On Monday morning, the Sudanese military seized power from the transitional government led by Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok, which had been in place since the Sudanese people overthrew long-time dictator Omar al Bashir in 2019.
Speaking on state television, military leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan declared a state of emergency. He announced the dissolution of the transitional government and of the civilian-military power-sharing Sovereignty Council that was supposed to see the country through to democratic elections. The coup puts Sudan’s democratic transition in jeopardy, with ramifications that extend throughout the region and the world.
While devastating, there is nothing surprising in Monday’s developments. Opponents of democracy in Sudan’s military and security services have been trying to thwart Sudan’s transition since it began. There have already been several attempted coups, with the latest foiled by Hamdok’s government just last month. But Hamdok and other leading civilian officials are now under house arrest and, as of Monday evening, the military had killed three protestors and injured 80 others.
Key Indicators to Watch
Burhan is trying to craft a narrative that posits the military as the savior of an ineffectual and divided civilian government. On Monday he claimed that he only wants the military to hold power until democratic elections can be held in July 2023. This is a lie. The goal here is for the military to retain power in perpetuity. The coming days will be critical for determining whether the Sudanese people’s democratic aspirations survive. For Just Security readers, key indicators to monitor in the week ahead, working from inside the country outwards, include:
Scale of citizen protest
The power of “the street” is the one advantage that Sudanese people have over the military. Across generations, they have demonstrated the courage with which they can wield that power. Knowing this, Burhan and his allies shut down the Internet before announcing the coup, hoping to limit the ability of protesters to organize. But grassroots activists have experience with prior Internet shutdowns and have planned for this scenario. As rumors circulated of the coup early on Monday morning they already began working by word-of-mouth through tightly organized neighborhood committees, and protests grew throughout the day.
Willingness of the army to use force and defections
The Sudanese Armed Forces are not a monolith. Will factions that oppose the coup disobey orders to use violence against protesters? Disobedience and defections would obviously strengthen the hand of those fighting for democracy. There is precedent for this – indeed many in the Army speak proudly of how they “stood with the people” during the 2019 overthrow of Bashir.
Unity of regional and international condemnation
The Biden Administration reacted quickly, with the State Department announcing the immediate suspension of $700 million in aid to Sudan. The UN Secretary-General was also forthright in his condemnation of the coup. The African Union called for the release of Hamdok and other civilian leaders, but has thus far avoided calling the situation a coup, or using other language to suggest that the suspension required under the AU Charter for governments who come to power “through unconstitutional means” is under consideration. The European Union described the military’s actions as a “betrayal.” Meanwhile Burhan’s backers in Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have asked only for “restraint.”
Several nations, including the United States, have called for UN Security Council consultations on Tuesday, which will be a key test of any true international commitment to the Sudanese people. The blocking or watering down of any resolution by Russia and/or China will be read by Burhan and his allies as a green light to continue down the current path.