Sudan’s military detains prime minister, cabinet members in apparent coup
"NAIROBI — The detention by Sudan’s military of the country’s prime minister and a large number of his cabinet and party members early Monday morning plunged the country’s fragile democratic transition into disarray.
Just days earlier, the capital Khartoum was swept by the biggest pro-democracy street protests since 2019, when longtime dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir was toppled by a wave of popular discontent. Crowds swelled in Khartoum’s streets again on Monday in response to the detentions.
Internet services were disrupted or unavailable in Khartoum and other parts of the vast northeast African country, according to phone calls with locals in Monday’s early-morning hours. Later in the morning, calls were not going through. Local news channels reported the closing of roads and bridges connecting Khartoum with the rest of Sudan by large contingents of security forces as well as the suspension of flights at the airport.
Since Bashir’s ousting, the country has been governed by a hybrid civilian-military transitional council, and tensions over power-sharing have repeatedly threatened to boil over into outright confrontation. Divisions within the military have also contributed to the instability. Last month, pro-Bashir elements within the military attempted a coup but were quickly thwarted.
The civilian side of the government, led by former economist Abdalla Hamdok, had recently set a Nov. 17 deadline for a full transition to civilian power and elections were meant to be held by the end of 2023.
In a statement posted on the Information Ministry’s Facebook page, Hamdok, the prime minister, was quoted as calling on the Sudanese people to peacefully “occupy the streets to defend their revolution.” A separate post said Hamdok had been arrested and transferred to an unknown location.
The military has not commented on the arrests.
The Sudanese Congress Party, which is part of Hamdok’s coalition of civilian stakeholders in the transitional government, posted numerous videos to its social media accounts of protesters gathering on Monday in symbolically important places in Khartoum, including in front of the military headquarters, the focus of the vast protests in 2019 in the months before and after Bashir’s eventual unseating by his own military commanders.
The protesters’ reprised a central slogan of the 2019 revolution as they marched up Africa Avenue past the airport and toward the center of town: “Freedom, peace and justice, the revolution belongs to the people.”
The prime minister’s political coalition, largely made up of groups that supported Bashir’s overthrow, had made progress with Western governments in normalizing Sudan’s diplomatic and economic relations with the rest of the world after decades of sanctions. Sudan was recently taken off the United States’ state sponsors of terror list and had begun engaging with Western lending institutions to clear enormous debt arrears and secure loans to stabilize the country’s inflation-rocked economy.
Washington’s special envoy to the Horn of Africa region, Jeffrey Feltman, had met on Saturday with Hamdok and Sudan’s two most powerful military figures, Abdelfattah al-Burhan, the leader of the transitional sovereign council, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, a former warlord who now commands a powerful paramilitary unit called the Rapid Support Forces.
Feltman had used the meeting to warn that U.S. support for Sudan was tied to its transition toward elections and civilian rule, which military leaders have agreed to while pushing for a longer transition period.
On Monday, Feltman’s office said in a tweet that “The US is deeply alarmed at reports of a military takeover of the transitional government. This would contravene the Constitutional Declaration and the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people and is utterly unacceptable. As we have said repeatedly, any changes to the transitional government by force puts at risk U.S. assistance.”
The military’s role in Sudan’s transitional government was presented to civilian leaders in 2019 as a largely honorary one, but Burhan and others have figured prominently in the country’s domestic and foreign policymaking since then, and accused Hamdok of trying to monopolize control.
Over the past half-century, Sudan has been rocked by a succession of coups and wars, creating an intricate and shifting web of alliances and rivalries. In 2011, following a decades-long civil war, the country was split in two after largely non-Muslim southerners voted to secede and create the new country of South Sudan. A particularly brutal conflict in the western region of Darfur, along the border with Chad, still simmers and has displaced hundreds of thousands of people this year alone.
Militia leaders from Darfur who once fought against Burhan and Hemedti have now sided with them in an alliance that has made supporters of the civilian government, especially among displaced communities in Darfur, deeply uncomfortable. Pro-democracy protesters have also alleged that current military leaders still maintain close ties with Bashir’s inner circle despite claiming to be vanguards of the movement that ousted him.
A particularly sore point has emerged over Bashir’s outstanding warrant from the International Criminal Court in The Hague for genocide and crimes against humanity relating to atrocities in Darfur carried out by state security forces between 2003 and 2008. The civilian government has approved measures to hand Bashir over to the court from a Sudanese jail, but the military has blocked the move. Burhan, Hemedti and other prominent military and paramilitary figures served in Darfur under Bashir but do not have outstanding cases against them.