People across Sudan are celebrating the start of a new chapter in the history of their country with the appointment of a technocrat prime minister and a sovereign council comprised of six civilians and five military officers.

But in a region complicated by people’s revolutions that have either failed or backfired, experts are cautious about the prospects of a successful transition in Sudan.

For Nuha Zein, a visiting professor at Rice University in Texas and a Sudanese national, the excitement is based on hope and trust.

“I am optimistic that [the] Sudanese Arab Spring will lead to a successful transition to democracy because over the past eight months, the Sudanese people proved to be resilient, encouraging each other to overcome all sorts of hurdles and counterrevolution attempts, backing a clear vision to achieve long-awaited goals of freedom, democracy and human dignity,” Zein told Inside Arabia.

Pro-democracy forces in Sudan have learned hard lessons from the doomed revolutions next-door in Egypt and Libya. 

She said pro-democracy forces in Sudan have learned hard lessons from the doomed revolutions next-door in Egypt and Libya. 

Paul Nantolya, an Africa expert, agrees that Sudan’s people won’t fall into the same trap that Egyptian pro-democracy movements did.

“The Sudanese Professionals Association and Forces of Freedom and Change studied the Egyptian process and included the learned lessons in their literature along with their past experience inside Sudan and concluded that they will keep the popular pressure until enough momentum is generated to preserve the roadmap to a democratic transition.”

Nantulya acknowledges the maturity of the Sudanese pro-democracy movement in realizing the initial involvement of the military is in securing an environment conducive to a meaningful transition.

That explains the consensus on allowing the chairman of the new sovereign council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to be Sudan’s head of state for the first 21 months of the 39-month transition period; when a civilian would take over for the remaining time.

U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus welcomed the formation of the sovereign council, calling it “another step in the establishment of the transitional government” and pledged that the U.S. would work constructively with those appointed.

“The U.S. remains a steadfast partner of the Sudanese people in their pursuit of a civilian-led government that will advance peace, security, prosperity and respect for human rights,” Ortagus said. 

Another positive sign is the inclusion of youth and minorities in the sovereign council, which was described by the State Department as “substantive and representative inclusion of those Sudanese who have been marginalized in the past.”

The Obstacles Ahead

Economist Abdalla Hamdok has taken the oath of office as Sudan’s new prime minister. Hamdok’s career across African organizations makes him an expert on good governance. The primary expectation of him will be to find tangible solutions to a dire economic situation and unresolved conflicts in the Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile regions.

New Prime Minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdock

New Prime Minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdock

U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, a keen observer of developments in Sudan, points out another challenge the country faces to make a peaceful transition to civilian rule:

“I have grave concerns about whether military and political officials associated with the former regime will prove trustworthy partners, given their history of violence, repression, corruption and bad faith.”

Professor Nuha Zein shares this concern, given that ex-leader Omar Bashir left behind a so-called Islamist deep state that will be difficult to dismantle.

“After 30 years of totalitarian rule, Bashir’s regime still exists in all sorts of governmental and societal institutions, and it is expected that the deposed regime elements will work hard to obstruct attempts to bring peace or to revive the troubled economy,” Zein said.

The Sudanese people will strongly back the transitional government because the former regime failed so miserably to pave the way for a better future.

But she also says she’s confident the Sudanese people will strongly back the transitional government because the former regime failed so miserably to pave the way for a better future.

Another issue that may prove challenging to resolve in the transition period is a politicized security sector. According to Joseph Siegle, Director of Research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Sudan’s military leaders still believe they should have the upper hand.

“The defense and interior ministers in Hamdok’s 20-member cabinet will be chosen by the military, an indication that the security sector will be carved out from the civilian-led government.”  

Experts of transitional justice point out to the need to reform the Sudanese security sector to ensure that the crimes of the past will never happen again.

The Threat of Counterrevolution

Euphoria inspired by the promise of civilian rule in Sudan cannot quiet fears of a possible counterrevolution. Nantulya suggests the most likely driver behind a potential counter revolution would come from within the military leadership.

He said Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, a member of the sovereign council and a paramilitary commander of the Rapid Support Forces, is surfacing as the most powerful man in Sudan. Dagolo, known as ‘Hemeti’, has been a central figure in negotiations not only with the pro-democracy figures but with regional officials. That gives him more clout than al-Burhan, who was president of the Transitional Military Council.

Siegle hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a Hemeti-led counterrevolution, especially because he’s regularly consulted countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE; who have quashed democratic aspirations in their own countries.

Professor Zein is still confident that the Sudanese people will not back down.

“Regardless of the challenges ahead, there are a lot of opportunities for the Sudanese people to make a difference and continue their popular pressure until they achieve their goals of a stable, prosperous and democratic Sudan.” 

Early Warning for Instability

The Sovereign Council decided on Sunday to declare a State of Emergency in Port Sudan, as part of a series of measures to contain the tribal clashes that broke out in the city on Wednesday.

The warring parties signed a truce on Saturday evening, when the number of victims of tribal clashes in the city had risen to more than 26 dead and about 200 injured, and dozens of houses burned.

This kind of violent clashes could have been used by the military to take over using national security as an excuse. But thanks to the awareness of the pro-democracy forces. The truce, signed in the presence of the governor and a delegation of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), provides for the intervention of regular forces and the obligation of the conflicting parties to pay a fine of SDG 6 million to the authorities in case of a breach of the agreement.

In Khartoum, members of the Sudanese Professionals Association, the Nuba Mountains Civil Alliance, and eastern Sudanese activists discussed the situation. In a joined statement on Sunday, they called on the warring parties to immediately stop hostilities. The statement warned that the events in Port Sudan could undermine the democratic process, raise the cost of peace and destabilize civilian rule.