A “last chance agreement” between the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Sudanese Sovereign Council chaired by General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan is within reach in Sudan although some issues remain pending, Sudanese news outlets said this week.
On 16 November, sources from both sides told the local and international media that a framework agreement was “immanent” as a first step to ending the protracted political crisis triggered by the coup in Sudan last year.
In October 2021, the Sudanese armed forces seized control of the government and dismissed the transitional government headed by Abdallah Hamdok, ending the civilian-military power-sharing agreement that had lasted since 2019. The coup triggered massive protest demonstrations demanding that the army return to barracks and civilians be returned to power.
In a rare trip abroad by a Sudanese leader since the 1980s, Al-Burhan, in his capacity as head of state, attended the funeral of UK Queen Elizabeth II in London and the UN General Assembly in New York in September. From the podium of the latter, he announced that he did not intend to run for president and that the army in Sudan had no desire to engage in politics.
In September, the Sudanese Bar Association’s Steering Committee submitted a draft transitional constitution to the tripartite mechanism of the UN, the African Union, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The armed forces presented its observations on the document, especially with regard to articles allowing the army to name its leaders and restructure its economic activities, a process that many opposition forces believe should be under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance.
According to unnamed sources cited by local media, the FFC and the Sovereignty Council have reached an understanding whereby senior officers will be immune to prosecution. However, more extensive talks will discuss the questions of judicial immunity and interim justice in greater details. The FFC has so far not responded to requests for comment. The main issues under discussion in the talks are interim justice, restructuring the military and security establishments, revising the Juba Agreement and dismantling the former regime.
Talk of exempting senior army leaders from prosecution has stirred an outcry among many members of the neighbourhood committees, the small grassroots networks that organised civil disobedience campaigns against the regime of former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir and played a key role in the revolution. Many observers doubt that the FFC leaders can finalise an agreement without the support of these committees.
Al-Bashir’s Islamist supporters, who are affiliated with the Sudanese chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, have also staged demonstrations protesting that they have not been included in the talks. However, the Popular Congress Party, which is ideologically affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Unionist Party did take part in the negotiations, according to news reports from Khartoum. Both parties were represented in the cabinet in the final years of the Al-Bashir era.
Following the Islamists’ demonstration, Al-Burhan warned against attempts to dismantle or infiltrate the army. “We will not allow anyone to undermine the armed forces. We will not allow anyone to dismantle or meddle in them. We have cautioned the Islamists against any attempts to intervene in the army and divide it,” he said.
“Muslim Brotherhood members make up no small percentage of the officers in the Sudanese army,” said Fayez Al-Sulaik, a former media adviser to Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok. “Still the non-Muslim Brotherhood officers are the majority.”
Alluding to the quartet backing the UN-sponsored dialogue in Sudan, namely the US, UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the Al-Bashir regime’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters object to what they call “regional and international interference in Sudanese affairs.”
Many hope that desperately needed international funds will be released for Sudan once an agreement is reached. However, some serious bumps in the road lie ahead. The army insists that the final agreement should extend beyond the FFC and the army to include all Sudanese stakeholders in a broad national consensus.
According to Sulaik, the purpose behind this is to cut the FCC down to size. He said that the Islamist parties that supported the government are small, but the political forces that signed the Juba Agreement (the militias from Darfur, the Blue Nile, and South Kordafan) have formed a front that acts as a counterweight to the FFC.
The neighbourhood committees could also obstruct an agreement. “The committees insist that, at the very least, those guilty of killing demonstrators during the past year must be brought to trial whereas no agreement, regardless of who sponsored it, could include that in its articles to ensure that the army would agree to return to barracks,” Sulaik said.
Other political forces that the army would want included in the process are the country’s Sufi orders, which are very influential in rural central Sudan and are close to the army. Many Sudanese army officers are affiliated with the Sufi orders as an alternative Islamist identity to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The former separatist militias are now closer to the army than to the FFC after signing agreements that led them to merge their forces with the national army.
As Khaled Mahmoud, a journalist specialising in African affairs, put it, “the army has a clear majority behind it in the Sudanese streets. Al-Burhan’s remarks at the UN and his attempts to reach an agreement with the FFC have increased his popularity. In fact, an agreement might become his avenue to becoming Sudan’s leader through general elections monitored by the UN.”
Mahmoud said that in the framework of a national consensus Al-Burhan could be the solution to the search for the strong presidency that Sudan needs. This presidency would be supported by a government of technocrats and a dynamic and diverse parliament.
However, he added that the fear is that hardliners will prevail over the spirit of compromise, “in which case the last chance agreement will be lost.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.