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Swimming cap Sudan coup: Why the army is gambling with the future

2021/11/05

He has endangered Sudan's international standing as a nascent democracy, imperilled essential debt relief and international aid, and jeopardised peace with rebels in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains.


He was head of Sudan's Sovereign Council and the face of the army in the country's civilian-military cohabitation - until Monday, when he seized complete power.





He dissolved the country's civilian cabinet, arresting Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other prominent civilians with whom the military had agreed to share power until elections were held next year.


The general's autocratic ambitions were no secret.


Over the last months, he showed impatience with Mr Hamdok's leadership, signalling that a strong ruler was needed to save the nation.


At a recent military-backed demonstration in the capital, Khartoum, protesters blamed Mr Hamdok for deteriorating living conditions - not helped by a blockade at the main port in the east which has led to shortages.


Sudanese democrats were alert to the army's stratagems, which seemed to be copied from the playbook that led to Abdul Fatah al-Sisi's military takeover in Egypt in 2013.


The Sudan Professionals Association and the multitude of neighbourhood committees that had orchestrated the non-violent protests which brought down the 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir in 2019 prepared for a new round of street demonstrations.





Foreign diplomats were also worried. US Special Envoy Jeffrey Feldman visited Khartoum at the weekend to press for agreement between the generals and the civilians. He left the city on Sunday with - he thought - a pact agreed.


The coup was staged hours later, leaving the Americans not only dismayed but outraged.


Making it clear that they had been deceived, the US administration has "paused" a $700m (£508m) financial assistance package.


An even bigger issue is the status of Sudan's debt relief package, recently negotiated by Mr Hamdok.


After two years of painful delays, international aid to salvage Sudan's economy was finally in prospect - and is now in jeopardy.


The African Union (AU), the United Nations, the East African regional body Igad and all of Sudan's Western donors have condemned the coup and called for a return to civilian rule.


The Arab League has also called for the constitutional formula to be respected. The grouping is usually in step with the Egyptian government, raising the question of how much Gen Burhan can count on the backing of Cairo.


Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which provided crucial financial aid to Gen Burhan in 2019, have stayed silent so far.


Their sympathies probably lie with the army strongman, but they will also know they cannot cover the costs of bailing out Sudan.


Gen Burhan was already the most powerful man in the country, his role legitimised by the August 2019 power-sharing deal between the military and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), a loose coalition of civilian groups.


So why would he risk it all on a blatant power grab?


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