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June 26, 2019

The Sudan crisis


June 26, 2019

Hope for Sudan has quickly dissipated after the transitional military council rejected an Ethiopian plan for a civilian-majority transition government. The Sudanese opposition had accepted the plan in principle. After the failures of the Egyptian and Libyan revolutions and the terrible fate of Syria, there are fears that Sudan could become another Egypt – or worse: another Syria. But the resolve of the Sudanese public has not been shaken by the brutal crackdown led by the Sudanese military on June 3 in Khartoum. Six months of protests in Sudan had toppled dictator Omar al-Bashir. Three weeks ago, it appeared that the Sudanese military had quashed those dreams of democratic change after a spate of rapes and killings. Over 40 bodies were dumped in the Nile. Around 100 people were killed in the spate of military killings. The military announced its own transitional military council, which would rule for two years. This led to protesters camping outside the military headquarters in bold defiance.

There has, however, been increased acceptance that the military will not go out of the picture easily. The Sudanese military had appealed to Ethiopia and the African Union to step in and propose a transition plan. Ethiopia obliged by proposing an interim leadership council with eight civilian appointees and seven military ones. The military could chair the council for the first 18 months, civilians for the next 18 months. The Sudanese opposition accepted, but the military has not. This is by no means an ideal situation. Convincing the Sudanese military to give up its imagined right to rule Sudan will be more difficult that getting rid of Omar al-Bashir.

Egypt, to no surprise, has backed the existing military council. Similarly, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have promised around $3 billion in aid to shore up the Sudanese economy. To the Sudanese protesters, these moves appear like attempts to shore up military rule, despite the fact that keeping authoritarian governments in place is behind much of the civil wars that continue to rage across the Middle East. This explains why the military council feels strong enough to reject the Ethiopian intervention. Protest will continue next week to mark 30 years since the coup that brought Omar al-Bashir into power. Mediation is necessary, but it will need to be with the objective of opening the path to democratic rule in Sudan. The Sudanese people want control of their country, and it seems they will keep fighting until the military junta steps back.

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