Sudan’s Revolutionary Front prepares for talks with Khartoum

The meetings signalled Sudan’s move from revolution to peace making, as change sweeps through a country that is making a new political beginning while trying to bury old differences.
Saturday 28/09/2019
Sudanese Foreign Minister Asma Mohamed Abdalla (2nd-L) during a meeting with her Egyptian counterpart in Khartoum, September 9. (AFP)
Diplomatic flurry. Sudanese Foreign Minister Asma Mohamed Abdalla (2nd-L) during a meeting with her Egyptian counterpart in Khartoum, September 9. (AFP)

CAIRO - A meeting of movements, militias and organisations forming the Sudanese Revolutionary Front has begun in Egypt with an eye on unifying the front ahead of peace talks with the government leadership in Khartoum led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The meetings, which started September 21 at Ain Sokhna, signalled Sudan’s move from revolution to peace making, as change sweeps through a country that is making a new political beginning while trying to bury old differences.

The Sudanese Revolutionary Front, which includes several militias, civil society organisations and political groups, fought against the Sudanese Army under ousted President Omar al-Bashir in the western Sudanese region of Darfur and the western regions of Blue Nile and North Kordofan.

“There is a new climate in Sudan and a new political will,” front leader El Hadi Idriss said. “There is also a strong will on the part of the people of Sudan for the achievement of peace.”

Fighting between the government and militias in western and southern Sudan left a heavy human toll and caused an international uproar against al-Bashir.

When the anti-al-Bashir protests erupted this year, western and southern Sudan’s militias watched closely. The downfall of the Sudanese autocrat gave them hope old animosities could end.

Egypt, like several other regional powers, is interested in seeing peace prevail in Sudan.

The overriding issue in Sudan is the status of political Islam, especially after al-Bashir’s Islamist regime was ousted, analysts said.

“This is why Egypt is so keen on being part of post-al-Bashir arrangements in the country,” said Sudanese political analyst Mohamed Saleh Matar. “This is not only important for Egypt but also important for other countries in the region.”

Most militias attending the talks in Egypt said they are opposed to political Islam and are concerned that Sudan’s Islamists could still make inroads into Sudan’s political life.

Egypt reportedly suggested hosting a series of conferences on the reconstruction of Sudan’s western and southern regions. It also proposed a conference on delivering humanitarian aid to the region and another on Sudanese refugees in other countries.

Nevertheless, the leaders of member organisations and militias in the Sudanese Revolutionary Front are primarily discussing the formulation of a unified peace negotiating strategy with the Sudanese government, merging the militias into the Sudanese Army and the future of relations with the Forces of Freedom and Change, the main opposition coalition in the anti-al-Bashir protests.

At the centre of the talks are countries that will likely sponsor those between the front and the Sudanese government, which are expected to start October 14.

There is reportedly a plan among front leaders on involving as many regional sponsors as they can to ensure the presence of enough backing for their talks with the government. Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Juba and Addis Ababa are on the list of host capitals for future negotiations between the government and the front.

The plan for the peace talks was specified in a road map agreed between Hamdok and the leaders of the front during the Sudanese prime minister’s visit to Juba, the South Sudan capital, on September 12.

Peace, Hamdok said, is a top priority for the Sudanese government.

This was probably why front senior member Osama Saeed asked members of his organisation to get ready for peace in Sudan. “Peace will put the whole political scene in Sudan in a totally new order,” he said.

The path to peace is far from easy, political analysts said.

“A large number of stumbling blocks are on the road,” said Fayez al-Sheikh al-Seleik, a Sudanese political analyst.

The challenges include whether militias will lay down their arms; the status of the front on the Sudanese political scene; whether it will have a chance to participate in the government; and what the Sudanese government can offer it in return for shifting from armed struggle to political work.

Sudan has started taking steps towards political and security stability but it has many economic problems that limit it as it tries to turn the foes of yesterday into the friends of today, analysts said.

“Here comes the role regional countries can play,” Matar said. “Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, can help a lot by offering economic support that makes the government able to honour the pledges it makes to these groups.”

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