Sudan transition explainer

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Sudan’s ruling military council and an alliance of protest and opposition groups signed a political accord on a three-year transition to elections.

Progress to a final deal is slow and marred by violence, casting doubt on hopes for civilian rule and democracy.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

In December, protests triggered by an economic crisis swept Sudan, demanding an end to Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule.

On April 11 the military toppled and arrested Bashir, announcing the formation of a transitional military council. Protests continued, demanding the transition be civilian-led.

The military council and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) alliance began talks, which stalled over the make-up of a sovereign council to steer the transition.

At dawn on June 3, security forces – led according to witnesses by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – moved to clear a sit-in outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum. Doctors linked to the opposition said 128 people were killed in the raid and ensuing violence. Government confirmed 61 deaths.

Talks collapsed, resuming after weeks under pressure from African-led mediators and massive protests on June 30. Agreement on a power sharing deal was announced on July 5.

WHO ARE THE KEY ACTORS?

The military council has seven members, led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Its most prominent member is his deputy General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the RSF and is widely known as Hemedti.

Both Burhan and Hemedti have close ties to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates due to Sudan’s participation in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The driving force in the FFC is the Sudanese Professionals Association, which rose to prominence co-ordinating protests against Bashir. It has no leader or strict hierarchy. Top members include Mohammad Naji al-Assam and Ahmed al-Rabie.

Prominent constituents of the alliance include the Umma Party led by former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi and three of Sudan’s five rebel groups.

WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?

Both sides still need to sign a constitutional declaration meant to complete the political deal.

That would allow transitional bodies to be formed, including a sovereign council including five officers selected by the military council, five civilians chosen by the FFC and another civilian to be agreed by both sides.

The initial agreement provides for a government of technocrats and an independent investigation into recent violence.

WHAT HAS HELD UP A DEAL?

The deal was meant to be signed days after its announcement, but was thrown into doubt by a demand from the military council for immunity from prosecution.

Blanket immunity is strongly opposed by the protest movement, concerned about guaranteeing an independent investigation with the military in charge.

They continue to hold rallies to honour those killed since protests started in December and call for accountability for their deaths.

Some FFC members rejected the deal, saying it does not fulfil protesters expectations.

Broadly, Sudan’s security forces see themselves as the country’s natural rulers and want to protect their economic interests.

“Their natural tendency is to surrender nothing and to maintain …the last word in all matters of the state – which was essentially the situation under Bashir,” said Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute.

“Changing this arrangement is a formidable task.”

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

Sudan has a recent history of civil conflicts including Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. These could flare if political turmoil continues.

Suffering for Sudanese civilians already subjected to a severe economic crisis could intensify. Of a population of 44 million, more than five million people are in need of assistance and nearly two million displaced, according to the United Nations.

WHAT ARE THE STAKES INTERNATIONALLY?

Sudan is in a volatile region of north-east Africa. Instability could impact on war-torn South Sudan, where a fragile peace deal was signed last September, and on Libya to the north, where fighting escalated.

Wealthy Gulf states have an interest in Sudan because of its agricultural potential and its Red Sea ports. The RSF is contributing troops to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

European powers and Egypt are concerned about potential flows of migrants from Sudan, a transit route to the Mediterranean.