Sudan’s military coup on Monday followed weeks of pro and anti military protesting. Soldiers arrested members of the Sudanese Cabinet, civilian members of the foreign council, government officials, and President Abdalla Hamdok’s media advisor. It’s been reported that the military has arrested staff of the state media. Members of the transitional sovereign council and ministers of the transitional government have also been detained.
Pro-civilian government protestors then took to the streets of the capital in large numbers, an estimated tens of thousands, demanding the return of civilian rule. Protests were met with violent dispersion tactics, including gunfire and beatings. The Sudanese Professionals Association has reported that internet and phone service has been out throughout the country. The group, Netblocks, which reports such disruptions, claimed that the nature of the incident is “consistent with an internet shutdown […] likely to limit the free flow of information online.” Reports also stated that the airport of Khartoum was closed, and international flights have been suspended.
Hamdok has allegedly been detained and taken to an undisclosed location. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the military officer who once headed a power-sharing council, addressed the press on Monday to declare a state of emergency and the dissolution of the transitional sovereign council, the Hamdok government, and the anti-corruption task force.
He also announced that a technocratic government would be installed, and elections would be held in July 2023. Burhan claimed that disagreements between political factions caused the military to take over.
The Umma and the Sudanese Congress, two popular political parties, have condemned the coup and the military’s response to the following protests. The Sudanese Professionals Association, who were active in the overthrow of the Bashir government, have called on supporters of democracy to mobilize in the streets, use civil disobedience tactics, and perform a general strike.
How did the coup unfold?
Hamdok’s office director, Adam Hereika, reported that this coup was attempted after an agreement had been reached between Hamdok and Burhan with a U.S. envoy present.
Hereika also points the finger at the military government for raising tension in eastern Sudan before the coup attempt.
The joint civilian and military-led government that took power following the ousting of former leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019 made promises to share power and pave the way for democratic rule in the future, but the clashing interests of the two parties have made cooperation very rocky. There has been another coup attempt occurring just last month, in September 2021.
Government officials claimed that the September coup attempt was orchestrated by Bashir supporters, leading to the arrest of 21 officers and an undisclosed number of soldiers. President Hamdok stated that measures would be taken to target former regime supporters who posed a threat to transition. Since the coup attempt, military leaders demanded the Forces of Freedom and Change coalition, which led anti-Bashir protests and were a substantial part of the transitional government, to be reformed. The military also demanded the replacement of cabinet members.
One major point of contention between the civilian and military sectors of government is whether or not to hand over the Sudanese who are suspected of war crimes during the 2003 Darfur conflict to the International Criminal Court, which the sovereign council has not been able to reach an agreement on. Another disruptive point is the civilian government’s investigation into the murder of pro-democracy supporters in 2019. While the military is against such measures, citizens grew unhappy with the delays in enforcing justice and sharing investigations.
Inflation and devaluation of the currency have caused severe issues for the economy. Citizens are faced with basic goods shortages and high inflation – of which international aid has been helping. Pro-military protestors have adopted slogans such as “down with the hunger government’’, stating that issues of food security and basic good access are the main reasons for supporting a coup by the military government.
These problems are exacerbated by the blockade on the Port of Sudan, which occurred in October of this year, where eastern Sudanese demanded that government take responsibility for prior injustice in the region following Bashir’s loss of power. Protesters demanded the deposing and replacement of President Hamdok, and equivalent revenue sharing by the government for the eastern Sudan region. Reports of such actions included speculations that the Port Blockage was staged or supported by military members of the Transitional Council of Sovereignty, who are still loyal to Bashir. Other speculations stated that the port blockage was staged in support of militant Islamist regimes in favor of a counter-revolution.
After last month’s coup attempt, many rebel groups and political parties allied with the military and staged a sit-in at the Presidential palace calling for the dissolution of the civilian government. In response, Cabinet ministers of the civilian government took part in large protests in Khartoum against military rule. In such protests, supporters of the transitional government counter protested pro-military demonstrations occurring at the same time.
Why did it happen now?
Tensions between the civilian government and the military transitional branch were running high for years. The frustration of the three-year delayed transition to civilian rule and the military’s continued attacks on the civilian branch have been threatening to collapse the power-sharing agreement.
Last month the attempted coup by a group of military officials exacerbated the conflict between the two governing branches. During late September, government officials stated that a group of officers attempted to occupy a state-operated media building. The act was labeled by officials as a failed coup attempt. The Sudanese army claimed that 21 officers, along with an unspecified group of soldiers, were arrested in connection with the coup attempt. A week following the coup attempt, Sudanese civilians chanted pro-democracy slogans and accused the military of delaying transferring power to civilians. They also accused them of postponing the expulsion of remnants of al-Bashir’s regime from state institutions. This includes finally prosecuting security forces who were responsible for the death of dozens of protesters during protests in June 2019. The civilian branch voiced its support for protesters gathered in the Republican Palace while security forces, encouraged by the military branch, fired tear gas at demonstrators.
In early October, Sudanese security forces enacted a travel ban targeting eleven civilian politicians. This was an effort by the military branch to assert its dominance as this move was seen as repercussions for the civilian government’s “involvement” with the coup attempt. The civilian branch continued to dispute the accusation by the military that they supported a coup attempt. The Forces for Freedom and Change, a civilian umbrella coalition, mobilized protesters to show their support for the pro-civilian government side. This was not the first major protest started by FFC; they were responsible for organizing many demonstrations that led to the removal of President Omar al-Bashir. The central concept of “continuing the revolution,” a reference to the protests that brought down the late President, has been the central unifying cause for activists’ groups. However, during the protests on October 21st, it was evident there were fractures among these groups.
Protesters from the splinter FFC faction, the National Charter Alliance, have been holding a sit-in outside Khartoum’s presidential palace for the past few days. Many members of this group stated that they blame the civilian government for not representing them and ignoring rising poverty and economic deterioration around Sudan. However, members of the FFC claim that the sit-in was not connected to their post-revolutionary movement; instead, they labeled the sit-in as a pro-military protest led by security forces and their allies. With mass discontent on the streets and infighting between both branches invested in the power-sharing agreement, the situation in Sudan was ready to boil over.
Who is in charge?
On October 25th, midday, the military head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan declared a state of emergency. The military seized control of the government and state-run media outlets. Army officials were deployed across the capital city of Khartoum to establish control. The Khartoum airport has been shut down and international flights have been suspended. Additionally, the military has severely limited access to the internet and social media platforms. In his live televised address to the nation, following the coup, General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan announced that the Sovereign Council and cabinet had been dissolved effective immediately. He referred to the ongoing disputes between politicians of the Council and incitement to violence as justification for the dissolution. All the members of the Sovereign Council–the temporary body responsible for overseeing Sudan’s democratic transition– and state governors will be relieved from their positions. Armed forces have placed many civilian leaders under arrest including Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and the governor of Khartoum Ayman Khalid. News outlets have reported that high-level officials responsible for the outreach for the Sovereign council have also been detained. Sources close to the Prime Minister report there was pressure within the Sovereign Council to support the coup, however, Prime Minister Hambok refused, and he urged people to continue protesting peacefully.
How has the world reacted?
The American special envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman said that “the US is deeply alarmed at reports of a military take-over of the transitional government,” he added how “this would contravene the Constitutional Declaration and the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people,” in his statement on Twitter.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, called for the “immediate resumption of consultations between civilians and military,” as well as the release “of all arrested political leaders and the necessary strict respect of human rights.”
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit expressed deep concern over the developments in Sudan. The pan-Arab bloc has also urged all sides to adhere to an August 2019 power-sharing deal outlining the transition following the ouster of Omar al-Bashir.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas condemned the coup in a statement. He said the attempted overthrow must come to an immediate end while calling on everyone in Sudan responsible for security and order to continue Sudan’s transition to democracy and to respect the will of the people.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, wrote on Twitter “The EU calls on all stakeholders and regional partners to put back on track the transitional process”. He will be attending a meeting of foreign ministers from the EU and the African Union on Tuesday in Kigali, Rwanda.
The United Nations Mission to Sudan has issued a strong statement to protect Sudan’s fragile democratic transition. The mission has a mandate to assist Sudan in its political transition and protection of human rights, hence can play an important role in garnering international support and local management of the situation. In a statement the mission called “the reported detentions of the prime minister, government officials and politicians unacceptable” and has called the security forces of Sudan “to immediately release those who have been unlawfully detained or placed under house arrest” while urging all parties to “exercise utmost restraint.”
The worsening economic situation, factional infighting, and a deep division between the civilian and military have contributed to the current state of the country. After the ousting of al-Bashir, the Sudanese have yet another challenge to endure and overcome. Sudan has a long history of fighting for democracy, dating back to 1964 when the Sudanese brought down the dictator Ibrahim Abboud. Since then, the country has experienced two major revolutions and a number of rebellions. But, history did show us that Sudanese people are resilient and will continue to fight against authoritarianism.