Despite its support for General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan's coup in October 2021, the army says it is committed to Sudan's political transition away from "any partisan political agenda"

Sudanese army claims to stay out of political battle

photo_camera AFP/PETER LOUIS GUME - Members of the National Army of the Unified Forces

Since General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan - army chief and now self-proclaimed president of Sudan's Sovereign Council - led the military coup movement that overthrew Abdalla Hamdok's transitional civilian government in October 2021, the political scene in Sudan has become a difficult puzzle to solve. 

Citizen protests demanding "the return of the military to the barracks" have been almost constant for the past year, and despite the international efforts of the "tripartite mechanism" (made up of the United Nations, the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on East African Development) to bring civilian and military positions closer together and reactivate a process of civilian-led democratic transition, the truth is that, day by day, the situation seems to be increasingly deadlocked.

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In this scenario, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FCC) - one of the most important political coalitions of Sudanese civilian groups and rebels in the country - published a statement on Wednesday accusing the army of carrying out a "systematic campaign, led by elements of the former regime in recent days, which aims to create a wide gap between the military and civilians, on the one hand, and to push for confrontation within the institution, on the other".

The Sudanese armed forces have defended themselves against these claims. "The military institution is, and has always been, a place of respect and recognition [...] far from any partisan political agenda," said the army's official spokesman, Nabil Abdullah, on Thursday. "No one can manipulate the armed forces or direct them to serve their own interests [...] as they are working to secure the transition period without interfering directly in the political arena." 

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"The army knows very well how to immunise its members against any intrusion, and we trust in the wisdom of the leadership and its ability to do what is necessary to ensure the security of the country," he added, in statements that could refer to citizens' demands to reform ranks that, they criticise, "include supporters of former dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir" - overthrown in 2019 - and which should be overseen by civilian authorities. 

In a counter-attack, the military spokesman also called on "some of the political forces" in the country to "correct their positions on the armed forces", alleging that "there have been several attempts to exploit the army with the aim of gaining access to power without a popular election"

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Democratic transition five years away

After 30 years under the rule of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the democratic transition process in the Republic of Sudan formally began on 5 July 2019. A process agreed by the Transitional Military Council and civilian forces that was expected to result in the creation of a Sovereign Council of Sudan (chaired alternately by both parties), and would last for 39 months. Until 2024.

However, in October 2021, the commander-in-chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, overthrew the transitional civilian government - headed at the time by Abdalla Hamdok - as part of 'corrective measures' to the revolution that, in 2019, brought an end to the Al-Bashir government. Something that both the majority of the Sudanese population and the civilian opposition forces consider a "military coup d'état".

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Months and months of almost weekly protests shook the country, until, in July 2022, Al-Burhan announced the dissolution of the military governing body, to make way, once again, for a civilian authority. A step aside by the army. But a symbolic step. The military's political role would not disappear, but it would be put in charge of supervising the transition through tools such as control of the Central Bank. However, the passing of the months without tangible changes in the situation seems to support civilian leaders who accused Al-Burhan of carrying out a "ruse". To date, effective control of the country remains in the hands of the army chief, with no government formation in sight, and a growing civilian refusal to negotiate with the armed forces.  

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"As Sudan faces humanitarian and economic security crises, and [as] the anniversary of the 25 October 2021 military takeover approaches, we emphasise the need for all Sudanese actors, including the Sudanese Army, to engage constructively in a political process to restore a civilian-led transition to democracy," said a communiqué issued by nine Western countries, including Germany, the UK, France and Spain, among others. 

"No political settlement can be credible or sustainable if it is not inclusive or does not have a broad base of popular support," it added. “No single actor, group or coalition should have a monopoly on the political process. Sudan must come together.”

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