Sudanese general says the joint civilian-military government has been dissolved
By Abdi Latif Dahir
Sudan’s military took control of the government on Monday, dissolved a governing council that included civilians and detained the prime minister and other top civilian leaders, endangering the country’s fragile transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.
Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the joint civilian-military council that had been governing the country, told a news conference on Monday afternoon that a new government would lead the country until elections in July 2023. He said squabbles among political groups had pushed the military to seize power.
“What the country is going through represents a threat,” he said.
Al-Burhan’s remarks capped a dramatic morning of rapidly evolving events, starting with the sudden disappearance of the country’s top civilian leader, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The information ministry released a statement saying the military had kidnapped Hamdok and his wife and confirming that a coup attempt was underway.
The same ministry said in a Facebook post earlier on Monday that the military forces had pressured Hamdok to release a “pro-coup statement.” After refusing to “endorse the coup,” the ministry said, Hamdok was then moved to an unknown location.
It said the military had also detained several top Cabinet members as well as civilian members of the Transitional Sovereignty Council, the body that al-Burhan said he was dissolving. The council was supposed to prepare the country for democratic elections in 2022.
As news of the arrests spread, protesters filled the streets of the capital, Khartoum. Television broadcasts showed people burning tires, with plumes of smoke filling the skies. The information ministry said that internet connections had been cut and that the military had closed bridges.
The East African nation has been shaken by political uncertainty and fears of a coup for months now, as the shared power arrangement between military and civilian leaders has shown increasing signs of strain. Pro-military protesters have called for the dissolution of the transitional government, while pro-democracy demonstrators have said such a step would be tantamount to a takeover.
The army chief of staff had been expected to hand over leadership of the Cabinet to Hamdok in November, giving him a largely ceremonial post that would have signified full civilian control of Sudan for the first time in decades.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, the country’s main pro-democratic political group, warned Monday on social media that the military was preparing to seize power. The association urged citizens to take to the streets.
“The revolution is a revolution of the people,” the group, which is made up of doctors, engineers and lawyers, said in a Facebook post. “Power and wealth belongs to the people. No to a military coup.”
After the detentions on Monday, state television broadcast patriotic songs.
The specter of a coup has haunted Sudan’s transitional government since 2019, when the country’s longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir, was overthrown. Last month, authorities thwarted an attempted coup by loyalists of Bashir, and other plots were foiled before they came to fruition.
The country’s political uncertainty has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and the increasingly precarious state of Sudan’s economy. The population has struggled in the face of growing unemployment, as well as rising food and commodity prices.
The U.S. has committed $377 million in humanitarian aid to Sudan this year, making it the nation’s biggest donor. While it pushed the sovereignty council and the military to follow the democratic transition plan and respect the rights of protesters, it did not set specific guidelines that were necessary for receipt of that aid.
The U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, met with Hamdok, the prime minister, on Saturday and reiterated the Biden administration’s support for a civilian democratic transition.
On Monday, Feltman said the United States was “deeply alarmed” at reports of a military takeover.
“As we have said repeatedly, any changes to the transitional government by force puts at risk U.S. assistance,” he added.