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Don’t like Sudan’s new political deal? The US may ban you

US threatens democracy 'spoilers', including applying visa restrictions to current and former Sudanese officials
Protesters march during a rally against a signed framework deal between political parties and the military, Khartoum 8 December 2022 (Reuters)
By Mohammed Amin in Khartoum

Antony Blinken’s threat was straightforward. Any “spoilers” of the US-sponsored power-sharing agreement between the Sudanese military and some civilian political groups would be hit with visa restrictions.

This was a pact to rescue Sudan’s democratic transition after the 2021 military coup, Washington argued. It didn’t matter that the deal had little popular support, and had been outright rejected by many key players.

'We have experience of agreements signed under international pressure … none of them led to a happy ending'

Mohamed Badawi, Sudanese political analyst

“Just as we used our prior visa restrictions policy against those who undermined the former civilian-led transitional government, we will not hesitate to use our expanded policy against spoilers in Sudan’s democratic transition process,” the US secretary of state said in a statement.

It’s not clear whether the threat will prompt the Sudan deal’s detractors to toe the line. But for Sudanese already dissatisfied with the agreement and Washington’s role in it, this latest intervention is only adding to the outrage.

According to a western diplomat, Blinken was chiefly targeting leaders of rebel movements that were previously pro-military before the agreement was signed but rejected the deal despite being involved in the talks.

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That includes Gibril Ibrahim, the head of the Justice and Equality Movement who is serving as finance minister, Mini Arko Minawi, leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement and the current ruler of the Darfur region, and tribal leader of Eastern Sudan, Mohamed Tirik.

“The US step is a kind of pressure on the politicians, especially the rebel leaders who were actually close to the US administration, in order to bring them back to the track of the agreement,” the diplomat told Middle East Eye, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Rebel leaders hit out

The rebel leaders say they were excluded from the talks and have labelled the agreement an attempt by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) political alliance to hijack the political process. 

Gibril, Minawi and Tirik have all promised to resist the deal, the drawing up of which they were not part of.

Speaking at a symposium in Khartoum on Tuesday, the three rebel leaders openly challenged the agreement, claiming it would be impossible to implement without their participation.

“Our problem with what happened in the so-called political framework is the clear hijack of the fate of the country by specific forces and individuals. So we are against this methodology, which excludes us from participation in the management of the country,” Minawi said. 

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“We believe that this way is not correct, and it will neither lead to stability nor any progress of the democratic transition. We are one of the main actors in this country … we are Sudanese like others …. This mentality has to be stopped or otherwise Sudan will never see stability,” Ibrahim warned. 

Tirik, meanwhile, has closed the road linking Eastern Sudan with Khartoum, cutting the capital from Port Sudan.

Tirik and his supporters forced the port to a complete standstill ahead of the October 2021 military coup, and labour sources in the city told MEE they were planning to do it again, mobilising people in Red Sea and Kassala states in preparation.

Last time his supporters shut Port Sudan, imports and exports were brought to a grinding halt, causing an economic and political crisis that paved the way for the coup.

Imposed from outside

The rebel leaders aren’t the only people opposed to the deal. The grassroots activists of the Resistance Committees, who have led constant protests against the coup, the influential Sudanese Professional Association (SAP), and the Communist Party also rejected it, and have labelled Blinken’s threat as an unacceptable “external intervention”.

Chief among their issues is the impunity afforded to the military generals, headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the head of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemeti. Any participation of the military in politics is a red line for them as well.

Yusra Mahjob, a leading member of the Khartoum Resistance Committees, told MEE that they are principally against a political agreement being imposed from outside the country.

“We don’t care about the external powers, and we will press to liberate our country from the international hijacking and the local dependency of the forces that signed this deal,” she said. 

“We believe that this agreement won’t bring justice, and won’t end the coup and the military domination of the politics and economy of the country. We will fight until we bring down the whole system together and bring the killers of our comrades to justice.”

‘A knife to a gun fight’

Political analysts have downplayed the US step, describing it as useless and futile. 

Cameron Hudson, a former US diplomat, said using visa restrictions against people opposed to the deal “is the functional equivalent of bringing a knife to a gun fight”.

In a tweet thread, he noted that no officials get automatic visas to the US in any case, and those placed on the ban list wouldn’t even be named and shamed. Without targeted sanctions with teeth, the rebel leaders won’t be cowed and the US “should not be taken particularly seriously”.

Sudanese political analyst Mohamed Badawi told MEE the US pressure that got the deal over the line and continuing attempts to impose it from the outside may have a negative impact.

“It’s very noticeable that this agreement has been signed under international pressure, especially the United States, and this may lead to big setbacks in the future,” he said.

“We have the experience of agreements signed under international pressure since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, and none of them actually led to a happy ending. Unless we have genuine political willingness and clear plans as Sudanese, we can’t achieve any success.”

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