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  • Writer's pictureCenter for International Policy

What's Next for Sudan

On 3 June, the Rapid Support Forces (formally the Janjaweed Militia) opened fire on the Khartoum sit-in and have killed 128 people since then. Bodies were dumped in the Nile River, women were raped, and the vile videos showcasing these things led the Transitional Military Council (TMC) to shut down the internet so that these clips could not be shared with the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, the 3 June massacre in Sudan is what finally managed to capture the world’s attention. Not the 11 April overthrow of Omar al-Bashir only a week after Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria’s removal from power, sparking many to describe the North African events as a potential Arab Spring 2.0. Not the deadlocked talks, over a month after Bashir’s overthrowal that unveiled the scary truth: Sudanese protesters might have removed Bashir but the regime behind him still remained. And not the two days of general strikes that the opposition called for at the end of May as their “next step in pressing for change as their negotiations with military leaders” stalled following disagreements over how power would be shared between civilians and the military.

The three-month anniversary of al-Bashir’s removal from power is quickly approaching, so what’s next for Sudan? CIP’s Africa Program invited Sudanese guest contributor, Professor Khalid Mustafa Medani of McGill University to help us break-down the roles of the U.S., Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and the TMC itself, to figure out what these actors mean for the resilient Forces of Freedom and Change. Professor Medani is the Chair of the African Studies Program and an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department and Islamic Studies Institute at McGill.

Africa Program: What are the TMC’s next steps following the recent developments?  

Professor Medani: Following the horrific massacre that led to the killing of over 100 innocent peaceful protestors, the TMC has found itself in a very difficult position: the Sudanese population is completely united against their intent to hold on to power and they [the TMC] are isolated from the international community. Even before the TMC acknowledged that it gave the orders to disperse the sit-in by force, the African Union (AU) suspended its membership in the organization, and the international community quickly condemned its actions. Consequently, the TMC is now desperate to sideline the opposition coalition organized under the banner of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) by attempting to ferment division within its ranks, instigate further violence in order to claim that they [the military] are the only institution capable of providing stability at this time, and reaching out yet again to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and even Eritrea for both financial assistance and diplomatic support.

However, these attempts, which may have had some effect in the past, are unlikely to provide the level of support the TMC is looking for in ways that would bolster their insistence on maintaining rule and evading accountability with respect to its gross violation of human rights.

This is because, with some minor exceptions, the opposition is firmly united particularly

following the massacre of 3 June. They have shown that they are force of stability in Khartoum as well as in outlying regions, including Darfur. In addition, the weight of the African Union, the U.S., the EU, the UK and other external actors is now firmly on the side of a "swift" turnover to a civilian led government. There are indications that the TMC is desperate to co-opt non-FCC civilian forces and Islamist political parties into the government but this effort will also fail given the united opposition against what is now clearly an authoritarian military junta that represents a military coup rather than a "transitional" military government. In this regard, they have lost legitimacy among the Sudanese population as well as with powerful actors in the international community including the African Union. 

Africa Program: Has the U.S. reacted effectively following the massacre? And what role should they be playing when it comes to the involvement of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt?

Professor Medani: The U.S., and in particular the U.S. Department of State, has increased its pressure on the TMC following the Massacre. Led by the Department of State, the U.S. government has condemned the massacre and called for an independent investigation, sent a high ranking official (i.e. the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs) to Khartoum to reiterate to the TMC the importance of moving swiftly to a civilian led government, and appointed a special envoy to Sudan in order to sustain U.S. involvement during the negotiations for  swift transfer to a civilian led government.

The U.S.'s position is now firmly in support of the African Union and is now playing a crucial role supporting the mediation efforts led by the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who is working under the mandate of the AU. The Union has essentially declared the TMC a council that led a military coup against the wishes and will of the Sudanese people, and it has, along with the U.S., commended the people of Sudan for their peaceful protests and uprising for a civilian-led democracy. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt continue to act as spoilers and they are exerting remarkable efforts at undermining the interest of the Sudanese people in ways that have been recognized by the entire world. The government of Egypt has provided support to undermine the peaceful strikes and civil disobedience undertaken by the Sudanese people to push for democracy, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE have supplied large sums of funds , weaponry and even uniforms to the TMC, security forces, and para-military militias that are violating the rights and lives of Sudanese to a horrendous degree.

The U.S. needs to put further pressure on these countries and make sure that they are aware that their support for the TMC and its allies is not only against international law and human rights more generally, but it is sure to undermine any efforts at stability in the region. In this regard, putting pressure on these countries in terms of an arms embargo and even sanctions, while difficult given the links between the U.S and these countries, must be considered as part of the solution and the only way to not only stop the funding of mercenaries decimating the Sudanese population but also undermining the stability of the region in ways that go against the interest of countries of the region as well as the United States of America.

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