Mapping conflict between negotiators of joint civilian-military council in Sudan

Today the transitional military council of Sudan announced its support for a joint civilian-military council to lead the country’s political transition. There are number of interests at play among the military and civilian negotiators in terms of  the number of seats within the council and the duration of the interim period.The following analysis will be limited to the actors within the negotiation, the civilian coalition, the transitional military council and regional powers influencing those negotiators.  

The negotiators on the military side represent the 10-man transitional military council that was established after the military and security forces removed Bashir on 11 April (The Guardian, April 28, 2019) while the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a coalition of opposition groups led by the Sudanese Professionals Association that spearheaded the protests, represent the civilian side. The Guardian reports, “Opposition negotiators are reportedly seeking a 15-strong council with eight seats held by civilian representatives and seven by the military. Another point of contention is for how long an interim period the council should exist, with the military favouring two years and the opposition proposing a four-year term.”  According to a spokesman for the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change, we “ think majority of the council should be formed by the civilians or that it should be a civilian council with a limited military representation. But our brothers in the military think it should be a military council with a limited civilian representation.” A majority military representation in would allow former regime loyalists to retain power. However, it i is not just the military officials that would benefit.

There are other actors involved in the eventual decision on the transitional government. Namely, the regional powers of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt are competing with Iran, Turkey and Qatar to exploit political turmoil after deposal of president. (The Guardian, April 27, 2019)  Saudi, UAE and Egypt support the military leaders while Qatar and Turkey are aligned with the country’s Islamists, according to Declan Walsh of the NYTimes). On April 27, the UAE and Saudi last week provided $3B in aid, a $500 million to be deposited directly into the Sudanese central bank. The rest is to be delivered as food, medicine and petroleum products.  (DW, April 27, 2019). On April 23, Egypt presented a resolution at the African Union extending a deadline for Sudan’s generals to surrender power from 15 days to three months. (NY Times, April 26, 2019) Afterwards, protesters gathered outside the Egyptian embassy in Sudan and delivered a letter aimed at the regional powers to keep out of Sudan’s affairs. ( The Guardian, April 27, 2019)

In regards to the United State’s role, it has been passive but its previous positions on Sudan function as an active barrier to economic investment.   The White House is silent on their stance in what is described as one of the major geopolitical shifts in Africa in 2019. However, the continued terrorist designation of Sudan (in place since 1993) “stymies investment from the West and bars the country from receiving urgently needed financial relief like debt forgiveness or an International Monetary Fund bailout.” (Declan Welsh, NY Times) So far Sudanese government has been economically and politically supported by the UAE, Saudi and Egypt while those who are pushing for a complete civilian government are not receiving economic or political support on that large of a scale. Former senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Sudan argues that “Washington may be the only actor that can corral international players and help ensure a transition is beholden only to the Sudanese people.”

The hidden agenda behind the support from UAE, Saudi and Egypt is considered to be ensuring continued Sudanese support for the war in Yemen, an opportunity to recruit Sudan for their regional campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and to continue access to exporting agricultural products. The head of the transitional military council, Burhan, is the same man who headed the recruitment of troops who fought in Yemen (Washington Post, April 27, 2019) According to Khalid Mustafa Medani, an associate professor of political science and chair of the Africa studies program at McGill University, Sudan has been an epicenter of that rivalry between Qatar and Saudi/UAE. He also said, Egypt’s interests are separate, but “stem from securing the flow of the Nile River to ensuring that the protests in Sudan do not embolden Egypt’s civil society activists.” The Guardian, April 27, 2019 Columnist for Sudanese publication Al-Tayyer, Shamael al-Nour, also suggests there are links between prominent generals on the Transitional Military Council and these regional players. (The Guardian, April 27, 2019) Specifically, there is speculation that the “recent  return to Sudan of Taha Osman al-Hussein, a former aide to Bashir who spent several years in exile in Saudi Arabia” is a sign of close engagement between Saudi and the Sudanese military council. (Washington Post, April 24, 2019) Therefore, the military council has more political capital, and thus power within this conflict than the civilian coalition.

The other regional players, Qatar and Turkey do not support the “opposition” of the military council. Instead, both Qatar and Turkey’s support for or influence within the transitional military council is less obvious. During El Bashir’s last two months in power, Qatar promised aid to support the El Bashir regime. (AP News, January 23, 2019) Same goes for Turkey as our only indication of their position comes from a government press release from the Foreign Minister. Their position does not indicate support for a military or civilian majority in the transition government. Rather, they stipulate, “that the administration will be handed over back to the civilians at the end of the process.” Of course, the situation is developing so more will be revealed with time.

Julia Grifferty