Recent demonstrations display solid support for civilian rule but some factions' strong pushing to return back to military rule shift the balance in favour of the army.

A scene from the protest in Khartoum on October 16, 2021.
A scene from the protest in Khartoum on October 16, 2021. (Ashraf Shazly / AFP)

Tens of thousands of Sudanese have marched in several cities to back the full transfer of power to civilians, and to counter a rival days-long sit-in outside the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum demanding a return to "military rule".

The two sides represent opposing factions of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the civilian umbrella group which spearheaded demonstrations that led to the army's overthrow and jailing of Bashir.

The mass protests show strong support for a civilian-led democracy, but analysts warn street demonstrations may have little impact on powerful factions pushing a return to military rule.

"The protests were an explicit rejection of the prospect of a military rule, and an emphasis that the transition to civilian rule remains the goal," Sudanese analyst Othman Mirghani said.

But, "despite their size, they have little impact on the political reality at play," he added.

Divisions

Critics have charged that the rival sit-in has been orchestrated by senior figures in the security forces, Bashir sympathisers and other "counter-revolutionaries".

But it has drawn support from some of those hit hard by tough International Monetary Fund-backed economic reforms implemented by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a former UN economist.

Sudan's precarious transition has been marred by political splits and power struggles among factions at the helm of the transition. 

"The FFC's own divisions, that detract from their ability to govern, are making it easy for the military and the FFC breakaway group to point to poor performance as reason to dissolve the government," said Jonas Horner of the International Crisis Group.

Keep the military at bay

Tensions between the two sides have long simmered, but divisions ratcheted up after a failed coup on September 21.

Popular support for the government led by Hamdok, who was picked in 2019 by a once-united FFC, has also waned over a tough raft of economic reforms that took a toll on ordinary Sudanese.

Delays in delivering justice to the families of those killed under Bashir, and even during the 2019 protests following his ouster, have left Hamdok vulnerable to criticism.

And since mid-September, the government has been criticised for its handling of anti-government protests in the east -resulting in a blockade of the country's key maritime trade hub of Port Sudan, triggering shortages nationwide.

"Hamdok and the FFC have failed to meet people's expectations," said Mirghani.

"Thursday's protests were not particularly backing them, as much as simply asserting revolutionary goals."

The security forces-including the regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the much-feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF)- have maintained a powerful hold, and are heavily involved in everything from outlining foreign policy to running lucrative companies.

"The military- both SAF and RSF - are newly determined not to relinquish their political and economic power," said Horner, but added that the main protests can still be a counterweight to their strength.

"Popular opposition has, and can continue, to keep the military at bay," Horner said.

READ MORE: Sudan braces for massive demonstrations in support of civilian rule

Source: AFP