Sudan's Army chief Abdul Fattah Al Burhan (centre) and paramilitary commander Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo (2nd left) lift documents alongside civilian leaders following the signature of an initial deal aimed at ending a deep crisis caused by last year's military coup, in the capital Khartoum on December 5, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s military and political parties signed a framework deal on Monday that provides for a two-year civilian-led transition towards elections and would end a standoff triggered by a coup in October 2021.

The deal, part of a two-phase political process, was signed by army chief Abdul Fattah Al Burhan, paramilitary commander Mohammad Hamdan Dagaloand and by multiple civilian groups - notably the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), ousted in last year’s coup.

The United States, Norway, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Britain “welcome the agreement of an initial political framework,” a joint statement issued by the US State Department said.

The allies’ statement hailed the deal as “an essential first step toward establishing a civilian-led government and defining constitutional arrangements to guide Sudan through a transitional period culminating in elections.”

“We urge all Sudanese actors to engage in this dialogue urgently and in good faith,” the joint statement said, with the countries calling “on all parties to put Sudan’s national interest above narrow political ends.”

It added that finalizing negotiations was “key to unlocking the resumption of international development” after donors slashed funding in wake of the coup.

The initial agreement would limit the military’s formal role to a security and defence council headed by a prime minister, but leaves sensitive issues including transitional justice and security sector reform for further talks.

The deal has already faced opposition from anti-military protest groups and Islamist factions loyal to the regime of former leader Omar Al Bashir, who was ousted in 2019.

The deal - based on a proposal by the Sudanese Bar Association - was negotiated in the presence of officials from the United Nations, Western diplomats s well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to the FFC.

The signing was attended by UN special representative Volker Perthes and AU ambassador Mohammad Belaish.

In a first phase, "the framework agreement lays the groundwork for establishing a transitional civilian authority," said the FFC, noting that other civilian groups also signed.

A final deal tackling issues including transitional justice and reforms to the military should be completed "within weeks," it said.

However, that part is far thornier, with observers questioning whether the military would be willing to give up economic interests and wider powers that it views as its privileged domain.

Low-level commitment

Phase one of the deal "is a very low level commitment on Burhan's part... allowing him to survive" politically, said Kholood Khair founder of the Confluence Advisory, a Khartoum-based think-tank.

But the signatories will likely face "a real political crisis as they start talking in earnest about security sector reforms, transitional justice (and) financial accountability," she added.

Monday's signing comes months after Burhan pledged that the military would step aside and make way for factions to agree on a civilian government.

Pro-democracy activists reject the latest effort and are calling for new street protests demanding the military return to barracks.

Several former rebels who signed peace deals with Sudan in 2020 also voiced their opposition to the deal.

Mohammad Zakaraia, spokesman for former rebel group the Justice and Equality movement, told AFP that it "will bring about dire consequences and further complicate the political scene".

Protests broke out in at least two areas of the capital Khartoum before the signing ceremony at the presidential palace, an eyewitness told Reuters.

The military did not appoint a new prime minister since last year’s coup, which halted a power-sharing arrangement between the military and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition.

The coup led to more than a year of mass protests against the military and the suspension of billions of dollars in international financial assistance, deepening an economic crisis.