Updated: July 4, 2019 6:20:08 pm
Events in Sudan took a new turn on Wednesday as protesters agreed to resume talks with the ruling military, ushering in a new phase for the country that has been on the boil since the origin of the current crisis in December 2018. The North African country’s dictator of three decades, Omar al-Bashir, was removed from power by a military coup in April 2019.
What’s on the table
The current talks are aimed at deciding the power sharing formula between civilians and the military in the post-Bashir era. While there is general agreement regarding the makeup of the country’s legislative body, the structure of the sovereign council remains a contentious issue.
In past negotiations, it was agreed to allot civilians 67% of seats in the legislature. The current round will focus on deciding how strong a role the military would wield in the sovereign council, the executive body which would actually run the country.
However, protests have made it clear that direct talks would only begin if their primary demands were met– the rejection of a permanent military presidency of the sovereign council, the ratification of previous agreements between the protesters and the military, the handing over of a written document by the military council confirming these demands, and a review of confidence-building and approval procedures.
Events since Bashir’s ouster
The authoritarian ruler Omar al-Bashir was ejected from power by a military coup in April 2019 on the heels of massive protests that rocked the country starting in December 2018, when civilians disenchanted with steep food prices first took to the streets.
Bashir was replaced by a Transitional Military Council, a body formed by his own former allies in the armed forces. This led to the chagrin of protesters, who considered the Council’s rule a continuation of the Bashir era, and continued the resistance.
On June 3, when negotiations between protesters and the military were coming to a dead end, a notorious militia called the Rapid Support Forces pillaged one of the camps where the protesters were situated– killing 128, raping and wounding several, and dumping dead bodies in the Nile. After this event, the protesters declared a general strike, rejecting the military’s demand to hold elections in nine months.
Efforts by the African Union and Ethiopia to diffuse the situation led to the calling off of the strike, and a declaration of the protesters’ willingness to resume talks on June 11.
Since the protests first began, over 250 have been feared dead. The UN has expressed worry regarding the shortage of food and medical supplies. The military has also been accused of launching attacks on hospitals. To deter protesters, a clampdown on the internet on the internet has been enforced.
What the protesters fear
The principal worry for activists is that the Sudanese military would continue to remain in power, like in neighbouring Egypt where a coup toppled a democratically elected government which had come to power after longstanding dictator Hosni Mubarak’s rule came to an end in 2011.
Additionally, since the current military setup consists of those loyal to Bashir, few expect ground realities to change. Some have even suggested that the coup was stage-managed by Bashir himself.
The military leadership also has the support of the ruling junta in Egypt. UAE and Saudi Arabia are known to have provided financial assistance worth $3 billion to the Sudanese military.
Finally, many now fear that strongman and Bashir’s former enforcer Mohamed Hamdan, head of the Rapid Support Forces, is slated to become the most powerful figure in the country. The RSF, who undertook the deadly attack on June 3, is considered to be a regrouping of the Janjaweed irregulars who have been accused of committing genocide in the Darfur region.
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