Tires burn in Khartoum to protest Monday’s civilian deaths in the Sudanese state capital of Al-Ubayyid. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

Several Protesters Killed in Sudan Ahead of Reconciliation Talks

Opposition fearful military will renege on transition to civilian rule

At least five demonstrators were shot dead and several wounded during a rally in the central Sudanese city of Al-Ubayyid on Monday. Other protesters reportedly set a bank ablaze in the city,  located some 250 miles southwest of Khartoum and capital of North Kordofan state.

The governor of the state ordered all schools closed a day before protest leaders and officers from the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) were scheduled to meet.

Mohammad Diaa Edin, a protester in Al-Ubayyid, put the blame squarely on the TMC.

“It was a peaceful march. The Rapid Support Forces opened fire on us indiscriminately,” he told The Media Line, referring to the RSF, a paramilitary unit that until recently served as a sort of palace guard for ousted president Omar al-Bashir.

“We will continue to take to the streets until all of our demands are met,” Diaa Edin added.

The TMC and the main opposition group, the Alliance for Freedom and Change, signed a power-sharing deal earlier this month in which the former pledged to eventually give up power and yield to civilian rule.

Sahar Aziz, a professor of law at Rutgers University in New Jersey and director of the university’s Center for Security, Race and Rights, told The Media Line that the opposition still faced two major obstacles.

“First, the Sudanese military council could renege on its commitments under the negotiated peace deal, and second, foreign countries could sabotage the transition to civilian, democratic rule during the transitional period,” Aziz said.

Abdelrahman Mohammad Abdelrahman, a Sudanese teacher in Khartoum, said that Egypt, the country’s powerful neighbor to the north, was trying to keep the military regime in power.

“[Egyptian President Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi doesn’t want to see a civilian government here; he is afraid it would give Egyptians the wrong idea and [they would] revolt against him,” Abdelrahman said.

Sisi met in Cairo on Monday with Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy chief of the TMC and leader of the RSF. He is viewed as the TMC’s most powerful member.

In a statement, the Office of the Egyptian Presidency said Sisi and Dagalo discussed “the latest developments on the current situation in Sudan.”

Sisi, a former general who became president of Egypt in 2014 after the previous year’s military coup, renewed a call for “the stability and security” for his southern neighbor, stressing “Egypt’s strategic, constant support for the stability and security of Sudan.”

Cairo views the military council as a close ally and has supported its leaders’ efforts to stay in power.

Aziz noted Dagalo’s checkered past – he commanded forces that were accused of committing war crimes in the Darfur region under Bashir – and added that the TMC did not want to cede control. She mentioned, too, that key regional and international powers also wanted the military to maintain its rule.

“Some Middle East and western countries do not want Sudan to be governed by a civilian, democratic government because the current military leader, Hemeti, is accommodating their requests to send Sudanese troops to Yemen and Libya [to fight] in regional proxy wars,” she said, referring to Dagalo by his nickname.

Aziz added that the military council served regional interests.

“The Sudanese domestic conflict has broad regional implications that will attract the intervention of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and Turkey, depending on their geopolitical interests,” she told The Media Line. “And similar to what we witnessed in Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, the average citizen seeking basic human dignity and good governance is the last priority of foreign actors seeking regional hegemony.”

She stated that the many failed efforts to overthrow Middle Eastern dictators made the Sudanese popular uprising even more significant.

“The failure of the so-called Arab Spring demonstrates the importance of Sudanese civilian groups ensuring international mechanisms are in place to hold accountable any future attempts by military or militia leaders to refuse handing over power to the civilians after the initial 21-month period covered by the three-year transition agreement,” she asserted. “Once the revolutionary momentum subsides, it will be easier for the Sudanese military to crack down on civilian leaders and install a permanent military regime, as was the case in other Arab countries.”

Aziz called on the international community to ensure Sudan’s transition to civilian rule.

“It is crucial for an international body such as the United Nations to serve as a check on violations of the peace agreement, whether driven by domestic or international forces. The cost of violating the agreement must be higher than compliance for there to be any chance of Sudan transitioning to a democratic state after 30 years of brutal military rule,” she said.

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