The April ouster of Sudan's longtime President Omar al Bashir by the armed forces, impelled by a dogged civilian protest movement and an ailing economy, has left the country at a crossroads. As negotiators from both the military and civilian realms determine the next steps in Sudan's power transition, progress and setbacks are to be expected in equal measure. In recent weeks, however, talks have stumbled and violence has increased, underscoring the volatility of the country's situation.
In the wake of a June 3 security crackdown on a sit-in protest outside army headquarters in Khartoum that left at least 13 dead, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella group representing civilian protesters, severed talks with the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC). The sides had been engaged in negotiations to craft a transition plan for the country, but the SPA has now called for a campaign of civil disobedience.
Why It Matters
This is the first widespread crackdown by security forces against Sudan's opposition movement after President Omar al-Bashir was dismissed. The bloodshed could threaten to derail talks between military and civilian leaders to form a new government. The tense back-and-forth between the military, which has played a powerful role in the country since well before al Bashir seized control in a 1989 coup, and the civilian protesters whose demonstrations prompted the military to overthrow al Bashir in April. With the crackdown, the TMC, which in previous rounds of talks had acceded to civilian demands for more authority in the transition period, is showing signs of having reached the limits of what it is willing to agree to.
It appears as if the military has come to the end of its appeasement strategy.
This will increase the odds of further crackdowns and a protracted stalemate in talks that will prolong any transition process, delaying economic recovery. The civil disobedience campaign, meanwhile, could affect operations at Khartoum International Airport and Port Sudan, disrupt commercial activity in Khartoum and cause other disruptions throughout the country.
As negotiations resume in the wake of the bloody crackdown, it will be important to determine whether the military is willing to offer additional concessions to the civilian opposition. There is every indication that the military has come to the end of its appeasement strategy, though, which could bode ill for the protest movement. Also worth logging are any meetings between Sudanese military figures and leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council — mainly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — as Arab states seek to protect their interests in Sudan by ensuring continuing political and military support. (Sudan contributes militarily to the Saudi-led effort in Yemen.) It appears for now that Sudan's external patrons are willing to back the military, helping to insulate the armed forces from protest pressure. Should that support remain, it will enable Sudan's military leaders to weather further economic and social difficulties.