By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
This week, the military in Sudan orchestrated a coup d’état and arrested the Prime Minister and cabinet members. This halted the two-year-long attempt to establish a democracy in Sudan. After the ousting by the military of the dictator Omar Al-Bashir, it seemed civil society organizations would work together with the military to establish a democratic system. The U.S. and European forces attempted to advance this agenda but it seems this endeavor has failed.
The army seized power on Oct. 25 and stormed the TV station, arrested the Prime Minister and Cabinet members, and stationed soldiers in key areas around the capital. International phone lines and internet access were cut, and Sudan’s top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, made a televised speech where he explained there was a need to take over since the civilian government was “threatening peace and unity.”
Alarmed world leaders were quick to condemn the developments in Sudan. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told a White House briefing the actions of the Sudanese military were “utterly unacceptable” and a “significant and alarming setback” for Sudan. Similar reactions came from the United Nations Secretary General and the European Union.
On a more practical note, the U.S. and other countries subsequently suspended the contribution they promised after the takedown of dictator Umar Al-Bashir. Sullivan added, “to make sure that we’re closely coordinating and sending a clear message to the military in Sudan that they should … cease any violence against innocent civilians, that they should release those who have been detained, and they should get back on a democratic path.”
He continued, “We will look at the full range of economic tools available to us, in coordination and consultation with regional actors and other key countries, to make sure that we are trying to push the entire Sudanese political process back in a positive direction”.
After the military took over Sudan in 2018 and arrested the dictator Bashir, it seemed like the country was on a path to democratic election – and the U.S. and EU were willing to send financial aid to help Sudan recover from years of international sanctions that were in force after the atrocities committed by the Bashir regime.
Reactions in Sudan
In Sudan, civilians soon took to the streets to protest the coup d’état. Reuters reported that “Youths opposed to the coup barricaded streets and clashed with troops. The main opposition coalition, Forces of Freedom and Change, which pushed for Bashir’s removal and negotiated the military-civilian council, said on Twitter it was calling for peaceful actions in the streets to overthrow the military takeover, including demonstrations, the blocking of streets and civil disobedience.”
The Sudan information ministry, which is still loyal to ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, issued statements on its Facebook page. It affirmed that the transitional constitution does not give the military the authority to declare a state of emergency and suspend some of the constitutional protections. According to the statement, the constitution gives only the prime minister such authority and characterizes the military’s actions as criminal and illegal. Hamdok is still the legitimate transitional authority.
On Oct. 27, the general has said he is keeping toppled Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok at his own house. Hamdok, who is a U.S.-educated economist, is still popular even though he is facing a significant economic crisis.
What Will Happen Next?
The U.S. will have the opportunity to put the Sudanese generals to the test. The aid that was promised to Sudan brought about some declarations. Sudan joined the U.S.-sponsored Abraham Accords with Israel and other countries. After low-key official visits of Israeli officials to Khartoum, and a military delegation from Sudan in Israel, there were supposed to be more public events including photo opportunities perhaps in Washington D.C.
However, those public events now seem unlikely after the coup d’état. More likely, the sanctions that were in place during the reign of Umar Al-Bashir will be reinstituted – causing the dire economic situation in Sudan to become even worse. We should all remember that before the revolution in 2018, Sudan was a hotbed for terrorism. Umar Al-Bashir hosted Al-Qaeda and Usama Bin-Laden for years, and Sudan served as a stop in the weapons caravans sent by Iran to its allies, mainly Hizballah. There is a potential that the military will revert back to this policy if the sanctions are restarted. This will be bad for everyone involved.
It seems the military has no strategy to deal with the new reality. This was not planned thoroughly, and the hope is that the military will realize that and roll back the takeover. If not, things might deteriorate soon. Hopefully the leaders of the coup d’état remember that their former boss Umar Al-Bashir is awaiting trial for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court (I.C.C) and that will serve as motivation to solve the issue.
The U.S. and the European Union should also facilitate the release of the Prime Minister and help reinstate the civilian-military power-sharing agreement. Increasing and hastening the transfer of the monies to Sudan and alleviating the economic crisis offers ample reasons to believe that the political turmoil will subside. It is the interest of everyone to see Sudan return to the path it has been on since 2018: a slow move toward democracy.