KHARTOUM – Sudan’s coup leaders and the main pro-democracy group signed a deal Monday to establish a civilian-led transitional government following the military takeover last year. But key players refused to participate, and no deadline was set for the transition to begin.
The framework — signed by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo and the leaders of the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change — appears to offer only the broadest outlines for how the country will resume its progression to democracy. That process was upended in October 2021, when Burhan unseated the civilian half of Sudan’s ruling Sovereignty Council with Dagolo's backing.
Since the coup, international aid has dried up and bread and fuel shortages, caused in part by the war in Ukraine, have become routine, plunging Sudan’s already inflation-riddled economy into deeper peril. Security forces have ruthlessly suppressed near-weekly pro-democracy marches. Deadly tribal clashes have flared in the country’s neglected peripheries.
It's not clear whether or how quickly the deal signed Monday can offer a way out for Sudan, given that it appears to leave many thorny issues unresolved and doesn't have the support of key political forces, including the grassroots pro-democracy Resistance Committees. That network's leaders called for demonstrations against the agreement.
Several former rebel leaders, who have formed their own political bloc, have also rejected the deal.
Many of the points in a draft of the deal were already promised in a 2020 agreement that saw Sudan’s previous transitional government make peace with several rebels in Sudan’s far-flung provinces.
According to the draft, the deal envisions Sudan’s military eventually stepping back from politics. The document says it will form part of a new ’’security and defense council” under the appointed prime minister. But it does not address how to reform the armed forces, saying only they should be unified and controls should be imposed on military-owned companies.
It makes specific mention of Sudan’s wealthy paramilitary force, the Rapid Support Forces, headed by Dagalo. The force amassed wealth through its gradual acquisition of Sudanese financial institutions and gold reserves in recent years.
It also does not address creating a transitional judiciary system or say when the transitional government will be put in place. Only then will a two-year transition officially begin — the end goal of which is elections.
Analysts have cast doubt over whether the aims of the agreement are achievable, given its lack of detail on key issues and the boycott of key players.
‘‘Realistically none of these complex processes can be dealt with within a transitional time frame of two years,’’ said Kholood Khair, founder and director of Confluence Advisory, a think tank in Khartoum.
Sudan has been plunged into turmoil since the coup threw off course a democratic transition that began after three decades of autocratic rule by President Omar al-Bashir. The former leader was toppled in April 2019, following a popular uprising.
The U.N. special envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, attended Monday's signing and later, at a speech at the palace, described the deal as ‘‘Sudanese-owned and Sudanese-led.’’
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hoped the agreement will pave the way for the return to a civilian-led transition, said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
He called on "all Sudanese stakeholders to work without delay on the next phase of the transition process to address outstanding issues with a view to achieving a lasting, inclusive political settlement,” Dujarric said.
Monday's development came after months of negotiations between the military and the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, facilitated by a mediating team of the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Britain.
In a joint statement issued after the signing, the four countries commended the agreement.
“A concerted effort to finalize negotiations and reach agreement quickly to form a new civilian-led government is essential to address Sudan’s urgent political, economic, security, and humanitarian challenges,” the group said.
The hope is the deal could draw in new international aid, after donor funds dried up in response to the coup.
Sudan has also seen a sharp increase in inter-tribal violence in the country's west and south. In the southern Blue Nile province, two days of clashes between the Berta and Hausa killed over 170 peopl e in October. Last month some 48 were killed in tribal clashes in Darfur. Many commentators have attributed the rising tribal violence to the power vacuum caused by last year's military takeover and the subsequent political and economic crisis.
Jeffery reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the U.N. contributed.