May 22, 2019
While it has not been decided whether Sudan’s sovereign council will be headed by a civilian or a military figure, the division of seats on the council remains the main point of contention between the two camps
Supporters of Sudanese Islamist movements hold banners as they rally in front of the Presidential Palace in downtown Khartoum on May 18, 2019. Talks between Sudan’s ruling military council and protesters are set to resume, army rulers announced, as Islamic movements rallied for the inclusion of sharia in the country’s roadmap (Photo: AFP)
By Haitham Nouri | Ahram Online
Hours of talks between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Alliance of Freedom and Change (AFC) ended Sunday and Monday without agreement.
The Sunday meeting, which took place at the presidential palace, had started at 9pm and lasted for six hours, was the first since the TMC suspended talks with the AFC for 72 hours, demanding that protesters remove roadblocks they had erected on several Khartoum avenues before any negotiations could proceed.
TMC President Abdel-Fattah Burhan had said suspending negotiations was the result of “media escalation” following “the infiltration of armed men into the sit-in camp to shoot at army personnel, Rapid Support Forces and civilians”.
Burhan said the TMC “will not allow the harassment of the army, Rapid Support Forces, the police and security personnel”.
“Chaos and disorder nullify the peacefulness of the revolution,” he added.
In less than two days the opposition forces removed the roadblocks, but the Sunday night meeting resulted in nothing more than affirmations of previous agreements on the structure of power during the transitional period and the level of authority granted to the sovereign council, the government and the legislature.
Before the suspension of talks, the two parties had agreed to a three-year transitional period, six months of which to be dedicated to ending the war raging in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan, in addition to forming a civilian cabinet made up of honest, experienced figures and that would enjoy extensive authority.
The AFC forces and the TMC had also agreed on a 300-member parliament, two thirds of which to be picked by the AFC. The remaining 100 members would be selected from other forces that were not part of the former regime after consultations between the AFC and the transitional sovereign council.
The latter council, however, is the stumbling block in the current negotiations.
The AFC is demanding a civilian sovereign council in which its president and the majority of members are civilian, with limited military representation.
The TMC, on the other hand, rejects this demand, insisting on presiding over the council and gaining the majority of representation in it.
The division of seats on the sovereign council remains the main point of contention between the two negotiating parties.
The number of seats on the council has not yet been determined.
The AFC had suggested rotating the council’s presidency between the civilian and military camps.
Sudanese media sources said it was unlikely the two parties reach a deal soon due to disagreement over the percentage of civilian and military representatives on the council, and because it has not been decided how forces outside the AFC umbrella will be dealt with.
Agreeing on these points will take more than the 72 hours demanded by the protesters to get Sudan’s house in order, the sources added.
Meanwhile, a delegation of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) under the leadership of Malik Agar arrived in Khartoum.
Mubarak Ardol, leader of the delegation and spokesman of the movement, said the delegation was in Khartoum to prepare for the arrival of the movement’s Deputy Chairman Yasir Arman to start negotiations to end the war.
The SPLM-N’s armed men have been fighting in the states of the Blue Nile and South Kordofan for years.
Agar became the mayor of the Blue Nile following elections in 2010, while another SPLM-N member lost in the South Kordofan elections which were said to be marred with violations.
SPLM-N members dominated the two states’ parliaments, nonetheless.
“Ending the war doesn’t lie in the hands of the AFC or the Sudanese Professionals Associations (SPA), rather in the hands of the two parties involved in the war: the army and armed groups,” said Mohamed Al-Asbat, one of the spokesmen of the SPA, the movement that spearheaded Sudan’s demonstrations since they broke out in December 2018.
While some observers may argue that negotiations between the SPLM-N and the TMC may decrease the political weight of the AFC, Al-Asbat disagrees.
The SPLM-N is one of the groups that signed the Declaration of Freedom and Change. It is also a close ally to the Sudanese Communist Party, another signatory to the Declaration.
But because of the SPLM-N’s ability to win near future elections in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, the movement may have a different set of calculations than AFC forces, opined Khaled Mahmoud, an expert on Sudanese affairs.
“Ending the war is the primal demand in Sudan. Therefore, negotiations between the SPLM-N and the TMC may come at the expense of other parties,” said Mahmoud.
“The SPLM-N can provide peace in two states. This decreases the pressure on the army and allows it to end the Darfur war. These are things the AFC cannot offer,” he added.
Darfur’s armed groups may as well engage in negotiations with the TMC if the military’s talks with the SPLM-N work out. Peace in regions mired in civil wars will drive the TMC to defend the appointment of a larger representation of armed movements in parliament.
On the economic front, Saudi Arabia said it had deposited $250 million in the Central Bank of Sudan to alleviate a gruelling economic crunch.
The deposit aimed at decreasing pressure on the Sudanese pound and achieving further stability in the currency’s exchange rate, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE had pledged $3 billion in aid for Sudan in April. The sum was allocated to provide medicine, food and fuel to the Sudanese, and resulted in a relative appreciation of the Sudanese pound against the dollar.
The UAE announced it had deposited $250 million in the Central Bank of Sudan on 28 April.
It is widely known the Saudi-led Arab coalition, fighting against Iran-backed Houthis to reinstate the internationally recognised Yemeni government in the capital Sanaa, comprises thousands of Sudanese soldiers.
The Sudanese soldiers belong to the Rapid Support Forces, which according to Sudanese law are paramilitary forces, and are made up of west Sudan’s Arab tribes who had fought for years in Darfur.
The Rapid Support Forces are led by Mohamed Hassan Daglo, better known as Hemeti, who is currently the TMC’s vice president.
Since the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan has been suffering a massive shortage in foreign currency, crippling it from providing for basic local demands, such as wheat, medicine and fuel.
Sudan’s poor economy was one of the main factors that led to the eruption of protests in mid-December 2018, and which escalated on 6 April until the ouster of president Omar Al-Bashir on 11 April.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Stalemate in Sudan