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Sudan coup attempt

19 July 2019 Jihane Boudiaf

The spokesperson of Sudan's ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) stated that the army had foiled a coup attempt on 11 July, arresting 12 army officers, four soldiers, and an unspecified number of intelligence service officers. The report emerged after the TMC and the civilian opposition Alliance for Freedom and Change (AFC) had reached an agreement on 5 July to form a joint military-civilian transitional government. The TMC is unlikely to grant the civilian opposition concessions, increasing the likelihood of protests and cross-sector strikes.

The coup attempt was unlikely to have been at an advanced stage, but it highlights dissent among the security forces against the TMC's leadership, and provides the TMC with a pretext to stall power-sharing negotiations with the AFC. The TMC claims that the coup plotters were seeking to block the agreement with the AFC. Several of the alleged coup plotters are retired army officers and, according to an IHS Markit source, do not have a strong enough support base to stage a successful coup, especially against the TMC's influential deputy head, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (alias Hemedti), who commands the 20,000-strong Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary troops. The arrests were more likely intended as a warning to members of the security forces who are wary of Hemedti's growing influence over regular forces and are sympathetic to the AFC's demands. Video footage of previous anti-government protests showed members of the army protecting protesters against violent attacks by the RSF. The claims of coup plots and continued instability also provide the TMC with a pretext to stall the finalization of the agreement with the AFC, by citing threats to national security.

The TMC is unlikely to grant all the concessions sought by the civilian opposition because the agreement pays lip service to international pressure, indicating that implementation of the Sovereign Council and an interim constitution will probably stall. Previous negotiations stalled after RSF troops killed over 130 civilians outside the army headquarters in Khartoum on 3 June. The agreement probably reflects the TMC, particularly Hemedti, paying lip service to growing international pressure, including threats of targeted sanctions from the African Union and the United States. The TMC's main financial backers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have also called for the resumption of negotiations, most likely to avoid criticism of their support for RSF elements within the TMC. The two sides are likely to disagree on the interim constitution, especially regarding the prosecution of the perpetrators of the killings against civilians, the Sovereignty Council's composition, the duration of the rotating presidency, and the inclusion of armed groups in the council, such as the Sudanese Revolutionary Front.

Continued support for the TMC from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, and other regional countries such as Chad and Eritrea, increases the likelihood of the TMC retaining power. The TMC pledged continued troop contributions to the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen during a state visit on 23 April, in exchange for political and financial support. Multiple sources have reported the presence of French-speaking fighters (likely Baggara Arabs from Chad, Mali, or Niger affiliated with Hemedti's Rizayqat ethnic group) within the RSF. This indicates that Hemedti, specifically, now also has military support from Chadian and Eritrean pro-government militias. Hemedti is, therefore, unlikely to be removed from the TMC.

Disagreements between the TMC and the AFC would likely trigger renewed general strikes and protests, each disrupting cargo movements in Khartoum and Port Sudan for less than a week. Protests are highly likely to continue calling for investigations into security forces' use of force during peaceful protests. This is especially after a court order from 9 July on the resumption of internet access following a one-month blackout called by the TMC, which has seen the showing of a previously unreleased video of RSF violence against protesters. Additionally, the protest-leading union coalition, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), is likely to call for renewed strikes in the likely event negotiations with the TMC stall. Strikes are likely to disrupt public services, utilities, and cargo movements and transport services via Khartoum International Airport and Port Sudan seaport, for up to a week in each instance. Basic services such as healthcare, water, electricity, education, and finance are likely to face disruption lasting several days at a time. Security forces would probably respond by threatening workers to force them to resume work, increasing detention risks, as well as violently suppressing protests, including the use of live ammunition. Hotspots include the suburbs of Khartoum, and provincial cities, including Atbara, El Obeid, Nyala, and Port Sudan.

Indicators of changing risk environment

Increasing risk

  • The TMC is not dissolved as per the agreement with the AFC, likely prompting the opposition to withdraw from negotiations, jeopardizing the implementation of the Sovereign Council and reducing the likelihood of peaceful elections.
  • The TMC assumes the first rotating presidency for 21 months, increasing the likelihood that its members consolidate power and dominate policy-making during the transition.
  • Further violent confrontation between members of the army, sympathetic to the protest movement, and the RSF, indicating growing risks of civil war.
  • Further arrests in the security forces for their alleged support in the foiled coup attempt, indicating the coup was likely an attempt by the TMC to initiative a purge against those prone to support protesters.
  • Delays in the establishing a Legislative Council (parliament) beyond the three-month outlook, increasing the likelihood of the TMC's dominance in the transitional authority.
  • Renewed disruption to vital economic sectors such as oil exports and fuel imports, increasing the likelihood of the TMC attempting to break strikes by use of overwhelming force.
  • Protest activity targets the Egyptian, Emirati, or Saudi embassies in Khartoum or these countries' commercial activities in Sudan, such as agricultural investments along the Nile, indicating higher risk of property damage, including arson and vandalism.
  • Attacks by non-state armed groups on gold mining sites affiliated with the government or RSF in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and North Darfur, specifically Jebel Amir, which is a key source of revenue for Hemedti. This indicates growing civil war risk as Hemedti would likely respond by deploying RSF troops to secure the sites and fight the insurgents.
  • Evidence of the RSF launching attacks in regions outside its established areas of control (Khartoum and Darfur) such as Kassala and Al Qadarif, indicating Hemedti is consolidating political power and is unlikely to be removed from the TMC.

Decreasing risk

  • The fragmentation of the AFC coalition, indicated by some of its members agreeing to take part in the transitional government closer to the terms of the TMC rather than the AFC, decreasing its ability to put pressure on the TMC's leadership.
  • The United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions on Hemedti and the head of the TMC, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane, deterring them from continued violence against protesters, forcing them to make greater concessions in transferring power to civilians.
  • Although unlikely, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE withdraw support from the TMC, most likely solicited by the "Sudan Troika" of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Norway, reducing the TMC's funding and its ability to retain power. (The meeting on 21 June in Berlin, including representatives from the "Sudan Troika", Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, indicated that there is unlikely to be significant pressure from the US.)
  • Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Egypt, most likely because of pressure from the "Sudan Troika", grant Burhane and Hemedti immunity from prosecution for war crimes, increasing the likelihood of their peaceful handover of power to civilians.

Posted 19 July 2019 by Jihane Boudiaf, Analyst, Country Risk, IHS Markit


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