Sudan’s military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan signaled in a speech on Monday that for the first time since last year’s coup, he might be willing to return some authority to a civilian government — comments the country’s main civilian political bloc rejected as a “tactical retreat.”
The big picture: Burhan is facing growing pressure from anti-military protesters and the international community to restore the civilian government.
- Dozens of people have been killed in the protests since the Oct. 25 coup.
Catch up quick: Following the downfall of President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, the military formed a political partnership with a coalition of major political forces known as Freedom of Forces and Change (FFC) to run the country until elections were held.
- That arrangement came to an end in the Oct. 25 coup. The military has struggled ever since to establish a government and appoint a prime minister.
- In a joint effort, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia restored talks between the military and the civilian political factions, but no agreement has been achieved.
Driving the news: In a surprise announcement on Sudan’s national television late Monday, Burhan said the military will no longer participate in the dialogue sponsored by the African Union, the UN and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development — an eight-country trade bloc in Eastern Africa.
- The three organizations have been working to reach a compromise that would pull the country out of the political deadlock.
- Today, the groups said they had decided to cancel talks in the current format, but will engage parties to figure out the way forward.
- In his speech, Burhan warned that Sudan is going through a crisis that endangers “its unity and national cohesion.” He blamed the situation on political infighting.
Burhan signaled the military would take a step back from politics and let civilians decide among themselves on the formation of a government consisting of “independent and competent figures.”
- He said once that happens, he will dissolve the Transitional Sovereign Council (TSC) he chairs but will form a supreme council for the armed forces that will also incorporate the controversial Rapid Support Forces to manage security and defense.
- On Tuesday, Burhan took another step to roll back some of his post-coup decisions, firing five civilian members of the TSC he appointed last November.
The other side: The FFC swiftly rejected Burhan’s speech, calling it a “maneuver” and a “tactical retreat” that came under the pressure of continued street protests.
- The statement from FFC’s executive office said the announcement fell short of its demand of a full military exit from the political arena by attempting to “impose guardianship” on the formation of the government and its mandate.
What to watch: Burhan acts as the head of state and commander in chief of the Sudanese army. A lingering question will be whether the military and its leaders will agree to report to a civilian head of state who will have control over foreign policy.
- The street protests calling for civilian rule are likely to continue as politicians and international mediators attempt to get the military to offer more concessions.