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Explained: Sudan’s ongoing struggle for democracy

Sudan has witnessed massive protests since Abdel Fattah al-Burhan took over in a military coup in October and upended the country’s transition to democracy. A look at the present conflict, and its origins

Protesters clash with security forces as they fire teargas to prevent them from marching towards the presidential palace during demonstrations in Khartoum, Sudan, May 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali, File)

Sudan’s military ruler, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sunday (May 29) lifted the state of emergency that was imposed in the country since the military coup on October 25, 2021.

The ruling Sovereignty Council of Sudan, headed by Burhan, said that the order was made to create conditions for a “fruitful and meaningful dialogue that achieves stability for the transitional period.”

Elections, as per a 2019 agreement between the protesters and the military rulers, should be held in 2023.

Sudan has witnessed massive protests since Burhan took over in a military coup in October and upended the country’s transition to democracy. Security forces have dealt with the struggle with an iron fist, leaving at least 98 dead and 4,300 wounded, according to a Associated Press report.

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Origins of the crisis

The present conflict in Sudan has its roots in December 2018, when the then President Omar al-Bashir ended subsidies on fuel and wheat, in accordance with the International Monetary Fund’s recommendations.

Sudan was undergoing acute economic distress at that time with inflation at 74.29%, the second highest rate in the world, a report in The New York Times said. In response to the austerity measures and rising cost of living, protests spread across the country, culminating in the united demand for the ouster of Bashir, who had been in power for 30 years.

The movement against Bashir continued and on April 6, 2019, thousands of demonstrators marched to the capital, Khartoum, and occupied the square in front of Sudanese military’s headquarters. By April 11, the army deposed the President.

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Omar al-Bashir’s reign

Bashir’s dictatorial reign was marked by charges of genocide, repression and human rights abuses.

In June 1989, Bashir first came to power after overthrowing Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in a military coup. In 1993, he appointed himself the civilian president, disbanded the military junta and banned rival political parties.

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The Bashir-led government was accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity against non-Arab communities in the Darfur region of Sudan. Nearly 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million were killed in the ongoing Darfur war which first began in 2003, as reported by Al Jazeera. In 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Bashir.

A fragile transfer of power

On June 11 2019, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan was established in Sudan, which began talks with the protesting groups to establish the way forward for the country.

After years of repression, the protestors finally wanted power to be in the hands of the people and sought democratic elections and the establishment of a civilian led government.

Despite Bashir’s ouster, protestors were unsatisfied with ongoing control of the military junta and continued their demonstrations in the streets of Khartoum. The protests culminated in the Khartoum massacre on June 3, when the TMC’s paramilitary forces opened fire on protestors, killing more than 100.

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On August 4, 2019, protestors and the TMC came to an agreement. The military would share power with officials that would be elected by civilian political groups. They would constitute a ruling body called the Sovereignty Council, which would lead Sudan to elections at the end of 2023, as reported by Reuters.

The Sovereignty Council appointed Abdalla Hamdok as Prime Minister for the transitional period, and he was sworn in in August that year.

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Relations between the military and civilians continued to be tense, as critics argued that the military refused to give up control. On October 25, 2021, the military junta, led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, arrested PM Abdalla Hamdok and other senior officials in yet another coup and declared a state of emergency.

Protests swelled once more. Protesters felt that the military had hindered Sudan’s transition to democracy once more. Massive crowds laid siege to cities across Sudan. Combined with international pressure to restore the civilian democracy, the military was forced to reinstate Hamdok as Prime Minister.

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In January, Hamdok resigned from his role, leaving Sudan in a state of uncertainty once more.

He claimed that he was unable to work with the military to find a solution. During his speech he stated, “I tried as much as I possibly could to prevent our country from sliding into a disaster. Now, our nation is going through a dangerous turning point that could threaten its survival unless it is urgently rectified.”

On May 24, the US government called for the lifting of the ongoing state of emergency in Sudan and threatened sanctions on anyone that would interfere in the transition to democracy in Sudan. Five days later, Burhan lifted the emergency, promising a transition to democracy.

First published on: 01-06-2022 at 01:36:39 pm
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