US, Europe warn Sudanese military as democratic transition crumbles

As Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy has derailed, the United States and Europe have issued a stern warning to the Sudanese military against appointing a new government “without the participation of a wide range of people.” civilian actors ”.

“Unilateral action to appoint a new prime minister and a new cabinet would undermine the credibility of these institutions and risk plunging the nation into conflict,” Norway, the UK, the US and the United States said on Tuesday. European Union in a joint press release. “In the absence of progress, we would seek to accelerate efforts to hold accountable those actors who hamper the democratic process.”

Sudan has been seen as a powerful example of democratic hope after a 2019 revolution forced the military to overthrow the Islamist regime of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a suspected war criminal and former military officer who took the power of the North African nation in 1989. The popular uprising was marked by iconic images of protesters, especially women, going viral on social media and garnering support from celebrities around the world. After al-Bashir was ousted, Sudanese military and civilian leaders came together to form a transitional government and agreed on a 39-month process to return to civilian and democratic rule.

This progress came to an abrupt halt on October 25, 2021, when the military seized power, dissolved the transitional government and expelled the civilian members. Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was appointed by the transitional government in 2019, has been placed under house arrest along with a number of other senior politicians. Mass protests along with pressure from the international community, including the US government withholding $ 700 million in economic aid, ushered in a deal that re-established Hamdok as prime minister on November 21, 2021.

But Hamdok resigned on Sunday, after the military refused to loosen its grip on power.

“I have tried as much as possible to prevent our country from falling into a catastrophe, and now our country is going through a dangerous turning point which could threaten its entire survival if not remedied quickly,” Hamdok said in a national televised speech. “Today’s major crisis in the homeland is first and foremost a political crisis, but it is gradually evolving to include all aspects of economic and social life and is on the way to becoming a global crisis.”

“The key word towards a solution to this dilemma which has persisted for more than six decades in the history of the country is to rely on dialogue during a round table in which all groups of Sudanese society and the State are represented to agree on a charter and to draw a roadmap to complete the democratic civil transformation, ”he added.

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and other cities across the country to denounce the military takeover and demand civilian rule. Sudanese security forces have used violent means to disperse the protesters, killing at least 57 and injuring hundreds more since October, according to the Sudan Medical Committee, which is part of the pro-democracy movement. .

Meanwhile, the United Nations have Express gravely concerned at reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment against women and girls by Sudanese security forces during the December protests.

The US government has repeatedly called for accountability in the wake of the atrocities reported, but has yet to penalize the Sudanese military. When asked why the Sudanese army had not been sanctioned, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday: “We are not planning the designation of sanctions, but we are let’s explore all the options available to support Sudan’s transition.

However, some analysts have argued that now is the time for action, not warnings and threats.

Cameron Hudson, senior researcher at the Africa Center of the Atlantic Council, a Washington, DC think tank, said the US government “must move beyond tired bromides claiming” to stand by the Sudanese people “and shamelessly put its weight behind the country’s pro-democracy movement in a tangible and meaningful way that will begin to tip the balance of power more in favor of the protesters.”

“Sudan’s formal transition to democracy is complete, even though its revolution lives on in the hearts of millions of peaceful pro-democracy protesters,” Hudson wrote Monday in an article for the Atlantic Council blog. “Washington and its international partners have now lost the final pretext for what allowed them – for too long – to frame their commitment in terms of supporting a ‘civilian-led transitional government.’

“With no political deal or civilian leader to undermine, Washington and its allies should now take a tougher approach to the military that holds it responsible for the October coup and the deadly response to the protests peaceful since then, “he added before noting” that should mean sanctions. “

It is still unclear whether freezing the assets of Sudanese military leaders would have any impact, especially as allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates continue to support them and Sudan has already found a way to manage nearly 20 years of US sanctions.

Some analysts have argued that regional allies have little to gain from an unstable Sudan. Camille Lons, Bahrain-based associate researcher for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank, said that “spillover effects – such as economic repercussions, refugee flows, terrorist threats and arms smuggling – are seen as very problematic. “

“Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Egypt, continue to favor the military in Sudan. But that doesn’t mean they view the coup in a positive light,” Lons said. wrote in an analysis published on November 16. “Several diplomats and officials from the Gulf and Egypt have privately expressed surprise and concern at what they see as a reckless move.”

“But as the United States shows increasing signs of disengagement in the region,” she added, “the Arab Gulf countries will increasingly have to deal with their own regional security and stability, although ‘with more pragmatism “.

In the absence of firm pressure from the international community, the situation in Sudan becomes grim and uncertain. In the war-torn region of Darfur, where genocide sparked global outrage, escalating violence has displaced thousands of people since November. There was also “alarming reports” destroyed villages, sexual violence and cattle rustling, according to the United Nations.

Additionally, Sudan under al-Bashir had troubling ties to terrorism, including providing safe haven to al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden and being implicated in the 1998 bombings of US embassies. in Kenya and Tanzania, for which al-Qaida claimed responsibility. But Hudson said the Sudanese military “appears to intend” to keep the country off the US list of sponsor states for terrorism. After being added in 1993 due to its links to al-Qaida, Sudan was officially removed from the list in 2020.

“The military, for all its faults and abuses, has been a reasonably reliable ally in the fight against terrorism and has its own reasons for concern about the jihadists settling in Sudan,” Hudson told Sudan on Wednesday. ABC News.

But diplomatic efforts by the United States and others to put pressure on Sudanese military leaders could be complicated by the departure of a senior American diplomat.

Reuters, citing sources, reported US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman leaves his post at the end of the month amid growing chaos in Sudan and neighboring Ethiopia on Wednesday, and will be replaced by David Satterfield, the outgoing American ambassador to Turkey. The US State Department declined ABC News’ request for comment.

Hudson told ABC News that Feltman’s departure would not be “particularly surprising, as it was only there as a stopgap to help the administration respond quickly to the ongoing crises in Ethiopia and Sudan.”

“Most important now is that the United States maintains a strong and consistent level of diplomatic engagement in the region at this critical time,” he added, noting that an announcement of Feltman’s replacement would suggest that “this will and should be welcomed. “

Mary I. Bruner