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Will Sudan Break Through to Democracy?

After a rocky few months in which it looked as though the Sudanese military might condemn the country to the same fate as Egypt after the Arab Spring, pro-democracy forces have prevailed in seating a transitional government. But whether the transition to democracy succeeds will depend on what happens next.

KHARTOUM – On September 8, Sudan’s first civilian cabinet in 30 years was sworn in. Led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and comprising technocrats, it will oversee a power-sharing arrangement brokered between the country’s military and pro-democracy movement last month. The question now is whether factions within the military, the Islamic opposition, or various rebel groups will end up preventing the transition to democracy under elections planned for 2022.

Aside from Tunisia, Sudan is the only Arab country making genuine progress toward democracy at the moment. The Sudanese Revolution that began in December 2018 will be remembered for its participants’ remarkable perseverance, courage, and organization. Having learned from the Egyptian fiasco – which ended with a return to even harsher despotism – Sudan’s democracy movement wanted the army to give up power, and sufficient time to organize the transition. Under the power-sharing arrangement, it had to compromise on its first goal, and the military will rule for the first phase of the transition, to be followed by a civilian government.

Since the formation of the new cabinet, the mood in the capital, Khartoum, has been ebullient. Ministers are unveiling new policy proposals, foreign diplomats are arriving, TV coverage of soccer has been replaced by political talk shows, talks with rebels have begun, and the Islamist parties that formed a key pillar of the previous regime have been banned and driven underground. As civil-society groups and the generals vie for popular support, even the infamous Rapid Support Forces (RSF) is trying to improve its image.