Sun, 22 Sep 2019

Sudan's military rulers and protest leaders on Saturday are scheduled to sign a landmark deal reached after a bloody uprising which is meant to pave the way for civilian rule.

The ceremony will make official a constitutional declaration inked on August 4 between the country's Transitional Military Council and the opposition coalition of the Alliance for Freedom and Change.

The deal brought an end to nearly eight months of upheaval that saw masses mobilise against president Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in April after 30 years in power.

The deal brokered by the African Union and Ethiopia was welcomed with relief by both sides, with protesters celebrating what they saw as the victory of their "revolution" and generals taking credit for averting civil war.

While the compromise meets several of the protest camp's key demands, its terms leave the military with ample powers and its future civilian government with daunting challenges.

With Saturday's official signing of the transitional documents, Sudan will kick off a process that will include important immediate first steps.

The composition of the new transitional civilian-majority ruling council is to be announced Sunday, followed two days later by the naming of a prime minister.

On Thursday, protest leaders agreed to nominate former senior UN official Abdalla Hamdok as prime minister.

The veteran economist, who stepped down last year as deputy executive secretary of the UN's Economic Commission for Africa, is to be formally selected on August 20, a statement said.

The cabinet is to be unveiled on August 28, with the newly-appointed ministers due to meet the sovereign council on September 1 for the first time.

Elections must be held after the 39-month transitional period that began on August 4.

Just paper?

Until then, the country of 40 million people will be ruled by the 11-member sovereign council and a government, which will - the deal makes clear - be dominated by civilians.

However, the interior and defence ministers are to be chosen by military members of the council.

The move towards civilian rule could lead the African Union to lift a suspension slapped on Sudan in June after a bloody crackdown on a sit-in in Khartoum.

The legislative body to be formed within three months will be at least 40 percent female, reflecting the significant role played by women in the protest movement.

The paramilitary force and intelligence services blamed for some of the worst abuses under Bashir and against the protesters are to be brought under the authority of the army and sovereign council respectively.

With many issues still unaddressed, however, observers warn that describing the latest events as 'successful regime change' would be premature.

"Political dynamics will matter more than pieces of paper," said Rosalind Marsden from London's Chatham House think tank.

"The biggest challenge facing the government will be dismantling the Islamist deep state... which took control of all state institutions and key sectors of the economy, including hundreds of businesses owned by the military-security apparatus."

Whitewashing

The rise of Mohamed Hamdan Daglo - who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and became deputy head of the military council that seized power from Bashir - as Sudan's new military strongman is causing some concern.

He has close ties to Gulf monarchies, has amassed huge wealth since wresting control of gold mines in western Sudan and was a leader of the infamous Janjaweed militia accused of a genocidal campaign in the Darfur region.

The fate of deposed ruler Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court over Darfur, is also unclear.

He is due to appear in a Khartoum court on corruption charges on Saturday.

Some within the protest camp feel the power-sharing deal did not do enough to curb the powers of the military and guarantee justice for demonstrators killed by security forces.

The whitewashing in recent days of walls that bore some of the many murals painted during the protests has been seen as a bad omen.

"The signals we are getting tell us that there is no real change, no real freedom," graffiti artist Lotfy Abdel Fattah told AFP.

Various rebel groups from marginalised regions such as Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan will be absent from Saturday's ceremony.

The Sudan Revolutionary Front that unites these movements backed the protest movement but rejected the constitutional declaration, demanding representation in the government and more guarantees on peace talks.

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