Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok Is Detained in Apparent Coup
Demonstrators filled the streets of the capital, Khartoum, burning tires and chanting slogans, while internet access was sharply curtailed.,
Sudan’s military detained the prime minister and other civilian leaders on Monday and declared a state of emergency in a coup that endangered the country’s fragile transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.
Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, speaking at a news conference on Monday afternoon, said the military had taken control of the government and dissolved a governing council that included civilian members. He said that the military would rule until elections are held in 2023.
General al-Burhan’s remarks capped a dramatic morning of rapidly evolving events, starting with the sudden disappearance of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The information ministry released a statement saying the military had kidnapped Mr. Hamdok and his wife and confirming that a coup attempt was underway.
The same ministry said in a Facebook post earlier on Monday that the military forces had placed Mr. Hamdok under house arrest and pressured him to release a “pro-coup statement.” After refusing to “endorse the coup,” the ministry said, Mr. Hamdok was then moved to an unknown location.
It said the military had also detained several top cabinet members as well as civilian members of the Transitional Sovereignty Council, the governing body made up of civilian and military leaders that General al-Burhan said he was dissolving. The Council was supposed to prepare the country for democratic elections in 2022.
As news of the arrests spread, protesters filled the streets of the capital, Khartoum. Television broadcasts showed people burning tires, with plumes of smoke filling the skies. The information ministry said that internet connections had been cut and that the military had closed bridges.
The East African nation has been shaken by political uncertainty and fears of a coup for months now, as the shared power arrangement between military and civilian leaders has shown increasing signs of strain. Pro-military protesters have called for the dissolution of the transitional government, while pro-democracy demonstrators have said such a step would be tantamount to a takeover.
The army chief of staff had been expected to hand over leadership of the cabinet to Mr. Hamdok in November, giving him a largely ceremonial post that would have signified full civilian control of Sudan for the first time in decades.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, the country’s main pro-democratic political group, warned Monday on social media that the military was preparing to seize power. The association urged citizens to take to the streets.
“The revolution is a revolution of the people,” the group, which is made up of doctors, engineers and lawyers, said in a Facebook post. “Power and wealth belongs to the people. No to a military coup.”
After the detentions on Monday, state television broadcast patriotic songs.
The specter of a coup has haunted Sudan’s transitional government since 2019, when the country’s longtime dictator, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, was overthrown. Last month, the authorities thwarted an attempted coup by loyalists of Mr. Bashir, and other plots were foiled before they came to fruition.
The country’s political uncertainty has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and the increasingly precarious state of Sudan’s economy. The population has struggled in the face of growing unemployment, as well as rising food and commodity prices.
The U.S. has committed $377 million in humanitarian aid to Sudan this year, making it the nation’s biggest donor. While it pushed the sovereignty council and the military to follow the democratic transition plan and respect the rights of protesters, it did not set specific guidelines that were necessary for receipt of that aid.
The United States special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, met with Mr. Hamdok, the prime minister, on Saturday and reiterated the Biden administration’s support for a civilian democratic transition.
On Monday, Mr. Feltman said the United States was “deeply alarmed at reports of a military takeover of the transitional government.”
“This would contravene the Constitutional Declaration and the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people and is utterly unacceptable,” Mr. Feltman said in a statement. “As we have said repeatedly, any changes to the transitional government by force puts at risk U.S. assistance.”
Pro-democracy protesters flooded into the streets of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, from dawn on Monday, burning tires, barricading roads and closing bridges as the military detained the prime minister, suspended the government and declared a state of emergency in an apparent coup.
Photos and video footage posted on social media or broadcast on private television stations showed plumes of smoke rising from the burning tires. Demonstrators also barricaded streets with large stones and barbed wire as processions of protesters grew.
“The people are stronger,” the demonstrators chanted. “Retreat is impossible,” they insisted, a reference to the possibilities of returning to the three-decade autocratic rule of President Omar al-Bashir, who was deposed in 2019.
Businesses and offices were mostly closed in the capital as the Sudanese Professionals Association, a pro-democracy coalition of trade unions and other groups, called for civil disobedience.
Women in colorful veils joined the protests in Khartoum. Many of the demonstrators walked while others rode alongside on scooters. Some waved the Sudanese flag while others flashed the “V” for victory sign.
In the city of Omdurman near Khartoum, demonstrators chanted slogans, clapped and urged their fellow citizens to resist the military.
With the internet and phone networks severely disrupted in an apparent attempt to stifle opposition to the military’s actions, many Sudanese nationals abroad expressed concern.
“Just like millions of Sudanese in and outside of Sudan, I feel disappointed and angry,” Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese political cartoonist who was about to head back to Sudan, said in an interview from Doha, Qatar. He said the Sudanese were being denied democratic freedoms.
The weeks leading up to Monday’s coup in Sudan were fraught with tensions between the military and civilian leadership, which were battling to gain control of the nation’s future as a key deadline approached.
The jubilant mood that reigned when Omar al-Bashir was ousted in 2019 after 30 years in power gave way to sporadic protests, a failed coup last month and accusations from each side that the other had betrayed the ideals of the revolution.
Politicians insisted that the military should exit a ruling council ahead of Nov. 17, the date civilians said would mark the end of a three-year transition period. That would have been the first time civilians ruled the country in more than three decades.
As the deadline to transfer power approached, civilian leaders, including Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, called for investigations of the military for the role it may have played in massacres and corruption under Mr. al-Bashir. Without a seat in the government, the military worried that it would face investigations it could not control.
Last month, tribal leaders accused Mr. Hamdok of failing to deliver on promises, and sent people to the Port of Sudan, the main commercial artery, to block traffic. That worsened a deteriorating economic situation. Sudan was already battling inflation and a food shortage. Mr. Hamdok accused the military of fomenting the protests as the transition deadline approached.
There were wider fears among military officials that civilian rule would lead to them being removed from the gold industry. The armed forces play a major role in mining gold and exporting it to Dubai.
“They have fears, they have interests and they have ambitions,” Yasser Arman, a political adviser to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, said in an interview at his office in Khartoum last week. “We keep the partnership on one condition: that the end game should be a democratic civilian state.”
As the civilian government gained pace and began implementing reforms, it quickly became clear that the military would lose power, he said.
— Simon Marks
The U.S. envoy for the Horn of Africa was in Sudan as recently as Saturday, urging the military and the civilian leadership to continue the country’s planned transition to democracy as protests broke out.
Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, met in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on Saturday. They were joined by other leaders, including Lt.-Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who heads the military and the sovereignty council, and Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, another senior military member of the council.
Mr. Feltman “emphasized U.S. support for a civilian democratic transition in accordance with the expressed wishes of Sudan’s people,” the American Embassy in Khartoum said on Twitter. He called on all parties to stick by the constitutional declaration that the military and opposition signed after Mr. al-Bashir’s ouster and a peace agreement reached last year by the government and rebel groups.
International organizations and the United States government reacted on Monday to an apparent military coup in Sudan. The military detained the prime minister and other key civilian leaders and restricted access to the internet. The Arab League, the United Nations and the U.S. envoy to the region have all issued statements. More responses will be added here as they become available.
Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. envoy to the Horn of Africa:
“The U.S. is deeply alarmed at reports of a military takeover of the transitional government. This would contravene the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people.”
The Arab League:
“The Arab League expresses concern over the developments in Sudan and calls on the Sudanese parties to abide by the signed transitional arrangements.”
Human Rights Watch:
“The military takeover in Sudan strikes a major blow to the hopes that Sudanese from many walks of life had that a transition to a more fair and rights-abiding country was possible. As pro-democracy protesters take to the streets, security forces should protect their fundamental right to protest and refrain from using lethal force as has too often been the go-to response. The international community should press for a return to the civilian transition.”
The African Union:
In a statement issued by the head of the African Union Commission, the groups called for “the immediate resumption of consultations between civilians and military within the framework of the Political Declaration and the Constitutional Decree. The Chairperson reaffirms that dialogue and consensus is the only relevant path to save the country and its democratic transition. The Chairperson further calls for the release of all arrested political leaders and the necessary strict respect of human rights.”
After President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for nearly 30 years, was ousted in a coup in 2019, the country began taking tenuous steps toward democracy, but has been plagued with unrest and an attempted military takeover.
His government was replaced by an 11-member sovereign council consisting of six civilians and five military leaders, who were given the task of preparing the country for elections after a three-year transition period.
The council appointed Abdalla Hamdok, an economist who has held several United Nations positions, as prime minister, and his government immediately embarked on an ambitious program designed to placate pro-democracy demonstrators and rejoin the international community.
Mr. Hamdok’s government eased decades of strict Islamist policies, scrapping an apostasy law and abolishing the use of public flogging. It also undertook a political and economic overhaul. It revived talks with rebel groups, and began investigations into the bloody suppression of the Darfur region under Mr. al-Bashir, promising to prosecute and possibly hand over to the International Criminal Court those wanted for war crimes there.
But stubborn obstacles to progress remained, including the coronavirus pandemic, stagnant economic growth and continued violence in Darfur. Mr. Hamdok survived an assassination attempt, and concerns of a coup swirled when the country entered lockdown last year to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Last month Sudanese authorities said they had thwarted an attempted coup by loyalists of Mr. al-Bashir. Soldiers had tried to seize control of a state media building in the city of Omdurman, across the Nile from the capital, Khartoum, but they were stopped and arrested.
Mr. Hamdok blamed the failed coup on Bashir loyalists, both military and civilian, and described it as a near miss for the country’s fragile democratic transition.
The army chief of staff had been expected to hand over leadership of the sovereign council next month to Mr. Hamdok — a largely ceremonial post, but also one that signifies full civilian control of Sudan for the first time in decades.
The internet outage in Sudan on Monday amid an apparent coup came as no surprise to the Sudanese, who have endured many such blackouts in the past, including one that lasted more than two months under the country’s former dictator, Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Access was curtailed shortly after midnight throughout Sudan, according to NetBlocks, which monitors worldwide internet access. The organization initially said on its Twitter account that the internet was operating at about 34 percent of normal levels, but that dropped to about 24 percent later in the day.
Mr. al-Bashir worked to crush dissent during his three decades in power, waging war against separatists in the south, arresting many who publicly opposed his rule and enriching himself and his allies with the nation’s oil wealth.
As internet access became more prevalent in the East African nation, he often turned to cutting it off to silence the opposition.
The longest such blackout lasted 68 days in early 2019, essentially turning off social media including Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. It ended on Feb. 26, 2019, two months before Mr. al-Bashir was ousted, according to NetBlocks.
Three years ago Sudanese protesters demonstrated against the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who had ruled the country for three decades since a 1989 coup.
Mr. al-Bashir had led his country through disastrous wars and famine, but it was anger over the rising price of bread that incited the first protests in December of 2018. After nearly four months of demonstrations and dozens of deaths at the hands of security forces, Mr. al-Bashir was forced from power in April 2019.
He had ruled Sudan longer than any other leader since the country gained independence in 1956, and was seen as a pariah in much of the world. He hosted Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, leading to American sanctions, and in 1998 an American cruise missile struck a factory in Khartoum for its alleged links to Al Qaeda.
Mr. al-Bashir presided over a ruinous 21-year war in southern Sudan, where his forces pushed barrel bombs from planes onto remote villages. The country ultimately divided into two parts in 2011, when South Sudan gained independence. But Mr. al-Bashir kept fighting brutal conflicts with rebels in other parts of Sudan.
In addition, he sent thousands of Sudanese soldiers to fight outside the country, including in the civil war in Yemen.
Mr. al-Bashir, 77, has been imprisoned since his ouster. He has been wanted by the international court in The Hague since 2009 over atrocities committed by his government in Darfur, where at least 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million displaced in a war from 2003 to 2008, the United Nations estimates.
The international court has been pressing Sudan’s transitional government, which took over after Mr. al-Bashir was deposed, to hand him over along with other leaders accused of crimes in Darfur.
Sudanese courts convicted Mr. al-Bashir of money laundering and corruption charges in late 2019 and sentenced him to two years in detention. He still faces charges related to the 1989 coup, and could be sentenced to death or life imprisonment if he is convicted.
Sudan spent the better part of three decades isolated from the world, as its former leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir housed terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, engaged in bloody wars with his own people and squandered revenue from oil production.
Since Mr. al-Bashir was ousted in 2019, the leadership of the nation, part civilian and part military, has made overtures to Israel, the United States and the international criminal court in The Hague, where its former leader is wanted. The country’s hope was that by normalizing relations with former antagonists it could lure badly needed investment.
In 2011, South Sudan split from Sudan and formed it own nation, taking with it claims to more than 90 percent of the region’s oil reserves. That was a blow to Sudan’s economy, already beleaguered by sanctions.
After the new government formed in 2019, it began taking steps to improve foreign ties.
The United States, which lifted many sanctions on Sudan in 2017, took the country off the list of nations that support terrorism last year. President Trump had announced the decision, saying the removal was made in exchange for a $335 million compensation payment to the victims of the 1998 Qaeda attacks on American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
That deal was made possible after Sudan agreed to recognize Israel, part of a Trump administration effort to pressure Arab nations to normalize relations with the country. Sudan’s move, however, appeared short of actually establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel.
Sudan’s cabinet also voted in August to ratify the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the criminal court, and said it had agreed to extradite Mr. al-Bashir.
But his extradition remains a contentious issue in Sudan, and could now be in serious doubt. Some of the country’s military leaders were implicated along with Mr. al-Bashir in the atrocities in Darfur, a western region. If he were to be extradited, he might give evidence that could expose Sudan’s military leaders to prosecution.