- - Sunday, July 14, 2019

KHARTOUM, Sudan — When Sudan’s ruling military council and opposition groups reached an agreement July 5 to share power during a transition period leading to elections, thousands of residents poured into the streets to celebrate their newfound freedom.

“We are super excited, and we thank Allah for everything,” taxi driver Osman Ahmad said as horns blared and crowds of people waving Sudanese flags ran through the streets of the capital.

“We started this peaceful journey together, and we are happy our prayers have been answered,” he said. “We want a civilian-led government that is free from corruption, nepotism and dictatorship.”

Even so, many caution that it might be too soon to celebrate. The military can refuse to relinquish power or make way for civilian rule when the peace agreement expires in 2022. Analysts, citing Sudanese history, predict that’s exactly what will happen.

“The military may have wanted to calm the situation following weeks of deadly protests from the opposition groups,” said Nazlin Umar, a political analyst based in Nairobi, Kenya. “When the time comes, the military will obviously ignore the peace agreement and refuse to hand over power to civilian rule. That has been the history of the country since independence.”

In April, a military-backed coup ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from power after 30 years. The military has run the country since then, but civilian protesters demanded a quick transition to democracy.

A crackdown ensued, and the military junta cut off all cellphone service and the internet to prevent protesters from communicating with one another. More than 100 demonstrators have been killed in the past five months.

In one promising sign, Sudanese activists told The Associated Press that the military government had restored internet service to the country after a weeklong interruption. The military council blocked internet service after security forces razed a protest camp in the capital of Khartoum on June 3, killing over 128 people, civilian groups said.

The return of online life brings tensions of its own. Sudanese web users immediately began posting footage of what they said were security forces’ abuses against protesters.

Under terms of the peace agreement, the two sides will share power during a three-year transition period, followed by the election of a successor. The agreement establishes a sovereign council. Each side — the ruling Transitional Military Council and the opposition Freedom and Change Alliance — will get five seats each. A civilian chosen by both sides will fill an additional seat.

The Trump administration and many countries in the region are credited with pressuring the Transitional Military Council to commit to a process to cede power to a civilian authority.

“The military and the civilian leaders also agreed to launch a transparent and independent investigation into the incidents of violence that led to the deaths of protesters during demonstrations that began in December last year,” African Union mediator Mohamed Hassan Lebatt said.

The Transitional Military Council said it was committed to implementing the peace agreement with the opposition groups. “We would like to reassure all political forces, armed movements and all those who participated in the change that this agreement will be comprehensive and will not exclude anyone,” said Gen. Mohamed Dagalo, deputy head of the council.

Heading in the right direction?

Omar al-Degair, the leader of the Forces for Freedom and Change, an umbrella organization of opposition groups, expressed confidence in the power-sharing agreement and said the country was heading in the right direction.

“We hope that this is the beginning of a new era,” Mr. al-Degair said. “This agreement opens the way for the formation of the institutions of the transitional authority.”

On the streets, activists said they were happy with the deal but still wanted justice after decades of authoritarian rule.

“This is a good deal for the country, and people are happy and celebrating,” said Ibrahim Mudawi. “We hope that after three years the country will return to a full government.

“This will end weeks of protests as the new leaders conduct an independent investigation into the violence,” he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised the parties for agreeing to sign a power-sharing deal.

“I want to urge all stakeholders to ensure the timely, inclusive, and transparent implementation of the agreement and resolve any outstanding issues through dialogue,” Mr. Guterres said in a statement.

Activists said they will work to ensure the outcome they want.

“The military killed innocent people to retain power, but our voices have finally triumphed,” Mr. Ahmad said. “We will make sure that no military man becomes president of this country. We have suffered a lot under the military rule.”

But the taxi driver acknowledged his doubts over the military’s willingness to hand over power to the civilian authority after three years.

“It’s our fear,” he said. “But if they don’t hand over power after the transition period, we will go back again to the streets. We’ll call our neighbors and the world to support Sudan so that we get the civilian-led government.”

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