Sudan coup drama lays bare distrust between civilian, military leaders

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When Sudanese authorities announced last month that they had averted a coup, alleged ringleaders were swiftly rounded up and daily life continued.

Some Sudanese greeted the news with a weary shrug of the shoulders, as public trust wears thin in military and civilian groups’ attempts to bring democracy after the overthrow of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

“We understand what’s going on. Politics is very dirty and this is how they play it,” said Mujtaba Idris, a student in the capital Khartoum.

The coup, however real, has also exposed divisions between civilian and military leaders, who have been unusually vocal in criticising one another in the weeks that followed.

The outcome of the power play is likely to decide the country’s course.

Key areas of contention include justice over Darfur, where the now-imprisoned Bashir stands accused of atrocities in crushing a revolt in which some 300 000 people were killed. He denies the charges.

Also at play is the fate of a peace process aimed at ending decades of internal conflict in the country of 45 million and Sudan’s nascent reconnection with the international economy.

“It’s about who determines the next step on the road towards transition,” United Nations Sudan envoy Volker Perthes said in an interview.

Prior to news of the September 21 coup attempt, civilian officials were celebrating signs that an economic crisis was easing following promises of debt relief and international financing.

Since, they have openly accused the military of a power grab, and of fomenting unrest in eastern Sudan that closed the country’s main port. As a result, Khartoum has experienced acute shortages of bread and key imported goods in recent days.

“I am sure that until now, the military component is not keen on the completion of a civilian, democratic transition,” said Madani Abbas Madani, a former trade minister and key civilian negotiator, citing what he said were military attacks on civilians in the wake of the coup plot announcement.