December 7, 2022 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 437

Once Again In Sudan, A Victory Of 'Process' Over 'Results'

December 7, 2022 | By Amb. Alberto M. Fernandez*
Sudan | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 437

On December 5, 2022, a broad panoply of international organizations and diplomatic missions gushed over a new agreement in Sudan between the military and some elements of civil and political society. The new political framework agreement seeks to move beyond the October 25, 2021 overthrow of the previous transitional civilian government and to lead to a new transitional civilian government and democratic elections in the near future.

Members of the Quad and Troika (Norway, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States) "welcomed" the agreement (which they had helped bring about). Their statement included all the usual diplomatic buzzwords about "inclusive dialogue" and calls to support the cumbersome "tripartite mechanism" made up of the UN, African Union, and the East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in seeing the process through to a successful conclusion.[1] Western countries supporting the agreement held out the hope that if things go well, Western assistance suspended since the October 2021 coup could resume.

Among Sudanese, the reaction to the agreement has been, at best, mixed. Former Darfur rebels who signed the Juba Peace Agreement in 2020 (and who endorsed the military coup) expressed their concerns about a possible loss of privileges. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the anti-military coup resistance committees that were a key part of the fall of the Bashir regime and which strongly opposed the 2021 coup (and stood up in the country's streets against the coup) also oppose an agreement they see as enshrining military power and impunity.

Skeptics noted that the military has repeatedly violated agreements with civil society and politicians since 2019, and massacred civilians both before and after the 2021 Sudan coup. Somehow the international community and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) thought that still another deal with the same junta was credible and that this was the best, non-violent, way to get Sudan back on track after the 2021 coup.

On paper, the five-page agreement says all sorts of good things.[2] The state is to guarantee freedom of belief, is impartial when it comes to religion. Sudan is to be a "civil, democratic, federal and parliamentary state." The new two-year transitional authority is to be "a fully democratic, civilian authority" without participation of the military. The military is supposed to be prohibited from "engaging in investment and commercial business." Peace talks are to be held with the two remaining rebel holdouts, Abdel Aziz Helou's SPLM in the Nuba Mountains and Abdul Wahid Nur's SLM in Darfur. Forty percent of the transitional parliament is to be made up of women. There is to be, eventually, one Sudanese Armed Forces, with former rebel groups either incorporated or somehow compensated, with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) also to be integrated into "a single national professional army."

The problem is that Sudan has been awash in political agreements and peace treaties over the past decades that featured similar laundry lists. If everything that had been agreed upon before had actually happened, Sudan would have been a peaceful, democratic, and much more prosperous state years ago. This latest agreement is something like that old Oscar Wilde joke about second marriages, "the triumph of hope over experience."

It is also a victory for "process" over actual results – the eternal curse of political transformation in Sudan. There is going to have to be a tremendous amount of tortuous administrative, political, and diplomatic work on multiple axes of processes, where those working to keep things on track will have to make all sorts of compromises and tradeoffs to try to keep moving forward. It is possible that things can get better. It is also possible that the military caste just secured two additional years where it can blame civilians for poor administration and for the lack of improvement in Sudan's dire economic and social crises. Then two years from now, the generals can once again intervene, as they justified with the October 2021 coup, more in sorrow than in anger, to "save the revolution" from the supposed failures of the civilians.

The challenges will come early, though. Forget about past transgressions or that the new agreement "legalizes" the coup.[3] Will anyone be punished the next time a member of the security services kills a civilian demonstrator in Khartoum? How soon will the army (SAF) give up its ownership of Sudan's largest banks and the RSF surrender its hegemony over the country's gold industry?

As the international statements welcoming the agreement indicate, the international community intends to play an important role in the implementation process. But many of the countries involved have their own national agendas. The U.S., which refrained from sanctioning the Sudanese military after the coup, has a range of bilateral concerns from counterterrorism to limiting Russian influence in Sudan. Countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have regional interests and different ties to different parts of the military. It is hard to see any of these states sacrificing their own interests if the spirit and letter of the agreement start to go, at first just a little bit and then more and more, awry.

Speculation is that Yassir Arman, the veteran former SPLM official and a controversial figure, could have a key position in the new civilian government. Arman, a former communist and follower of the late John Garang, is despised by Sudan's Islamists. He is a capable political player who has been a senior government advisor twice but has very little experience in actual government administration.[4]

While the process gets under way, one very real result has now already come to pass. The agreement has fatefully divided the opposition between those who think this is a terrible agreement which enshrines military rule and those who think it is an effort worth making and the best Sudan could hope for at the current juncture. The military component is also somewhat divided between rival generals and armies –Al-Burhan's SAF and Hemedti's RSF – but both have for now endorsed the agreement as they maneuver for ultimate power later.[5] Hemedti openly (and correctly) admits that the 2021 coup was a mistake – a view that intentionally needles Al-Burhan, who carried it out.[6]

As in previous crises, those with power in Sudan today are counting on there being somewhat less pressure on them from now on and more focus on likely hapless civilians and their missteps. They are counting as well on the limited attention span of an international community careworn by multiple crises that thinks that that they have done about as well as can be expected when it comes to turbulent Sudan.

*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.


[1], December 5, 2022.

[2], December 5, 2022.

[3], December 1, 2022.

[4], July 25, 2021

[5], December 5, 2022.

[6], December 5, 2022.

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