Sudan after agreement between the military and the protest movement
The agreement reached in Sudan, thanks to African-Ethiopian mediation, between the Transitional Military Council and the Alliance for Freedom and Change put out the fire of street protests and defused a burning political crisis.
The signing of the agreement represents an important qualitative leap forward in the attempt to resolve outstanding issues and end open-ended talks between the various Sudanese forces.
No matter how hard negotiating camps and mediators try to clarify the responsibilities of each side, there will be certain details that remain unsettled and difficult to control, making it hard to maintain calm and stability.
The existence at local, regional and international levels of momentum pushing for the agreement has helped avoid failure. External pressures were obvious and made it difficult for either party to back out of the agreement. The many positive reactions to the deal prove that numerous sides inside and outside Sudan were relieved at the announcement, which constituted a powerful deterrent for the signatories to even think of backing out of a deal, as they did before.
To avoid the dismal fates of the dialogues during the Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile crises and the failure of negotiations with the northern opposition forces during the rule of Omar al-Bashir, it was necessary to chart a clear political road map. It had to have internal and external determinants so dialogue between the various sides would not become an end in itself and raise suspicions of collusion or laxity.
The Sudanese excel in the game of dialogues as a political process. They can engage in them just as easily as they can check out of them. This is one of the major challenges surrounding negotiations in Sudan. Reaching an agreement does not mean implementation of such an agreement is guaranteed.
How many talks in Sudan have broken down as if they had never taken place?
How many discussions have taken place but changed nothing?
How many agreements have been signed and annulled before the ink dried?
The mediation committee was unable to reduce the gap between the rival sides until it had secured tremendous external support. It was crucial to pressure both sides to negotiate and reach an agreement, putting to rest the vague outcome options that could have mired the Sudanese crisis in a stalemate.
There are outstanding issues, of course, some of which concern the role of the sovereign council and its president. Other concerns relate to formation of the government and proportional representation of the various political currents, as well as the process of selecting the members of the parliament.
The phrase “the devil is in the details” is often used to express the difficulty of reaching any agreement and it is true to a large extent. The success of agreements depends on the degree of trust between negotiating parties, the general assessment of the consequences and risks, the manner in which the agreement and its goals are implemented and on the extent of each side’s awareness of its political responsibility. There are always political forces that place their ideological goals before any national goal.
In the case of Sudan’s crises, the lurking “devil” would jump out a short time after negotiations started. The length of the term for the president of the sovereign council and the wisdom behind granting the Transitional Military Council (TMC) the privilege of holding the presidency of the sovereign council for the first 21 months, compared to the 18 months for the Alliance of Freedom and Change are examples. Another is the mechanism for reconciling roles of the sovereign council, the government and the decision-making operations in both chambers.
What is striking about Sudan is that the dialogues have been going on for some time and have not been interrupted, despite the distance between the various parties on the issues involved and the number of them.
Negotiations between the TMC and the Alliance for Freedom and Change resumed rather quickly despite serious accusations of betrayal levied against the TMC following the forceful breaking up of the opposition sit-in on June 3, which resulted in dozens of civilian casualties.
The expected disagreements during the coming days in each rival camp will not lead to calling off negotiations for good. Each camp is expected to propose five candidates for the sovereign council and this process is likely to produce some conflicts.
The potential choices by the Alliance for Freedom and Change might reflect the wide political spectrum involved. Reducing the number of representatives of each side to five, instead of the initial seven proposed, is likely to cause confusion within the TMC, which was composed of seven members in the first place. This means that two leaders within the council would have to step down and would not be included on the sovereign council.
The Alliance for Freedom and Change has safely abandoned some of its political romanticism and contained some of the divisions that emerged among its ranks. The alliance is, therefore, likely to neutralise some of the political differences inside it because the differences are not very important to most Sudanese.
The same could be said of the TMC. It, too, has shown a clear degree of maturity and rationality. It has shown a willingness to respond positively to Sudanese citizens’ aspirations to form a civilian government and has promised to bring to justice those responsible for corrupting the political and economic conditions under the previous regime and those responsible for smearing the Sudanese revolution by ordering the use of violence against protesters.
Caution is necessary when dealing with some vague details in the agreement. Deliberately bringing up the subject of such details would spoil the festive mood celebrating the signing of the agreement and cast a shadow on the relationship between the TMC and the Alliance for Freedom and Change.
Vigilance and attentiveness are required to go through the next delicate phase and preserve the spirit of constructive dialogue.