By Ali A. Ali
All possible outcomes of the Sudanese revolution are violent except surrender, or the kind of compromise that kicks the can down the road and postpones resolving the real issues.
The agreement reached on July 5 with the regime opted for exactly the kind of compromise that kicks the can down the road.
In reality, bar foreign intervention, Sudan’s non-violent revolution cannot fully defeat a heavily armed regime except in three cases, if we exclude foreign intervention.
One, the armed forces split with a faction coming out in favour of the revolution, and then achieve a decisive military victory.
Two, the tyrants, cut off from foreign and domestic support, as protests and disobedience continue relentlessly, decide their time has come, and hand over power or flee the country.
Or three, the tyrants accept democratic transition, in return for amnesty. Yet one essential condition for such transition to succeed would be to dismantle any paramilitary forces loyal to them or merge them with the national army.
There is almost no doubt that the real dilemma for democratic transition in Sudan today is Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, popularly known as ‘Hemedti’, and the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia he commands.
Time may prove that the compromise deal was the wisest choice, for helping avert further casualties, but one must not rely on the good faith of the Transitional Military Council, which had proven itself treacherous beyond imagination with the violent dispersal of sit-in camps on that terrible day in June.
Ultimately, the agreement is akin to a temporary ceasefire needed by both sides.
Panicked by the massive protest in late June that reflected the Sudanese near consensus on rejecting and loathing its rule, the TMC feels it needs to catch its breath and regroup.
For their part, the leaders of the revolution need to find new ways to bring about change in the political landscape – protests and grassroots activism may have served their purpose of delegitimising the TMC and proven how strongly the Sudanese yearn for civilian rule, but this is not enough.
Good faith, bad actors
The issue here is not sharing power with the TMC. The transition in 1985 saw power indeed shared between a military council and a civilian government. No, the issue goes further.
The counter-revolution in Egypt and Libya after all had assaulted the civilian administration after the transitional period ended and elections were held.
In other words, if the TMC hands over the transition completely to a civilian administration, we still cannot be sure of their faithfulness to democratic rule later, should they decide to seize power for themselves.
It would have been better for negotiations therefore to focus on fundamental problems rather than formal ones.
For one thing, removing militias from the cities and disabusing Hemedti of any ambition for ruling Sudan militarily, would have been a better guarantee for a civilian state than sharing power.
It is likely the military, after decades of privileges secured under ousted President Omar al-Bashir, will find it unpalatable to take their orders from a civilian administration.
It would be therefore better to negotiate with them to secure some concessions in return for preserving some of the military’s privileges. Ultimately, it is this, and not the background of its individual members, that determine whether a government is civilian or not.
Leading a non-violent movement against a violent regime
The leaders of the opposition must therefore seek to reduce the risks of transition, but first the forces of freedom and change must determine their role vis-à-vis the revolution: Is it to lead, or to speak on its behalf? Because conflating the two different levels of mandate is counter-productive.
Indeed, leading means taking decisions to guide the course of the revolution. Representing the revolution, however, means a different kind of mandate, where decisions are made elsewhere, or nowhere at all.
In other words, the revolution needs leadership, but this leadership must assume full responsibility and not switch to the role of representative when conflict emerges with the popular mood.
There is no issue more important in this context than raising awareness about non-violence.
One question the revolutionaries must ask themselves is how commitment to non-violence can coexist not only with their demands for regime militias to disarm, but also demands for retribution and accountability for those militias.
In truth, the commitment to non-violence by unarmed protesters, which has inspired the Sudanese and the whole world, has a cost, and that is the necessity of bargaining with the armed tyrants.
Otherwise, if the protest movement is unprepared for armed conflict, it is unrealistic to combine non-violence with maximalist revolutionary demands.
The current direction in the negotiations, which expressly mentions granting immunity to the military, is realistic and pragmatic. And Hemedti’s open threat about the ‘sacking’ of Khartoum in the event of confrontation has shown the true colours of the regime.
Freedom is a red line
Yet some ground rules must be established for what is negotiable and what is not. One red line is the freedom of the Sudanese people.
Sharing power in the transitional phase, and immunity in return for concessions, are all negotiable if they lead to achieving the goals of the revolution.
But while we may not yet be at the stage where the military will voluntarily refrain from seizing power by force, there are some measures that can be imposed to this end.
In the Sudanese context, freedom is not possible in any form without removing Hemedti’s militias from the cities and merging them into the armed forces in the near future.
Here, the protest leaders can offer Hemedti amnesty, financial privileges, and a constitutional capacity in the transitional phase, but they must deny him the ability to retain control of his forces and maintain his threat to the Sudanese; this is where the bargaining must draw a line.
Otherwise, war is not a far-fetched outcome. While the Sudanese enjoy enough cohesion to avoid civil war, despite their differences, internal war is possible.
Hemedti is a warlord who commands an army of mercenaries, and the formidable national army only nominally stands alongside Hemedti.
The RSF and the army on a collision course?
It is possible that in a potential confrontation with Hemedti’s mercenaries, the Sudanese people, after removing the current leadership of the army, will come to entrust the armed forces to lead the fight the RSF militia.
Khartoum and its residents would suffer the most from any such confrontation, and perhaps this is what is preventing any change in direction within the armed forces.
But if Hemedti presses ahead with his bid to sideline the army in favour of his militias, then the army’s patience may run out.
Hemedti may be aware of the fate that awaits him if this happens. It is wise here for the protest leaders, their supporters in the military and the TMC to give him ‘safe passage’ in the negotiations and stop focusing on trivial details has been the case so far.
Amnesty, a share in power, and financial concessions must be given to the leaders of the armed forces or they will take them by force.
Hemedti and his forces can be offered similar concessions, or he can be allowed to act as a military adviser to the Saudi-led coalition, taking his skills and some of his forces to the private sector, as part of an exit deal.
Ultimately, however, the Sudanese must give him a way out. To do so, they must first show him that neither he nor anyone else can be allowed to rule Sudan militarily, and that if he chooses confrontation, he would lose no doubt.
This requires the Sudanese to keep the streets in a constant state of agitation, despite the costs, and requires firm engagement with the TMC and the national army.
Perhaps then the TMC and Hemedti will accept the fact that the Sudanese are determined to win their freedom, no matter the cost.
Ali A. Ali is an independent Sudanese writer and scholar in Islamic studies and the political economy of the Muslim World.
THE NEW ARAB