Can Sudan move beyond ‘Arab spring’ failures?

What Sudan needs is for a responsible civilian leadership to emerge, a leadership that can crystallise a political project for the future.
Saturday 13/07/2019
Delicate phase. African Union envoy to Sudan Mohamed al-Hacen Lebatt (L) sits next to Sudan’s Deputy Chief of the ruling Military Council General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo as he shakes hands with an army general following a news conference in Khartoum, July 5. (AFP)
Delicate phase. African Union envoy to Sudan Mohamed al-Hacen Lebatt (L) sits next to Sudan’s Deputy Chief of the ruling Military Council General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo as he shakes hands with an army general following a news conference in Khartoum, July 5

By reaching an agreement with representatives of the protest movement, Sudan’s Transitional Military Council laid the foundation for a new phase in the country. In three years and three months, Sudan could cross into a stage where it would enjoy a modern system of government based on the peaceful transfer of power under civilian rule.

Sudan deserves to settle on a political system that allows the exploitation of the country’s natural resources under the rule of law rather than under a military regime, the rule of Islamist militias or the rule of corrupt, opportunistic parties battling for crumbs of power.

Fortunately for Sudan, the Transitional Military Council and Alliance for Freedom and Change leaders both made concessions. These are the people who brought down the regime of Omar al-Bashir. It was a backward regime that lagged in all fields, especially in building the institutions of a modern state in the service of its citizens. Al-Bashir was prepared to do anything to stay in power, including dividing Sudan

It was necessary to reach an agreement so Sudan does not join the ranks of countries that were hit by the “Arab spring” storm, a “spring” in name only because it turned out to be a deadly autumn for most. Thank God that, in Sudan, there was room for reason and logic.

The Sudanese stalemate continues despite all that has been achieved through mediation undertaken by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He has shown the qualities of a skilled politician. Before his foray into Sudanese politics, Ahmed carried out major reforms in his own country that placed it on a path of rapid growth.

With the agreement achieved, Sudan has taken a major step towards getting out of its predicament. It was necessary for the popular protest movement to overcome its distrust of the military establishment, just as it was necessary for the military to understand that there was no future for it if its ambition was limited to the exercise of power in the tradition of Ibrahim Abboud, Gaafar Nimeiry or al-Bashir.

Despite the June 3 carnage in front of the armed forces’ headquarters in Khartoum perpetrated by soldiers against peaceful civilians, the Sudanese Army’s senior officers have a chance to prove they are different from al-Bashir.

However, the question that will come up is whether there are civilian leaders in the protest movement capable of playing a positive role during the transitional period as members of the sovereign council, knowing that, for the first 18 months, the military will preside over the council.

The “Arab spring” was a series of catastrophes wherever it landed. In Syria, the world conspired to preserve a regime disastrous for the Syrians but essential to keep in place for the protection of Israel. The “Arab spring” led to the sinking of Libya and no one knows if that country will be resurrected. Libya is paying all the bills resulting from Muammar Qaddafi’s grandiose dreams and failed projects, dreams that turned out to be mere nightmares of a sick man.

The “Arab spring” was also disastrous in Tunisia where the common people are increasingly expressing regret over the fall of the repressive regime of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Yemen is fragmented beyond repair. A piece of its territory under Taliban-style rule by the Iran-backed Houthis in the north has become a base for launching missiles and drones against Saudi Arabia. All talk of Yemen’s unity has become meaningless. Even talk of returning to the formula of a North Yemen and a South Yemen is meaningless in the present conditions.

There are several failed experiments from which the Sudanese, military and civilians alike, can learn. Which path will they choose?

The Sudanese have, so far, taken the path of common sense and reason. The military cannot run the country in the same way al-Bashir did and the civilians cannot manage the country’s affairs alone. Each side needs the other. The agreement that was achieved was a reasonable compromise.

What Sudan needs is for a responsible civilian leadership to emerge, a leadership that can crystallise a political project for the future.

It is regrettable that not a single civilian figure has come forward, a person who can be on the front lines and address the Sudanese in a way that suggests that the country is in good hands. Someone like the Ethiopian prime minister who has turned his country into a magnet for foreign investment and transformed it into one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

In Sudan, much will depend on continuing to deal with the crisis and steering clear of the adventures of the military establishment and the irresponsible behaviour of politicians who have repeatedly facilitated the coming to power of irrational officers like Nimeiry or al-Bashir.

In recent Sudanese history, there have been a good number of distinguished politicians who have emerged. So, can we hope for the emergence of someone like Ismail al-Azhari or Ahmad Mahgoub?

One should hope that the 30 years of al-Bashir’s rule have not wiped out the possibility for a generation of intellectuals to produce a politician with a new vision for the future of Sudan.

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