Sudan Military and Pro-Democracy Coalition Sign Peace Deal

NAIROBI, Kenya — Sudan’s military and a coalition of civilian pro-democracy parties signed a preliminary agreement on Monday to end the political deadlock that has paralyzed the nation since a military coup last year derailed its transition to democratic rule.

The deal signed in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, after months of intense negotiations, would put in place a transitional civilian government and lead to the creation of a new Constitution, although enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that previous power-sharing deals have fallen apart.

The two-part agreement was brokered by members of the international community including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Nations and the United States, but it is unlikely to satisfy protesters and some major political forces, many of whom have rejected efforts to negotiate or share power with the military, analysts say.

It was also unlikely to swiftly ease the multitude of economic, social and security concerns that have plagued the northeast African nation, which faced increasing international isolation as the military tightened its hold on power and responded to protests with repeated violence.

On Friday, the Forces of Freedom and Change, the civilian coalition that had ruled the country with the military until the coup in October last year, said it had reached an agreement that would put the country back on the path of democracy. In anticipation of the deal, the authorities on Sunday released Wagdi Salah, a prominent politician and an anti-corruption figure who was detained earlier this year.

The deal aims to establish a new, two-year transitional civilian authority that will be led by a prime minister who will be selected by the “forces of the revolution” who endorsed the deal.

It also limits the military’s role in politics and investment, promises to create “one national professional army” and notes that the military will be part of a security and defense council led by the prime minister.

The second part of the agreement, without providing a timeline, attempts to engage the wider public in addressing even thornier issues related to transitional justice, reforming the security and military organs, along with reviewing the components of a major peace agreement signed in 2020 that called for an alliance of rebel factions in the restive western region of Darfur lay down their weapons.

In a statement, the coalition urged the Sudanese people to unite behind the deal in order to create a “sustainable democratic civil transition” that would “lift the suffering from our people and establish a better future shaped by the values of freedom, peace and justice.”

Despite the lofty ambitions of the deal, analysts on Monday said it would run into obstacles, with some questioning whether the military would voluntarily give up power or allow investigations or prosecutions into its previous conduct.

“Sudan has a history of writing really well-intentioned and really well-worded documents, whether they be peace agreements, political settlements or constitutional documents,” Kholood Khair, founding director of Confluence Advisory, a policy think tank in Khartoum, said in a telephone interview.

“The problem has always been how you translate those wonderful words to actual mechanisms and policies.”

After a nationwide uprising ousted Sudan’s longtime dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir in 2019, many Sudanese hoped their country would finally attain democracy and leave behind decades of economic hardship. But those hopes have not been realized, with the nation, one of the largest in Africa, plunging even deeper into multiple crises.

Popular protests have convulsed the country since last year, when the military scuttled a fragile power-sharing agreement with civilians and seized power in the early hours of Oct. 25, 2021. The military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, arrested Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, blocked the internet and imposed a state of emergency just hours after assuring American officials that it would not imperil the democratic transition.

Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, leader of Sudan’s military, speaking Monday about the deal in Khartoum.Credit…Ashraf Shazly/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But after a month under house arrest, Mr. Hamdok was reinstated after he signed an agreement with the military to calm tensions in the country. Protesters in the streets rejected that agreement or any compromise with the military, forcing Mr. Hamdok to resign in early January.

“Our country is going through a dangerous turning point that may threaten its entire survival if it is not remedied soon,” Mr. Hamdok warned at the time.

Sudan has not had a civilian prime minister since his departure, and the military has found it difficult to manage the country as donors and international agencies suspended billions of dollars in aid and debt relief.

An estimated 15 million people, or over a third of the population, are facing severe food insecurity, according to the World Food Program. Floods have displaced tens of thousands of people, and the resurgence of large-scale ethnically motivated attacks in Darfur has left hundreds dead.

The streets continue to be gripped by protests as the loosely-connected resistance committees defy the military’s grip on power. At least 116 protesters have been killed since the seizure of power last year, according to a tally kept by activists, with many of them nursing critical wounds or remaining behind bars.

Several resistance committees called on their members to march in the streets on Monday against the signing of the agreement.

“The revolution continues,” Bassam Mohamed, a university student who was attending a protest in the capital Khartoum, said in a text message. Mr. Mohamed, 23, said the resistance committees rejected the deal and will continue protesting until they attain “popular democracy that gives us the right to bread, to health, to education, to work and to housing.”

Rights activists said they were dismayed the first agreement did not give precedence to justice or security reform, particularly given the widespread crackdown on protesters since last year.

This “sends a not-so-good signal about where these issues are set in the pyramid of priorities,” said Mohamed Osman, the Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Once again, all actors show they prefer walking on the path of political expediency.”

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