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Sudan deal defuses threat of 'slide into chaos'

Under the accord, signed Sunday after mediation by the African Union and Ethiopia, a civilian-majority sovereign council will lead Sudan through a transitional period of three years.

Tyres are set ablaze by Sudanese protesters during a rally in the capital Khartoum to condemn the 'massacre' of five demonstrators including four high school students at a rally in the cantral town of Al-Obeida on 29 July 2019. Picture: AFP

KHARTOUM - A hard-won deal between Sudan's ruling generals and protest leaders has averted a slide into chaos or even civil war but many questions remain about its implementation, analysts say.

Under the accord, signed Sunday after mediation by the African Union and Ethiopia, a civilian-majority sovereign council will lead Sudan through a transitional period of three years.

"The agreement is not the most ideal but it is better than no deal at all," said Khaled al-Tijani, a Sudanese analyst and editor-in-chief of the Elaf newspaper.

"Sudan could have slid into chaos or maybe a civil war which makes this deal balanced and rational."

The country has been roiled by political turmoil since mass protests erupted in December against veteran leader Omar al-Bashir, and the generals who ousted him months later.

The signing of the constitutional declaration on Sunday followed protracted talks that were repeatedly interrupted by violence including a deadly crackdown on a sit-in outside the army headquarters in Khartoum.

The deal is "a reflection of the balance of forces," said Magdi al-Gizouli, analyst at the Rift Valley Institute.

Still, many are eyeing it with scepticism, given that it is "a compromise between contenders with often diametrically opposed interests," he added.

The accord's implementation "is critically dependent on the goodwill" of the army and the protest alliance, Gizouli said.

'COMPROMISES WHISKED THROUGH'

The declaration places Sudan's spy agency, which was last month renamed the General Intelligence Services, under the sovereign council and the executive authorities.

It does not, however, outline how the shared responsibility would work, analysts noted.

The agency, formerly known as the National Intelligence and Security Service, was used by Bashir as a tool to crush dissent, and also carried out a sweeping crackdown on the anti-Bashir street protests.

This is "an example of the formal compromises that were whisked through to avert coming to terms with challenging issues," said Gizouli.

Especially "without authority over the budget of these forces and their composition it is not immediately clear how they can be disciplined into a democratic framework," he added.

There are also questions about the implications of the deal for the feared paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces.

The protest movement has largely blamed the RSF for a crackdown on a sit-in outside army headquarters in Khartoum on 3 June.

At least 127 people were killed on that day alone, according to doctors close to the protest movement, who say the violence has cost more than 250 lives since December.

The declaration says the RSF will report to the armed forces' general command, while an existing law governing the force will regulate its relationship with the executive authority.

Eric Reeves, a Sudan expert at Harvard University, says it has always been the case that "there are in effect two armies (including the RSF) under nominal command of the army chief."

RSF paramilitaries have enjoyed a certain level of autonomy under their commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, widely known as Hemeti, who is now the deputy head of the military council.

Reeves says the powerful general has managed to ensure "that his forces remain intact" under the declaration.

"Insofar as Hemeti retains control of his RSF in its present form, he can threaten any number of actions if the army generals do not accede to his demands," he added.

'GAME OF BLACKMAIL'

Sunday's deal signing also revealed fractures within the protest camp after several factions expressed reservations.

Sudan's communist party said the declaration "solidifies the military's dominance".

Rebel groups from the Sudanese Revolutionary Front said they cannot accept the declaration because it throws up "obstacles to the implementation of a peace deal".

They also complained of being excluded from the talks.

Reeves said the rebels' rejection is "extremely ominous" and should be addressed to ensure peace in the regions of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

Otherwise the rebel leaders may be caught up in "a game of blackmail" between the generals and protest leaders, said Gizouli.

These strains within the Alliance for Freedom and Change protest movement indicate difficulties maintaining a unified front.

The umbrella group has secured a parliamentary majority of 201 out of 300 seats, "but there are no guarantees that it would remain intact," said Tijani.

And it remains to be seen whether each side will fulfil their part of the agreement.

"Sudan has a record of non-commitment to pacts," Tijani said.

"It is now a question of to what extent this deal will go against that practice."

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