“People laughed today at the press conference, but this spokesman of the military council said, ‘well, fine’, if they want it to be an administration, name it - give us names, give us a list,” says Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute, a research group.
However, after the Friday press conference, the protesters headed by the Sudan Professionals Association immediately called for the military to step down.
Gizouli says the military is looking for civilians to partner with. “They asked for negotiations with the protest leaders and political parties, and my guess is that they would agree to something like a division of authority,” he tells RFI. “They would maintain authority and give up the administration.”
Head of the new Sudanese military council's political committee, Lieutenant General Omar Zain al-Abdin, said their actions on Thursday were not a coup d’etat, but merely a response to the people.
Defense Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf on Thursday announced the ousting of Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled the country for the past 30 years. He also outlined a state of emergency, a 10pm-4am curfew, the closing of borders, and a suspension of the constitution.
Thursday’s announcement made the military’s role very clear, says Gizouli.
“What he means by suspending the constitution is that ‘I’m grabbing all the power’. What that translates into is that ‘I am the supreme authority’, whatever the military council says is law,” the expert says, adding that the military will attempt to co-opt the opposition and seek partnerships with people.
The demonstrators had taken to the streets for the past four months to protest the high cost of staple foods, but morphed into a more general movement calling for strongman Bashir to step down.
“The security forces should yield to their demands for real change or risk a prolonged stalemate, which will deepen the country's economic woes and might lead to wider chaos if the military and allied militias try to break up protests by force,” says Murithi Mutiga, Horn of Africa deputy project director for International Crisis Group.
While the demonstrations have paved the way for Bashir’s ouster, the protests have not been led by any one particular political party, which makes any transition more difficult.
“The protest movement is commendable and it’s probably the largest and most sustained that Sudan has ever seen, but it’s a protest movement it’s not ready to grab power,” says Gizouli.
“It is asking a third party to do things for it and the military will do what it does best, it won’t do exactly what the protesters want. There is no political party or leadership,” he adds, describing the grassroots movement.
Failure of the opposition
Gizouli maintains that the opposition lost a golden opportunity during the last four days of protests, when the power vacuum could have been filled.
“Even when these military leaders started talking about civilian administration, you would expect the opposition would have some sort of negotiation committee to offer, or at least obvious demands, or a clear statement on what would be the way forward, or a counter-proposition,” he says. “It’s very rich in slogans, it’s very poor in detail,” he adds.
Neither the opposition, nor the protesters, or even the military council have presented a plan to solve the underlying economic crisis, which kicked off protests in December. But Gizouli says that the new head of government could garner support from other quarters by establishing improved regional relations.
“Regional relations means a bit of foreign support and it’s very likely is that he already has support from the Egyptians. In many ways, he’s Egypt’s man in Sudan,” he says. If the new regime is able to secure a big foreign loan in US dollars, it could help reduce the cost of food staples for the average Sudanese household, according to Gizouli.
Sudanese military leaders will not be ceding power soon, according to Gizouli; Ibn Auf was the long-time head of military intelligence and masterminded the counter insurgency campaign in Darfur in 2003.
“They won’t shoot themselves in the foot - these are the same people who killed thousands of people in Darfur, millions in South Sudan, and thousands upon thousands in the Blue Nile south of Kordofan,” he says.