The political situation in Sudan since the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir has gradually become more readable and less unpredictable. In the last few weeks, the main stakeholders came to the forefront of the political stage, asserting their objectives and hinting about their political strategies through their tactics and demands. The main parties – the Transitional Military Council (TMC) on the one hand and the Forces of Declaration of Freedom and Change (FDFC) on the other – have consolidated their positions and reached a seemingly enduring stand-off in negotiations last week. With due cautiousness and given the stalemate, a few considerations can be made on future political developments. In particular, three scenarios can be foreseen: revolution, counterrevolution, power-sharing transition.
First, the revolution scenario. So far, political changes in Sudan are being discussed under the lens of a “revolution”. The ouster of a three-decade ruling dictator and his closest political allies after 4 months of nationwide calls for democratic change fully justifies the use of the term. The strong participation of women and young people in the revolution gives the Sudanese uprising genuineness and inclusiveness. However, political events suggest that the ouster of Bashir and his entourage, as well as initial political concessions, would not have been possible without the military’s consent and action. The opposition, spearheaded by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), in spite of its uncompromising attitude and staunch defense of the revolution, is well aware of the essential support provided by the military in accomplishing it. It is not by chance that the opposition decided to organize the sit-in in front of army headquarters: protesters sided with the institution that could better serve their interests. This is why a democratic revolution led by a full-fledged civilian transitional government, even if desirable and staunchly urged by the FDFC along with a few external actors, will hardly be immune to military oversight and supervision.
Alongside cheerful enthusiasm about the prospects of a democratic revolution (though militarily backed), fears and suspicions of a counterrevolution by the regime are widespread among political and civil oppositions. Despite consistent reshuffling within the old establishment and the TMC (the latter recently dismissed from power three leaders of the former regime close to the Islamist movement), mutual trust and credibility between parties is yet to be assured. The ad interim Vice-President and Deputy of the TMC, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemeti, is one of the most controversial TMC leaders, criticized by the opposition for his role as commander of the janjaweed militias (the Rapid Support Forces) and former involvement in the conflict in Darfur. At the same time, he is enjoying independent political influence as he is not affiliated with the military. Sudanese history shows how weak democratic winds in 1964 and in 1985 were easily reversed by the military, which clung to power after the coup, suffocating the transition. More recent authoritarian drifts in Egypt since 2013 after the Arab Spring add suspicion about the genuine intentions of the military in the context of a deeply rooted regime, leading part of the opposition to see military concessions as a well-orchestrated and artificial change. Moreover, regional powers who have strong economic and political interests in Sudan such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, have not welcomed the democratic “chaos” in the country and hastened to acknowledge and generously finance the TMC to maintain the status quo.
However, it seems unlikely that the regime will fully shield itself from democratic winds this time. Fifty-two years of mismanagement have seriously undermined the miltary’s credibility in Sudan and beyond, with the lower echelons of the army backing the “revolution” from its very inception. Even within the African Union, the emerging political line is to call for a gradual hand-over to civilian rule within a definite timeframe. Furthermore, this time the bargaining power of democratic opposition is stronger than ever before (and not significantly weaker than the TMC’s). The FDFC have been surprisingly steadfast in their demands for a civilian-led transition and managed to decentralize protests and consensus among political parties and civil organizations. Nevertheless, the threat of a counterrevolution may materialize if the FDFC fails to elaborate a national plan soon. Political principles and declarations, such as the Declaration for Freedom and Change, are not enough to provide a viable civilian-led transition if they are not followed by transitional legal principles and policy guidelines drafted by the FDFC through a participatory dialogue among all parties. The ability of the FDFC to build and maintain cohesiveness will largely determine how political developments will unfold.
The last scenario is power-sharing transition. Assuming that the TMC and the FDFC have a similar weight in negotiations and that an agreement (compromise) legitimated by both parties is the only way to overcome the deadlock and pave the way to peaceful transition, a joint administration until future elections are held is just as likely (if not more) to happen as a revolution or a counterrevolution. Delays in sealing a deal between the parties are fueling an already dire economic situation, which calls for urgent expansive policies to inject liquidity and revive economic productivity and exports, rather than for foreign assistance from Sudan’s Gulf allies. Even if concrete measures have yet to be implemented, the joint military-civilian committee that was recently established is a first step in this direction. The fact provoking the stand-off in negotiations is that both parties claimed the majority of representatives within the committee, proving their consolidated bargaining power, which mainly relies on the control of resources (the TMC) and popular consensus (the FDFC). A shared rule of the transitional (presidential) council, providing both political stability and governance expertise may be a possible and desirable outcome as long as an independent figure is appointed to lead the transition.
A transitional deal based on power-sharing and consultation between the military and civilian elites, including greater inclusion for all ethnic groups and non-repudiation of religious movements, could be more suitable to implementing a swift transition in Sudan. Protesters are first and foremost calling for the enforcement of people’s rights and for broader ethnic representation and empowerment, rather than for a Western style democracy bringing an outright multi-party system and equal rights for all. Normalizing the revolution through the inclusion of a civilian authority in the transition and the acceptance by the SPA of military participation will in turn enlarge the scope for democratic evolution, as long as the leaders of the FDFC prove to be fit for the job and as forward looking in the cabinet as they have been in the sit-in.