The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing tomorrow on U.S. policy toward Sudan, including testimony from Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee and U.S. Agency for International Development Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman. The hearing title rightly highlights “Sudan’s Imperiled Transition.” The Oct. 25th military coup overthrew Sudan’s civilian-led transitional government, derailing the Sudanese people’s struggle for democracy.
It is time to reset U.S. policy to reflect the new realities on the ground in Sudan. The hearing is a welcome sign of political will in Congress to press for such a shift. It will, I hope, also be a catalyst for the Biden administration to align its actions with its stated commitment to democracy.
Among the questions the committee might consider posing:
- Does the Biden administration support Sudanese protesters’ demands for full civilian rule for the remainder of the transition? If not, not why not?
- Why hasn’t the administration already issued a new sanctions regime for Sudan?
- What, if any, downsides does the administration see in sanctioning those who led and supported the coup, including General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as “Hemedti,” and Abdul Rahim Dagalo?
- Does the administration believe it is still possible to return to the pre-Oct. 25 transitional arrangement? If so, what makes the administration think that those who led the coup on Oct. 25 will not mount another overthrow again?
- What mechanisms has the administration put in place to ensure that the Sudan portfolio receives the attention it deserves, even when the crisis in Ethiopia strains regional human and financial resources?
In the words of President Joe Biden, “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.” It took just 10 days after the Burmese military launched a coup in February 2021 for him to issue an executive order authorizing sanctions against those responsible for or complicit in “actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Burma.” There is nothing stopping the administration from issuing an executive order on Sudan.
Sanctioning those who undermine Sudanese democracy is not a silver bullet; those sanctioned may find ways to subvert the restrictions, and U.S. pressure will be ineffective unless integrated with multilateral action. But the Sudanese people are currently paying with their lives for the goal of democracy, and the least we can do is align our policies to support them.