - a feared paramilitary outfit commanded by Hemedti - have unleashed their forces, killing and humiliating people on the streets in Khartoum, while protesters establish roadblocks all over Khartoum. The FFC has rejected the Transitional Military Council’s statement, and called for nationwide civil disobedience.

It's important to stress that the TMC is not an extension of Bashir's regime, and that it has the backing of Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia. So it's no wonder that General Al-Burhan and Hemedti visited these three countries first when they took the reins.

The TMC is the product of these three countries, and some reports show that a former member of the TMC, Galal El-Sheikh who was forced to resign because he was one of the Islamists in the National Intelligence and Security Services, visited Cairo early April to negotiate the fate of Bashir.

Egypt is particularly concerned about the revolutionary developments in Sudan, while the UAE and Saudi Arabia are more wary of the possibility of pulling back the RSF forces they rely on from the battlefield in Yemen. But uniting the trio is their desire to rid Sudan of the Islamists, and they see the TMC as right for the job.

The Sudanese problem is now regionalised, with the interventions of UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia

The situation, however, is a complex one. The FFC's manifesto speaks of dismantling the Islamist structures, and bringing Bashir and his corrupt people to justice. But the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia oppose it, because they, too fear democratic transition in Sudan.

In supporting the TMC, the triumvirate hopes to get rid of the Islamists and block a path to democracy in Sudan. For its part, the TMC wants to hold on to power, but does not have the necessary or required backing.

This is why General Hemedti, who is also deputy chairman of the TMC, reached out to Sudan's traditional leaders for support, potentially able to bribe them with the money he is getting from UAE and Saudi Arabia.

But the TMC is in trouble: To be able to run the country amid calls from the FFC for nationwide civil disobedience, it needs the support of the Islamists who have been embedded in the civil service for 30 years. This is not easy, as some Islamists joined the protests and were part of the successful two-day strike on 27 and 28 May.

The TMC seems to have collaborated in a well-coordinated plan with the three countries, allowing them first to get rid of Bashir on 11 April, and then to get rid of four Islamist TMC members (Galal El-Sheikh, Omer Zainelabdin, Eltayeb Babiker, and Mustafa M. Mustafa).

These members were sacked because they were accused of hampering TMC's efforts to cleanse military and security forces of the Islamists. The TMC has fooled the FFC with sacking these Islamists, and the Rapid Support Forces are to replace the Islamists.

The last steps in the entrenchment of TMC rule, were crushing the sit-in around the military headquarters on 3 June 3rd, rescinding the agreement with the FCC, and calling off negotiations with them.

So now, the Sudanese people have a new monster; a monster that has little to do with the Islamists, but more with Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia.

To be able to run the country amid calls from the FFC for nationwide civil disobedience, the TMC needs the support of the Islamists

This is not the TMC of 11 April, nor the TMC of 2 June. The powerful trio will work to prevent democracy in Sudan, and will support the TMC to ensure this.

The elections announced for in 9 months will not happen unless the TMC can guarantee it will bring them to power, just as President Sisi did in Egypt. Any election that brings a new government means that the TMC will be held accountable for all the killings that took place after 11 April 2019. The FFC know this, and has rightly rejected the call for elections.

Unfortunately for the FFC, the Sudanese problem is now regionalised, with the interventions of UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. However, just as the Sudanese succeeded in ousting Bashir, who ruled the country with blood and fear for 30 years, they will also bring down the TMC.

Read more: African Union suspends Sudan following bloody Eid massacre

For this to happen, however, there is a need for continued peaceful protest. The FFC needs to reach out to all the different groups opposing the TMC, to guarantee a successful civil disobedience. The brutal behaviour of the Rapid Support Forces in Khartoum is unforgivable, and must be stopped. If these killings, beatings and humiliation continue, there is a possibility that the protesters might turn violent.

The FFC and its allies, importantly, need to understand that what we have in the aftermath of 3 June is a new situation that has little or nothing to do with Bashir's regime or simply the Islamists. This is a situation of a ruthless military regime that will do whatever it takes to cling to power; to hide its crimes and escape justice in the future.


Munzoul Assal is Professor of Social Anthropology, and Director of the Peace Research Institute, University of Khartoum.

Follow him on Twitter: @Munzoul

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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