AFTER months of protests and uncertainty, not to mention violent crackdowns, a power-sharing deal has been reached between Sudan’s military rulers and civilian opposition groups. The African country has been facing turbulence ever since long-time strongman Omar al-Bashir was forced to step down in April by the military after 30 years in power; the generals took the step after popular protests against his rule refused to abate. The former president himself was a field marshal who, along with other army men, had overthrown the elected government of Sadiq al-Mahdi in a 1989 coup. The latest developments might have been welcomed, but clearly the goal should be total democracy without interference from unelected quarters. Indeed, the protesters have put up a brave fight for representative rule, and given many lives in the last few months. One particularly savage assault by paramilitary forces took place in early June, in which soldiers reportedly fired live rounds at demonstrators. The sacrifices of the Sudanese people must not be in vain, and the newly formed sovereign council must pave the way for an elected government that is answerable to the people.
While Sudan continues on the long and winding road towards representative rule, other Arab states are not faring well. For example, Egypt, the country’s northern neighbour, is firmly in the grip of the military establishment after the hopes raised by the Arab Spring were shattered with Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. Elsewhere in the region, kings and sheikhs with absolute power lord it over the people, while strongmen and ‘presidents for life’ offer a fig leaf of democracy, but rule with an iron fist. Clearly, the Arab Spring showed that the people of the Middle East want change — principally democratic rule, an end to corruption and the assurance of fundamental rights. Yet these dreams remain unrealised. Of course, democratic rule must be an organic, internal process as democracy cannot be ‘imported’. The rulers of regional states must realise that their young populations are yearning for more, and unless they open up their political systems, further turmoil will be the result in the long run. Unfortunately, many global actors who swear by democratic values — the US and Europe, for example — are quite comfortable dealing with the region’s strongmen and potentates, and have rarely offered moral support for democratic movements. This has only emboldened Arab autocrats over the decades.
Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2019