Health

Sudan braces for ‘the worst’ after prime minister resigns

With the resignation of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok
on Sunday night, Sudan has no civilian government to help steer a country that
was just emerging from a dictatorship that lasted three decades.

There are now fears of an escalation in the confrontations
between protesters and security forces that have gripped the capital, Khartoum,
and beyond in recent weeks, resulting in the deaths of at least 57 people, a
doctors group said.

A vast country of about 43 million people in the
northeast of Africa, Sudan has neither the political structures nor the
independent political bodies in place to legitimately appoint a new prime
minister, analysts said, dampening further the country’s hopes of exchanging a
military dictatorship for democratic rule.

“It is very clear that the military and its alliance
won’t hand over power peacefully, so they will try to crush the peaceful
resistance,” said Dr Sara Abdelgalil, a Sudanese doctor and a former president
of the doctors union. “We are expecting the worst.”

Hamdok took office in 2019 in part of a power-sharing
deal negotiated between civilian and military forces after widespread protests
ousted the country’s longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir.

An economist, Hamdok was a novice politician who spent
much of his career working for international organisations, including the
African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

In the months after the transitional government took
power, it signed a peace deal with rebel groups, outlawed female genital
mutilation and was taken off a US list of state sponsors of terrorism. The
changes, with Hamdok as prime minister, gave hope to many Sudanese that their
nation was taking a turn for the better.

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“He was an affable, grandfatherly figure who really in
his person symbolized a better future,” said Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at
the Atlantic Council, a think tank based in Washington, DC. “He came to symbolise
the hope and change of Sudan.”

But in the end, Hamdok, 66, faced the herculean task
of attempting to unite the disparate actors who strove to shape Sudan’s future.

There was the military, the country’s long-dominant
force, which removed him from office Oct 25, kept him sidelined under house
arrest and then reinstalled him a month later after he signed a deal with them.

There was the constellation of political parties and
trade unions, many of which all along had rejected any power-sharing agreement
with the military.

And then there were the protesters, who have flooded
the streets since late October, despite a violent crackdown. In chants and on
signs, they labelled Hamdok a “traitor” who had undermined their quest for
“freedom, peace and justice.”

On Monday, the United Nations and countries including
the United States called on Sudanese political leaders to patch up their
differences through consensus and dialogue. US Sen James Risch, the ranking
member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Hamdok’s resignation
“completes” the military coup of Oct 25, and urged the military to “hand over
power to elected civilian leaders.”

Sudan’s military leader, Lt Gen Abdel Fattah
al-Burhan, on Monday promised to form what he called “an independent
government.” He also said the military was committed to peace and holding
elections, according to the Sudan News Agency. Al-Burhan’s office did not
immediately respond to questions.

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Experts say that installing a legitimate civilian
government now will not be easy.

As part of a constitutional declaration signed in
2019, a legislative council would have selected a prime minister. That
appointee would then be approved by the Sovereignty Council, a transitional
body composed of civilian and military leaders.

But the transitional legislative council was never
formed. Al-Burhan dissolved the Sovereignty Council after the coup and
established a new one stacked with military appointees and their allies, said
Lauren Blanchard, a specialist in African affairs with the Congressional
Research Service, a research institute of the US Congress.

Another option, according to the 2019 agreement,
Blanchard said, would call for the Forces of Freedom and Change — which led the
civilian side of the transitional government — to select a prime minister. But
with the general’s crackdown on protesters, the participation of the Forces of
Freedom and Change seems unlikely, she said.

With no prime minister or civilian government, the
military, former rebel groups and a powerful paramilitary group known as the
Rapid Support Forces are now in control of Sudan.

Magdi el-Gizouli, a Sudanese fellow at the Rift Valley
Institute, a research group, said some of the names floated for appointment as
prime minister — as the military tries to temper both international criticism
and domestic protests — include a former finance minister, Ibrahim Elbadawi,
and Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, a human-rights activist. But both men and others are
likely to decline the offers, he said, given the pressure coming from the
general public.

“So, for now, it is the generals who will make the
decisions,” el-Gizouli said. “If you command an army and have guns in Sudan,
you now make the decision.”

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Hamdok’s resignation does put increased pressure on
the military, Hudson said. The generals have used Hamdok as cover, he said,
shielding them from international pressure and financial sanctions targeting
their extensive business networks.

But even as they paid lip service to democracy and
elections, the generals undermined Hamdok’s leadership, and over the past two
months, they responded with brutality to the protests of those calling for a
fully democratic Sudan.

Despite the crackdown, anti-coup demonstrators have
continued to turn out every week, with neighbourhood resistance committees
becoming ever more organised in standing up to the military. But with Hamdok
gone, many civilians and analysts are now worried about a more extensive and
severe crackdown.

Sudan is going “deeper in the wrong direction,” said
el-Gizouli. “It is heading toward a hollowed-out political system where words
and structures don’t mean anything, and where killing people doesn’t cost you
anything.”

© 2022 The New York Times Company

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