Sudan Signs Landmark Power-Sharing Deal After Months of Tumult

Sudan Signs Landmark Power-Sharing Deal After Months of Tumult


Sudan’s military and civilian leaders signed a landmark power-sharing deal at a joyous ceremony in the capital, Khartoum, on Saturday, signaling a new chapter after eight tumultuous months in which the sprawling African country was rocked by popular protests, a dictator was ousted and the military led a bloody crackdown.

Few Sudanese could have imagined only a year ago that Omar Hassan al-Bashir, their despised ruler of 30 years, would be languishing in Sudan’s most notorious prison awaiting a trial on corruption charges that is expected to start on Monday. Nationwide street celebrations, with music, poetry and fireworks, were planned Saturday night.

In a region where numerous revolutions have failed or horribly backfired in recent years, the Sudanese hope to be an exception.

But for many, the euphoria was tempered by the painful realities of the country’s economic collapse, and the realization that the power-sharing deal is underpinned by tough compromises with the military, which is led by some of Mr. al-Bashir’s closest deputies and which has retained its hold on power.

“We’re putting everything on this,” said Mohamed Azhary, one of many young doctors who took to the streets to oust Mr. al-Bashir. “People are feeling optimistic, but there’s a lot of mixed feelings, too. We are praying for the best.”

The deal was signed in the presence of regional leaders including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, which played a key role in reviving the power-sharing talks after a deadly military crackdown against protesters in June.

The agreement paves the way for a transitional government to take power on Sept. 1, replacing the military junta that ousted Mr. al-Bashir in April. The new administration will govern Sudan for just over three years, until elections can be held.

The arrangement divides power between Sudan’s military, which has dominated the country since it gained independence from Britain in 1956, and the civilian coalition that sprang from the streets in December. But the military has retained the whip hand.

The government will be headed by Abdalla Hamdok, an economist, while overall power will lie with a governing council, split between military and civilian leaders.

The council will be led for the first 21 months by a military officer, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. The military will also control the defense and interior ministries, which account for a large part of national spending.

The uprising that culminated in the ouster of Mr. al-Bashir on April 11 excited the hopes of young Sudanese, especially women, who were desperate for a chance to pull their country out of a spiral of harsh Islamist rule and international isolation.

Sudanese from Darfur and other conflict zones, like the Nuba Mountains, nursed hopes they might finally find a peaceful settlement with a central government.

But the terms of the power-sharing deal itself were set in blood after the crackdown on June 3 led by the Rapid Support Forces, a notorious paramilitary unit that rampaged through central Khartoum in a storm of shooting and rape that left at least 128 people dead.

Many weeks later, bodies of dead protesters were still being recovered from the Nile, some with concrete blocks tied around them. The commander of that operation, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, has since emerged as arguably the most powerful figure in the country, even if he is outranked by General al-Burhan.

During the three years of transition, the country will be governed by a sovereign council composed of five civilians, five military officers and an 11th member chosen jointly by both sides.

The Forces for Freedom and Change nominated Mr. Hamdok, an economist who has worked in international institutions, to lead a technocratic government operating under the sovereign council.

Civilian appointees will control every ministry with two major exceptions: the defense and interior ministries, which will remain under military control. That means there are limited prospects of accountability for past military abuses under Mr. al-Bashir, or even for Mr. al-Bashir himself.

Sudan’s generals have said that Mr. al-Bashir will not be sent to stand trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he faced a decade-old indictment on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The trial expected to start on Monday is a “positive step toward accountability,” said Joan Nyanyuki of Amnesty International, but Mr. al-Bashir should be held accountable for abuses committed against his own people. “Omar al-Bashir has evaded justice for far too long as the victims of horrific crimes still wait for justice and reparations,” she said.

For some revolutionaries, especially those who lost friends in violence, the power-sharing deal made for a bittersweet victory, and they welcomed it cautiously.

“It is very sad for us that the country is going to be headed by a military officer,” said Sara Abdelgalil of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which played a key role in the protest movement. “It’s a very tough compromise. We just hope that we will achieve a civilian-led government at the end of the three years. And if we fail, we will go back to the street.”

Echoing complaints from others, Ms. Abdelgalil said that women were underrepresented in negotiations with the military. Now, she said, at least one of the five civilians on the sovereign council is expected to be a woman.

“We will see and count when the ministers are announced,” Ms. Abdelgalil said.

The new administration inherits a country in economic collapse, with soaring inflation, shortages of food, fuel and electricity, and a crumbling infrastructure that caused large areas of Khartoum to be flooded by seasonal rains in recent weeks. Public fury over tripling bread prices set off the first protests against Mr. al-Bashir in December, and experts warn that Sudan needs urgent international assistance to stabilize its perilous economic situation and ward off further unrest.

At the same time, some experts worry that the new interim government will present rapacious generals with a fresh chance to enrich themselves and their supporters.



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