Sudan’s transition: Attack on PCP meeting illustrates the battle within

By Laureen Fagan - 28 April 2019 at 3:02 am
Sudan’s transition: Attack on PCP meeting illustrates the battle within

In Khartoum, an attack on a meeting of the People’s Congress Party (PCP) on Saturday left 64 people injured, according to Sudan’s state news agency.

Idriss Sulaiman, the political secretary for the party, said a group of youths were responsible for the vandalism and violence at Cordoba Hall. Members of the PCP claimed the attackers were influenced and mobilized by the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change – the coalition of leaders behind Sudan’s uprising against former President Omar al-Bashir who are currently negotiating a transition with the military.

Although the PCP was part of Bashir’s government, Sulaiman said it plays a leading role in the Sudanese revolution and its members suffered casualties alongside other groups demanding an end to Bashir’s rule. He said the party stands for “peace, justice and freedom” and urged dialogue and a consensus among all parties.

An opposition leader within a splintered PCP contradicted Sulaiman’s position and said the attack on the hall was the logical outcome of a party that aligned itself with Bashir and his National Congress Party. Their dispute is just one example of the layers of political upheaval in Sudan as the nation tries to move forward.

The Freedom and Change movement supported Sulaiman’s message in a joint statement that swiftly followed news of the Khartoum incident. They condemned the attacks and distanced the organization from reports that the angry youth were chanting their own movement slogans while attacking the PCP.

“The People’s Congress bears a great deal of responsibility in what has happened to the country in the past 30 years,” said Freedom and Change. But they warned that violence and vandalism are inconsistent with Sudan’s transformation and the establishment of a civilian nation grounded in the rule of law: “Justice, it is the motto that represents the principles of this revolution that we will not depart from.”

Negotiating a path forward

According to the Sudan Tribune, PCP sources also claimed that members of the National Umma Party (NUP), led by the returned exile Sadiq al-Mahdi, joined in the incitement of nearby residents to attack the PCP in a volatile neighborhood that showed strong support for the anti-Bashir revolution since it began in December. The NUP leader, who is participating along with Freedom and Change in negotiations with the transitional military leadership in Sudan, has warned that Bashir’s NCP is likely to orchestrate a countercoup soon if the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and opposition dialogue is unproductive.

Freedom and Change headed back to negotiations on Saturday, and they were reportedly able to break through with the TMC in agreement on a presidential council. But progress is slow and their reengagement came just days after they walked out of the talks last Sunday. That break came as their leaders accused the TMC of disregarding their preferred candidates for a new government, and said the TMC was manipulating the process to ensure that NCP leaders serving under Bashir held sway in establishing a new military rule.

“The TMC clearly expressed that it does not recognize the (Freedom and Change) forces as the representative of the protesters in the sitdown strike (sit-in) and that it considers other forces – forces that include allies of the deposed regime – as legitimate partners in the transitional period,” the group said. In the meantime, amid all the upheaval, the massive protests demanding civilian rule continue day after day.

Musical chairs or meaningful change

Bashir and his top NCP leaders were placed under arrest on April 11, when the military announced the coup on state television and placed Sudan under a three-month state of emergency. He remains in Kobar prison in Khartoum, where he is reportedly experiencing health issues, but he also remains subject to long-outstanding International Criminal Court warrants amid the renewed clamor to at last enforce them.

Defense Minister Achmed Awad Ibn Awf – unwelcome both at home and abroad – lasted just a day as the TMC leader before General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan took over. Since then, it’s become clear to the movement leaders as well as international analysts that, as the Crisis Group put it, the makeup and intent of the Bashir-aligned TMC represents “a game of musical chairs” rather than meaningful change.

Yassir Armin, a leader of the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), says the transition is designed to protect the existing political and economic structures – and that’s where he and others warn that the internecine battles among Sudanese party leaders play into the hands of a Bashir regime that hasn’t actually gone anywhere, at least yet. He supports Freedom and Change, but on Friday again appealed for “genuine partnership” among both the opposition parties and the military leaders.

Freedom and Change members have, of course, rejected the coup leaders as more of the same from the beginning. What’s becoming clear is that the complexity of Sudan’s history and current political reality makes for a volatile mix that can boil over as it did Saturday at PCP headquarters, and just as easily among allies and their supporters, as they face the formidable task of pressing for a successful democratic transition.

“Activists amongst the Sudanese people will be mistaken if they rely solely on the current popular momentum,” warns Firas Abu Hilal, writing for Arabi21. “Experience with the Arab and other revolutions suggests that such momentum cannot last forever.”

Analysts note there are fractures within the TMC too, but the unity of the Sudanese opposition has its own fragility. It deserves to be protected if Sudan is going to avoid the mistakes of the regional uprisings of the past and deliver lasting change to its people.

Image: Sudanese Professional Association

Laureen Fagan

Laureen Fagan

Laureen is the editor of Africa Times

Laureen is a freelance journalist creating high-quality, informed content on international affairs, politics and technology. She has worked both in and out of newsrooms since 2000. She is a former paramedic with significant experience in community resilience and nonprofit community development initiatives, and maintains "a passion for action" on sustainability and climate change. She also is trained in conflict resolution and diversity, and has special interests in science and medical reporting, and culture and religion issues. Laureen received her MSJ from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in the United States, and completed additional graduate study in theology at University of Notre Dame.

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