The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Sudan’s military has taken over. Here’s what to know about who’s in charge.

Sudanese security forces deploy in the capital, Khartoum, on Oct. 25 following overnight detentions by the army of members of Sudan’s government. (AFP/Getty Images)
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Over two years ago, a popular uprising ousted Sudan’s longtime dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir and ushered in a new era of change and possibility for the African nation of some 45 million people.

But the streets of Sudan were full of fear and uncertainty Monday, after the country’s military detained the prime minister, dissolved the government and declared itself in charge during a state of emergency.

Sudan’s military detains prime minister and dissolves government in coup

The coup came just days after the capital held the biggest pro-democracy protests since the uprising amid weeks of unrest between the military and civilian groups. It also came shortly after U.S. officials met with Sudan’s military leaders to reiterate that U.S. aid remained conditional on the full transition to a civilian-led government this year.

Last month, Sudanese authorities said they had thwarted a coup attempt by forces loyal to the former president.

Here’s what to know about the military officers now in charge of Sudan — and the civilian leaders they have ousted.

Who is in charge of Sudan now?

After nearly three decades of Bashir’s brutal autocratic rule — which relied heavily on the military and repressed political alternatives — Sudan has been on a rocky road to democratic transition.

In the post-uprising euphoria, civilian and military groups agreed to form a transitional power-sharing government called the Sovereign Council. They put in place a road map for moving toward a civilian-only government this year and holding elections by 2023.

Sudan’s top military commander, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, was ultimately made head of state. And it was Burhan who appeared on Sudanese television Monday to deliver news of the military takeover.

Burhan has never been liked by Sudan’s revolutionary forces.

The general climbed the military ladder under Bashir. In February 2019, two months before Bashir’s removal, Burhan became the army’s inspector general. In that capacity he oversaw and coordinated with Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (also called the Janjaweed) — who have been accused of human rights abuses in Darfur and, more recently, against pro-democracy protesters. In one notorious incident in June 2020, more than 100 people were killed when the RSF raided a protest camp. Burhan was also in charge of Sudan’s forces, which included the RSF, in the Saudi-led Yemen war.

One major point of contention between Sudan’s military and civilian leaders is whether to comply with an International Criminal Court case against Bashir, who, along with the military, has been accused of committing war crimes in Darfur beginning in 2003. The Sovereign Council has yet to approve handing over suspects. Activists have also pushed Burhan and his allies to endorse releasing an investigation into the June 2020 attacks on protesters, a probe that is expected to implicate the military.

Bashir remains in prison, serving a minimum two-year sentence after being convicted of money laundering and corruption in 2019.

Sudan’s revolutionaries vow to resist military power grab

Where are Sudan’s prime minister and civilian leaders?

Since the ouster of Bashir, Sudan has been governed by a hybrid civilian-military transitional council, and tensions over power-sharing have intermittently flared. Last month, pro-Bashir soldiers attempted a coup, but failed.

The civilian side of the government has since been led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a former economist and senior policy analyst who has worked for several multinational organizations, including the African Development Bank and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. He has also served as deputy executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Upon stepping into power, Hamdok named peace and solving economic crises as priorities during the three-year transition to civilian rule.

According to the Information Ministry, military forces pressured the prime minister to make a pro-coup statement and detained him early Monday. His whereabouts have been unclear.

Several other senior government figures and political leaders were detained Monday. Two officials told the Associated Press that the detainees include a media adviser to Hamdok and a governor of the state that includes the capital, as well as the information and industry ministers. In a statement posted on Facebook, Hamdok’s office said the prime minister’s wife was also taken from their residence.

What happened represents “a tear of the constitutional document” and a “complete coup” against the gains of the revolution that “our people sacrificed with blood in search of freedom, peace and justice,” the statement from Hamdok’s office read.

When Burhan announced the new measures on state television, he did not specifically address the arrests of the prime minister and other government members.

What does this mean for Sudan’s political transition?

Much remains unclear.

The heads of several neighboring Arab states — many of which have been Sudan’s financial benefactors — have so far issued muted calls for calm. The United Nations and other Western countries have condemned the takeover. The United States told U.S. citizens in Sudan to shelter in place. The African Union suspended Sudan’s membership. Israel, which last year signed a normalization deal with Sudan, has not made an official statement.

The Biden administration said Monday that it will suspend $700 million in bilateral economic assistance to Sudan, although humanitarian aid is expected to continue.

“We are watching very closely to see how the military responds, to do everything we can to see to it that the military respects the right of peaceful assembly and ultimately to see to it that the military respects the aspirations of the Sudanese people to restore the country’s path to democracy,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “Our entire relationship with this entity in Sudan will be evaluated in light of what has transpired unless Sudan is returned to the transitional path.”

As the country navigates the political turmoil, Sudan is facing a severe financial crisis that will continue to be a strain for whoever is in power.

Burhan, dressed in military fatigues, said Monday that he remains committed to holding elections and transitioning to a civilian government.

Security forces, meanwhile, squared off Monday with pro-democracy protesters in Sudan’s streets. By Tuesday, at least seven people had been shot dead and hundreds injured, according to a doctors’ association.

This report has been updated.

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