UN proposes dialogue process in Sudan in the face of refusal by civilian platforms

The initiative follows a telephone conversation between UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Sovereign Council President Abdel Fattah al-Burhan
António Guterres

AFP/ SALVATORE DI NOLFI  -   UN Secretary-General António Guterres

The situation in Sudan is critical. The coup d'état on 25 October unravelled the transition process and prompted civil society to take to the streets in protest against the army, the organiser of the uprising. The total fracture between the civilian and military wings of the government, which had shared power since 2019, has taken the African country back to square one. A new beginning to leave behind more than three decades of military rule, although the army has its own road map.

The resignation of the hitherto Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, the highest civilian representative of the Executive and the visible face of democratic openness, left Sudanese society without a point of reference. His image, however, had lost all credibility by the time he accepted to return to office after being placed under house arrest during the coup. The social base has lost all confidence in the 66-year-old economist.

The country remains in a state of instability that is worrying for the region. Sudan, once a promoter of terrorism under al-Bashir's Islamist regime, occupies a crucial enclave for global security and the international community is aware of the need to address the crisis. In this regard, the United Nations has offered to host a national reconciliation dialogue "to end the violence and engage in a constructive process".

Abdalla Hamdok
AFP/ ASHRAF SHAZLY  -  Former Sudanese Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok (centre) and Major General Malik Tayeb Khojali (left) inspect a guard of honour in El-Fasher, North Darfur

This was announced by the head of the UN mission in Sudan, Volker Perthes, whose sole purpose is to resolve the crisis. The UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) issued a statement saying that the terms of the process are intended to "support the Sudanese parties in reaching an agreement on a way out of the current political crisis and on a sustainable path towards democracy and peace".

The German diplomat's proposal followed a telephone conversation between UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the chairman of the Sovereign Transitional Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Both agreed on the need to "complete the structures and institutions of the transitional period and accelerate the formation of a civilian government", according to a note issued by the Sovereign Council itself.

In this process, the UN is counting on the participation of "all key civilian and military actors, including the armed movements - signatories of the transition agreement in 2020 - civil society, women's groups and resistance committees". Platforms that played a leading role in the 2019 national dialogue that led to the start of the transitional process.

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan
AFP/ASHRAF SHAZLY  -  Sudanese army senior general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan addresses a press conference at the General Command of the Armed Forces in Khartoum on 26 October 2021

In the preliminary agreement of July 2019, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) closed ranks with the Sovereign Council, led by General al-Burhan. An unprecedented civil-military alliance aimed at establishing a new political system that would undo the foundations of the al-Bashir regime. Al-Burhan himself headed the country's presidency, while Hamdok took the reins of a technocratic cabinet. All of this with a view to the elections scheduled for 2023, where the Sudanese would elect their representatives.

Everything came to an irreversible halt in September and October, with two successive coups d'état - the first failed and the second successful - that sought to reverse the agreement. At that point, the international community stepped in to stop the army's action, threatening to cut off millions in funding and isolate the country. The coup was mitigated from the outside, while a series of mass protests were organised from the inside demanding a civilian government.

The harsh repression by the police and armed forces has resulted in more than 60 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Reports of attacks on journalists and the media and, above all, of multiple "gang" rapes against women during the demonstrations, recorded by the UN, have prompted the organisation to seek immediate solutions. And its decision has been to bring the military and civilians to the same table.

Manifestaciones Sudán
PHOTO/AFP  -  Sudanese protesters march on 60th Street in the capital Khartoum to denounce the army's overnight arrests of members of Sudan's government, 25 October 2021
Civilian rejection

The Forces for Freedom and Change, the broad political coalition that is part of the transition process, has responded favourably to the UN announcement by thanking the UN for its readiness to contain the army coup and organise a process aimed at establishing a democratic state. However, they have yet to state their official position and are committed to analysing the proposals once they have access to the UNITAMS initiative.

More belligerent has been the response of the Association of Sudanese Professionals, one of the country's leading civil society organisations that was part of the 2019 protests that led to the overthrow of al-Bashir. The platform has flatly rejected the military-civilian reunion agenda outlined by the UN: "We affirm our total rejection of this initiative, which seeks to push for normalisation with the criminals of the coup military council and its fascist authority."

The Association of Sudanese Professionals considers that the organisation grants legitimacy to the army and to al-Burhan himself, the promoter of the uprising and the person most responsible for "the massacres they have committed against the defenceless and peaceful Sudanese people", the group said. In the communiqué they also state that the solution to resolve the crisis is to dissolve "the coup military council completely".