Country-wide protests planned in Sudan on Thursday against prime minister’s capitulation to army chief 

Critics claim that the agreement has not alleviated the level of repression or laid the foundation of any framework in which a transition to democracy can be realized. It only amounts to prime minister Abdalla Hamdok’s complete capitulation to the army generals, they say

November 24, 2021 by Pavan Kulkarni
Protests on the streets of Sudan on November 17. Photo: Mosaab Hassouna/Dabanga

Mobilizations are once again underway for country-wide protests and rallies in Sudan on Thursday, November 25. Political turmoil in the country shows no signs of de-escalation since the reinstatement of prime minister Abdalla Hamdok on November 21, almost a month after the military coup on October 25. 

His reinstatement was based on an agreement reached between him and army-chief and coup-leader Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al Burhan to reconstitute the government and amend the Constitutional Document to the army’s satisfaction. 

The developments have provoked anger amongst protesters who took to the streets in tens of thousands in towns and cities on Sunday, raising slogans against the agreement which has been deemed a betrayal of the December Revolution’s struggle for a democratic Sudan. 

“Hamdok says he made these compromises to stop the killings. How does one do that? By partnering with the killers?” asked Osama Saeed, a protester who is a member of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP). 

Over 40 people have been killed in the protests in Khartoum alone since the coup. Saeed told Peoples Dispatch that “the casualties in less than a month since the coup have exceeded deaths and injuries in the first four months of the December Revolution,” which ousted former dictator Omar al Bashir in 2019.  

The army, he said, has shown no moderation in the use of force against protesters even after the agreement between Burhan and Hamdok. While the two have committed in the agreement to investigate these killings and injuries, “the army continues to use snipers to kill protesters and to lay siege to hospitals to prevent the injured from receiving medical treatment,” Saeed said. Reports also indicate that security forces have been breaking into homes and abducting people who are taken to undisclosed locations.        

“PM Hamdok’s capitulation to the army”

According to Saeed, the agreement has neither alleviated the level of repression nor laid the foundation of any framework in which a transition to democracy can be realized. The agreement only amounts to Hamdok’s complete capitulation to the army generals, he maintained.

The opening lines of the agreement state that “[c]ognizant of the dangers” posed to national security and stability due to power struggles between political parties, “certain procedures and decisions are taken by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces on October 25th 2021.”

By signing this agreement, Hamdok has in effect denied that there was a coup on October 25. He has accepted the military’s position that political parties were the threat to the completion of the transition to democracy – a threat that had to be neutralized by the army with “certain procedures and decisions.”  

Hamdok and Burhan have agreed that the cabinet which had members representing center and right-wing parties in the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition will be replaced with a new one composed of “national independent competencies (technocrats)” – independent of political parties. 

Army chief’s plot to bring Islamists back into power?

The 14-point agreement which eliminates the influence of political parties on the cabinet also “reiterate(s) the importance of amending the Constitutional Document to achieve and ensure comprehensive political participation to all community components, excluding the dissolved [National] Congress Party.”

The National Congress Party (NCP) – the Islamist party led by Bashir – was the only party constitutionally excluded from participation in the transitional government. According to Saeed, Burhan wants to ensure the exclusion of all other political parties while members of the NCP are brought back in the new cabinet as ‘technocrats.’

This is also evident from other points in the agreement, including the restructuring of the Empowerment Dismantling Committee which was tasked with removing all remnants of the NCP from state structures. The committee was to also seize the properties accumulated by NCP members through corruption over the nearly three-decade-long dictatorship under Bashir. 

In the very first of the 14-points, the agreement states that “special consideration should be given to the status of Eastern Sudan.” Here, powerful tribal leaders known to be part of the NCP have been staging agitations, reportedly with the connivance of the security forces, demanding the dissolution of this committee and the removal of references to the FFC in the Constitutional Document.

The FFC was originally formed in December 2018 as a broad coalition of political parties and grassroots organizations to represent the pro-democracy protest movement. However, the left-wing forces that had driven the December Revolution quit this coalition after the centrist and right-wing political parties signed a power-sharing agreement (Constitutional Document) with the military and formed a joint transitional government in August 2019. 

This government was dissolved after the recent military coup. The new government will be formed on the basis of an amended version of the Constitutional Document in which all references to the FFC, like granting it 66% reservation in the Legislative Council, whose formation was derailed, is likely to be removed.

The FFC, which had chosen Hamdok as the PM and was calling for the restoration of the transitional government even as the majority of protesters were demanding a full civilian government in its place, has rejected the agreement. The coalition has come to reiterate the slogans of the left which have now become the mass-line: “No negotiation, No compromise, No Partnership with the military.” 

However, Saeed maintained that “this is only their public posture. Under the table, they are trying to calm the streets down, calling on people to give Hamdok another chance. But I am sure they will not succeed. The compromises they had made with the military, derailing the December Revolution, now stands exposed before the masses. People will not listen to these parties anymore.”

Political general strike

The SCP has called for intensification of the civil disobedience and political strike to a stage that can be described as a ‘political general strike’. The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a trade union coalition which led the actions leading to Bashir’s ouster, and the neighborhood Resistance Committees that formed the backbone of December Revolution have aligned their line of action with the SCP. 

Since the coup, the strike has effectively paralyzed all sectors of the government except the security forces “which are now the only functioning body in the state,” said Saeed. He claimed that the strike was a spontaneous reaction and going forward, the key task of the revolutionary forces is to improve the level and sophistication of organization to be able to sustain the strike and escalate it to the point where the military junta can be brought down.

The challenges in continuing the strike are enormous. A severe shortage of food, medicines and electricity is taking its toll. However, Saeed argued, the Sudanese people are willing to face these challenges because it has become clear that the deep-rooted crisis in the country cannot be addressed without first defeating the junta and subjugating the military which owns and controls most of the economy to civilian authority. 

Understanding the US position

Disregarding the anger on the streets against the agreement reinstating Hamdok, US secretary of state Antony Blinken welcomed it as an “important first step.” Should the US “continue to see progress” in the direction of forming a new government as agreed by Hamdok and Burhan, the USD 700 million aid suspended after the coup will be resumed.

“It comes as no surprise,” Saeed said. Regardless of the public statement criticizing the coup, “the US wants an arrangement where the military retains an upper hand. Sudan’s military is a crucial American ally, and a part of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM).” Restraining the military from participating in such alliances which serve the interests of the US and not the Sudanese people is one of the fundamental goals of the December Revolution. Naturally, Saeed comments, the US does not want the Revolution to succeed.   

The UN, European Union (EU), Canada, African Union (AU), and the Arab League comprising 22 states including Sudan, have also welcomed the agreement. But this has not demoralized the pro-democracy movement in Sudan, Saeed maintained.

“It was clear to the masses from the beginning of the December Revolution in 2018 that our struggle does not have the sympathy of international agencies, the media and governments of Western or other African countries. But the people and people’s movements across the world are standing in solidarity with the Sudanese people who will continue to fight on.”