Calls for a return to democracy in Sudan are growing as military officers and civilians who served in the transitional government before the coup in October maintain their rigid positions.
Street protests against the military that started eight months ago continue in the two main cities of Khartoum and Omdurman.
The African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) and the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITMAS) have initiated new negotiations, known as the intra-Sudanese dialogue, but both the civilian and military wings continue to maintain a hard stance.
General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan says the junta he heads would hand over power only after elections next year. The polls remain uncertain given Sudan’s security and economic challenges.
The generals have stated that they will only hand over power to an elected administration after polls scheduled for July 2023, according to a constitutional document governing the transitional period.
Gen Burhan threatened to expel a UN envoy who was trying to craft a political agreement with the AU to establish a transitional government.
This means that the generals are not interested in dialogue as they continue with high-handed repression against protesters.
On the one hand, the civilian wing that comprises the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the National Umma Party, and the Sudanese Congress Party maintains that those who overthrew the government of former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok must first return power to civilian hands before any negotiations can begin.
Those demanding the return to civilian rule, including the FFC and the Khartoum Resistance Committees, are hesitant to participate in the tripartite initiative or engage in any dialogue with the military coup authorities and those who support them, fearing that doing so would legitimise the coup.
According to Taha Awad, the leader of the Resistance Committees, the protests will continue until the military returns to the barracks and the generals who orchestrated the coup are tried in revolutionary courts.
Because of the hostility between the civilian and the military wings, the AU, Igad and UNITMAS are consulting the two sides separately until they are comfortable enough for face-to-face negotiations.
The AU-Igad-UN trilateral mechanism has held several meetings with the Women's Rights Support Group, Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), FFC, and Khartoum Resistance Committees Women's Rights Support Group.
The AU special envoy for Sudan, Mohamed el-Hacen Ould Lebatt, said the indirect dialogue formula would gradually lead to mechanisms for bringing them together. But he refused to divulge what that would entail for fear of antagonising the rival groups.
“Civilians and the military must work together in some capacity to enable the international community to help stabilise the country,” he said.
As the military tightens its hold on power with the intention of negating the power-sharing arrangement that was crafted after the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, the international community, led by the United States, continues to put pressure on the military to allow a return to democracy.
On May 23, the US threatened sanctions against anyone impeding or obstructing the transition to democracy. This applies to both the military wing and the civilians resisting dialogue.
According to Richard Mills, the US deputy ambassador to the UN, Washington supports a joint effort by the UN political mission in Sudan, the AU and the eight-nation regional group Igad to facilitate a Sudanese-led transition to democracy.
Volker Perthes, the UN special representative for Sudan and head of UNITMAS, said Sudan's military and political leaders must first rebuild trust with their own domestic public, particularly young people.
He told the UN Security Council that time was running out for the Sudanese to strike a deal and end the current political crisis, urging military leaders to implement confidence-building measures.
In a briefing to the 15-member body on the Sudanese crisis, Perthes warned that the critical assistance the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) allocated to Sudan as part of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief process would be reallocated to other countries by the end of June if a political solution is not reached.
December 2018: Mass protests erupt against Omar al-Bashir after simmering since 2015
April 2019: Al-Bashir overthrown
June 2019: Bloody crackdown against protesters by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
August 2019: Power-sharing agreement for a three-year interim period, which was scheduled to end in 2023
July 2020: Al-Bashir put on trial for the 1989 coup
October 2021: Military coup that ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok
November 2021: Hamdok is reinstated but his civilian wing rejects his deal with the military
January 2022: Hamdok resigns