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Sudan's opposition divided with political deal on transition imminent

Sudanese opposition torn between not negotiating with military leadership and compromising on the road to hoped for transition
A Sudanese anti-coup protester waves a national flag as people take to the streets of the capital's northern district of Khartoum-Bahri, on 17 September 2022 (AFP)
By Mohammed Amin in Khartoum

Sudanese opposition groups are split over an internationally sponsored proposed political deal between the country’s civilian and military representatives.

The resistance committees, made up of radical pro-democracy protesters and representing the grassroots across Sudan, are deeply divided over the question of whether to support the deal, which is being brokered in part by envoys from the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and is also backed by the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (Unitams).

Resistance committees have been marching under the “three nos” slogan: no negotiation, no compromise and no partnership. 

They accuse the civilian political parties, led by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition, of secretly dealing with the Sudanese military to reach a compromise agreement over the transition from military to civilian-led rule. 

Now some resistance committee members have told Middle East Eye that they should be supporting what they believe is a realistic first step back on the road to civilian government.

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'No negotiation... no compromise'

On 25 October last year, military forces led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan enacted a coup in Sudan, derailing the transition from military to civilian rule that had begun after the ousting of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.

In July this year, with anti-coup protests taking place every week and the country’s economy in freefall, Burhan pledged in a televised speech to step aside and make way for Sudanese factions to agree on a civilian government.

At the time, civilian leaders dismissed the speech as a “ruse” and resistance committees have maintained their rallying cry of “no negotiation, no compromise and no partnership” with the military.

'We want to coordinate to achieve the first step together, then we will definitely have different ideas and visions...'

Resistance committee member 

The FFC, which is supporting international mediation to solve the crisis that has gripped Sudan since the coup, denies any intention to compromise with the military, insisting that they are aiming to bring an end to the coup peacefully.

On Friday night, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia and Burhan’s deputy, announced that Sudan’s generals had agreed to leave the choice of future heads of state and prime ministers to civilian political factions. 

After meeting with Burhan on Thursday, Daglo - commonly known as Hemeti - tweeted on Friday that the military leaders had “renewed our previous commitment for the military institution to exit power and leave the governance to civilian (factions)”. 

However, Hemeti, who is widely accused of historic war crimes in the Darfur region and whose RSF militia has been at the forefront of cracking down on pro-democracy protests, said nothing about when power might be returned to civilians. 

While the FCC and certain other elements of the Sudanese opposition accept the mediation of the international community and are open to negotiating with the army, the more radical, grassroots revolutionary movement - including the resistance committees, the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), the Communist party and others - are for the most part rejecting the deal with the army and refusing to coordinate politically with the FCC.

Caught between the split opposition groups, the lawyers’ syndicate has begun to coordinate with the FCC, international legal aid organisations and others in order to prepare a new constitutional declaration to guide the period of transitional rule that would pave the way for elections.

Splits in the opposition 

The last week has seen splits in the opposition deepen, including within the different resistance committees. 
Some committees have declared that they are seeking to unify the whole of the opposition to the coup - including the political parties - while others are rejecting this idea and sticking to the political roadmap they had put in place to manage the ending of the coup. 

A leading resistance committee member from the Khartoum neighborhood of Aldaim said they were aiming to unify all the forces that stand against the coup.

“We are aiming for the unification of the entire forces that are against the military coup and want full civilian rule in order to achieve the first step of retrieving the transitional path to democracy,” the member, who wished to remain anonymous, told Middle East Eye. 

'We all know that the FFC has no problem and that they practically sat in talks with the army'

Sami Abdallah, opposition leader

“We want to coordinate to achieve the first step together, then we will definitely have different ideas and visions about how to build the country later on,” he said.

However, Sami Abdallah, another leading member in the resistance committees, said there were widespread disputes within the committees, adding that “the initiatives that received the support of the FFC and the international community are actually intended to break up the powers that stand for full radical change in the country”.

“Let me say that this beautiful idea of the united revolutionary centre is tricky because it means that we retreat from our three nos slogan,” Abdallah said. “We all know that the FFC has no problem and that they practically sat in talks with the army, under international auspices.”

Abdallah went further with his criticism of the FFC and other elements of the opposition.

“These groups which represent the FFC - parts of the resistance committees and other reformists and compromisers who are negotiating their own privileges - they actually want to enter into a kind of power-sharing with the military,” he said.

The committee member from Aldaim, in Khartoum, disagreed. “Sticking with these dogmatic ideas under the banner of radicalism will result in the loss of the chance of ending the coup. Let us bring back civilian rule first, then we can take deeper steps.”

Uniting to defeat the coup

For its part, the FFC has welcomed the initiative, stressing that the practical steps to defeat the military coup have begun.

“We are welcoming the recent statement by the leadership of the resistance committees in Khartoum state adopting the coordination between the different revolutionary components to bring down the coup and forming full democratic-civilian rule,” the FCC said in a statement. 

“We believe that the best way of defeating the coup is to unify the entire civilian forces, as we know that the only side that benefits from splits among the revolutionary forces is the counter-revolution powers,” it concluded. 

'Discussions over the military’s exit from the heart of power remain at the very earliest stage and there are few incentives for the military to hand over power'

Jonas Horner, analyst

Meanwhile, the lawyers’ syndicate, in coordination with the FFC, other local civil society organisations and some international legal aid organisations, have participated in the preparation of a draft constitution that was finished last week.

A source close to the lawyers’ syndicate told MEE on condition of anonymity that the draft includes the formation of a new structure of civilian rule including the council of ministers, legislative assembly and other independent commissions, adding that it will limit the role of the army in the restructuring of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). 

In a fresh report to the UN Security Council, Unitams has warned that the political process is in deadlock, that the issue is contributing to growing insecurity in different parts of the country - Sudan has been rocked, among other things, by escalating tribal violence in its remote regions - as well as to the deterioration of the economic and humanitarian situation.

“From 6 May to 17 August, 569 security incidents were recorded, compared with 419 during the previous reporting period,” the report said.

The mission further warned that human rights violations are increasing and that food insecurity is deepening. 

Military leaders look to protect themselves

Jonas Horner, an analyst specialising in Sudan’s politics, believes international efforts to solve Sudan’s current crisis are insufficiently robust, adding that they have been badly hampered by fundamental divisions within the counter-coup civilian side of the transition. 

“Power sharing with the military remains anathema to large swathes of the Sudanese street, meaning a second power-sharing arrangement between civilians and the military is likely to find broad-based rejection,” Horner told MEE.

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“Moreover, the current trajectory of international engagement in Sudan makes it almost certain that power in the country will remain vested at the centre, a root cause of Sudan’s myriad conflicts since independence. Indeed, it may consolidate this imbalance further,” he said.

Horner, previously a senior analyst at Crisis Group, said he believed the resistance committees had affected the discourse of the FFC as well.

“While resistance committees in particular have forced the FFC to recalibrate their political stance to comport more closely with broad-based street-level demands of the political process, the FFC (and international community) can do more to take their political cues from these grassroots constituencies,” he said.

“Discussions over the military’s exit from the heart of power remain at the very earliest stage and there are few incentives for the military to hand over power to counter-coup civilian political forces.

"Any exit will require Sudanese and international guarantees for the military over their ongoing role in the country’s economy and politics and assurances of impunity for abuses during the country’s civil wars and its 2018-19 revolution,” he added.

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