"The terrible mistakes made by the civil protest leaders who agreed to sit down and talk to the military, when the popular revolution was at its height, are too many to count," writes Ali Anouzla. Pictured here: army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (centre) and RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (second from left) last December, before hostilities began

Power struggle in Sudan
Sudan's generals "should have been dealt with as war criminals"

The representatives of Sudan's civil society made a terrible mistake in agreeing to share power with the military, writes political analyst Ali Anouzla, who feels that by believing the military's promises, the leaders of the country's civil society bear part of the responsibility for what is happening today in Sudan

As the cruel and destructive battle for power in Sudan between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti, approaches its third week, there are still voices both inside and outside Sudan who are counting on finding a political solution to achieve some sort of power-sharing arrangement between these two men of violence. This is despite the fact that the two generals are still killing and displacing people and destroying their country without mercy.

Despite the noble and sincere intentions behind this initiative to seek reconciliation, this pointless endeavour merely fuels the ambitions of these two bloodthirsty and power-crazed generals. And even if a political solution were achieved, however unlikely this may seem, it would only be another brief calm, allowing them to catch their breath before re-opening hostilities.

If there is anything to be learned from this war, which is drenching Sudan in blood, then it is that the authoritarian nature of the two generals is clear for all to see. The false and deceitful promises they make makes trusting them in the future even more difficult.

But were the heavy loss of life and the destruction of public facilities such as airports and hospitals really necessary? And what of the hundreds who have been killed and the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced? And the threat of civil war that could tear their country apart into warring cantons, as is happening in Libya and Yemen, or the fact that Sudan could even – God forbid – become the next Somalia?

Too credulous of the military's promises

The answer lies in events that took place four years before this absurd war began, at the start of the popular revolution that overthrew dictator Omar al-Bashir's regime. The civilian protesters were too credulous of the military's promises. After all, the army had done no more than sacrifice the head of their regime in order to preserve the regime itself. Many people warned at the time of the danger of putting too much faith in the military's apparent readiness to accept sharing power with the civilian population.

The period of democratic transition proposed by the military, which was to last for three years, before they handed power to a civilian government, hinted at a treacherous intent; it was much longer than should have been necessary for the tasks at hand. The military's true intentions became clear after the October 2021 coup, a year before the end of the transitional period.

Alas, many still did not heed the warning or learn the lesson. The military began to manoeuvre to prolong the democratic transition period for an additional two years, and these manoeuvrings alone took the best part of 19 months. When a so-called "political agreement" was reached, differences emerged, this time within the ranks of the military itself, and this is what led to the present grinding war.

Too many concessions to the military

How can anyone, after today, trust an institution whose entire history is one of bloody repression and coups? Moreover, how can anyone trust the two coup leaders who first turned against their former president, Omar al-Bashir, and then against their civilian partners in power? Today they are turning against each other and against the people whose fate they trifle with for the sake of their own personal interests and autocratic inclinations!

The terrible mistakes made by the civil protest leaders who agreed to sit down and talk to the military, when the popular revolution was at its height, are too many to count. It began with one concession after another. They then staked blind faith in the military's promises, which resulted in a precarious power-sharing agreement. They not only accepted the senior officers, some of them went as far as to defend them when they sought to extend the transition period.

Those who threw in their lot with these two criminal generals bear a share of the responsibility for what is happening today in Sudan. Vouching for the generals and absolving them of their crimes before and after the revolution was an explicit insult to the intelligence of the Sudanese people.

It also showed utter disregard for the martyrs of the 2019 revolution who were killed in cold blood by the bullets of the army and the Rapid Support Forces. How too can we forget the role of the United Nations? The UN carried out a kind of "political laundering" of the crimes of these two generals and presented them to the world as statesmen and reliable partners to manage the transition period.

As for countries in the region and the world's great powers, which dealt with them as respected officials, they only care about their respective interests in Sudan. This explains why they and their nationals are fleeing the country today. They are leaving behind the Sudanese people, hostages to fortune, with the generals having destroyed any hope of establishing a democratic civil system. Since its independence more than six decades ago, Sudan has suffered so much from the pointless destructive force of military rule.

Ali Anouzla (photo: private)
Ali Anouzla writes that army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo "should have been dealt with strictly and openly as war criminals, from the start of the popular revolution." He also feels that the international community must treat Sudan's generals the way it treated Myanmar's generals

How long will this go on?

As we watch a wounded Sudan burning live on air, no-one can predict how long this dance of death will last between these generals who seem to be bent on fighting until the last bullet and the last soldier. They are indifferent to the calls for calm and restraint from Washington, London, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Algiers, Riyadh and Cairo, as well as from international organisations such as the United Nations, the African Union, the League of Arab States and the European Union.

This international consensus shows concern for Sudan's unity and stability. With the exception of these two power-hungry generals, no-one has an interest in seeing this country descend further into hell!

Given the difficulty of reconciling the aspirations of the two warring generals, the indications are that the conflict between them will turn into a protracted civil war, and this will destabilise a truly fragile region. Even if the war subsides for a while, they will reignite it, or another ambitious general will emerge from the military establishment to fire it up again.

In hindsight, these generals should have been dealt with strictly and openly as war criminals from the start of the popular revolution. They should have no place in power, but rather in Kober prison alongside their former president, Omar al-Bashir, after all they have done to their country and their people.

For its part, the international community must change the way it deals with Sudan's bellicose generals and treat them as it treated Myanmar's generals. The destruction, chaos and crimes committed by al-Burhan and Hameti against their people and their country are no less egregious than those committed against Myanmar and its people.

Ali Anouzla

© Qantara.de 2023

Translated from the Arabic by Chris Somes-Charlton

Ali Anouzla is a Moroccan journalist and writer, director and editor-in-chief of the online media platform Lakome, founder and editor of several Moroccan newspapers, and recipient of the 2014 Leaders for Democracy award, given by the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).

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