Military Coup Threatens Democracy in Sudan

Military Coup Threatens Democracy in Sudan

Photo Credit: Muhamed Nureldin, Reuters

Sudan has entered into a state of emergency after the military seized control on October 25th. Since, widespread protests have been met with fatal repercussions.

Isabelle Buchanan, Editor-in-Chief

Sudan has entered into a state of emergency after their top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, led a military coup and seized control on Monday, October 25, 2021. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was temporarily detained, and his transitional government and Sovereign Council were dissolved, to be replaced by a government of technocrats. In the week since, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in protest, met with violent and fatal repercussions from the military.

Sudan has a long history with authoritarian regimes. After the 1989 military coup, Omar al-Bashir took power. During his thirty-year reign, backed by the military and Islamists, al-Bashir was accused of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

After months of protests and demonstrations, al-Bashir was ousted as President of Sudan in April 2019. However, the planned smooth transition to a democratic state failed; instead of handing power to the people, the military seized power for themselves. Protesters remained in the streets, while the military committed massacres and crimes against humanity to maintain their position. Eventually, the military agreed to compromise, establishing Sudan’s Sovereign Council, composed of civilians and military representatives, and appointing Hamdok as prime minister. The Sovereign Council and Prime Minister Hamdok formed a transitional government, who were meant to rule until elections could take place in 2023.

This transitional government was widely praised by the international community. Not only was it a step towards democratization in Sudan, but Hamdok worked to reverse harsh Islamic policies enforced by al-Bashir. Sudan was no longer considered a country supporting terrorism, and managed to enter peace deals with groups who rebelled against al-Bashir’s presidency.

However, the transition was not completely successful. As part of the negotiations, the Sovereign Council was meant to first be headed by a military official, and transition to a civilian representative to lead the council until the 2023 elections. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan was to be chief of the Sovereign Council, alongside Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the chief of the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces, as his deputy chief, for the first 21 months of the transition. Civilian representations would then control the Sovereign Council for the next 18 months, until the elections.

This deadline to transfer power of the Sovereign Council is fast approaching, scheduled to take place in November 2021. In the past few months leading up to this transition, tensions have arisen between the military and civilian representatives. Pro-democracy proponents have pushed for the transition of power to remain on schedule, while advocating for implementing restrictions against the military and putting al-Bashir loyalists under civilian watch.

Inheriting an already fragile state, Hamdok was tasked with reversing many of al-Bashir’s policies, rebuilding relations with international institutions and states, while reintroducing Sudan into the global economy. In doing so, Sudan has been faced with economic stress, witnessing rising inflation rates and limited access to basic goods. Military officials and pro-military proponents have used this economic strain to accuse Hamdok of mismanagement and demand the dissolution of his government.

al-Burhan exploited the fragility of Hamdok’s government to lead a military coup and seize power on Monday, October 25th, 2021. After temporarily arresting Hamdok and other government officials, al-Burhan plans on implementing a government of technocrats. This means that government officials will be appointed based on knowledge and status. al-Barhan says that the military will hold power until July 2023, when the elections are scheduled to be held. The fear amongst most civilians and international actors is that he will not relinquish his power when the time comes, and Sudan will once again be in the grips of a military dictatorship.

Over the past week, tens of thousands of protesters across Sudan took to the streets, opposing the military’s coup. These peaceful demonstrations have been met with violence, with the military firing live ammunition and tear-gas at protesters; there have been at least twelve civilian casualties, and over 100 civilians injured in the past week, although police deny these allegations.

Following the military’s violent response to the demonstrations, the international community has called for an urgent UN right council meeting on Sudan. On Monday, November 1st, the British ambassador to the UN, Simon Manley, addressed the council president in a letter, urging a council meeting to discuss Sudan’s coup. This letter was sent on behalf of 48 countries, including 18 of the 47 Human Rights Council’s member states. In order for an urgent meeting to be held, at least a third of the Human Rights Council’s member states (16 members) must back the request. Already having this backing, the international community hopes to convene shortly, to respond and prevent another military dictatorship in Sudan.