Sudan’s military seized power on Monday, dissolving the transitional government hours after troops arrested the acting prime minister and other officials. Thousands of people flooded into the streets to protest the coup that threatens the country’s shaky progress toward democracy.
The takeover comes more than two years after protesters forced the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir and just weeks before the military was expected to hand the leadership of the council that runs the African country over to civilians.
After the early morning arrests of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other officials, thousands poured into the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and its twin city of Omdurman. Footage shared online appeared to show protesters blocking streets and setting fire to tires as security forces used tear gas to disperse them.
As plumes of smoke filled the air, protesters could be heard shouting, “The people are stronger, stronger” and “Retreat is not an option!” Videos on social media showed large crowds crossing bridges over the Nile to the centre of the capital.
At least 12 protesters were wounded in demonstrations, according to the Sudanese Doctors Committee, which did not give details.
In the afternoon, the head of the military, General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, announced on national television that he was dissolving the government and the Sovereign Council, a joint military and civilian body created four months after al-Bashir’s ouster to run the country.
Burhan said quarrels among political factions prompted the military to intervene. Tensions have been rising for weeks between civilian and military leaders over Sudan’s course and the pace of the transition to democracy.
The general declared a state of emergency and said the military will appoint a technocratic government to lead the country to elections, set for July 2023. But he made clear the military will remain in charge.
“The armed forces will continue completing the democratic transition until the handover of the country’s leadership to a civilian, elected government,” he said. He added that the country’s constitution would be rewritten and a legislative body would be formed with the participation of “young men and women who made this revolution.”
The information ministry, still loyal to the dissolved government, called his speech an “announcement of a seizure of power by military coup.”
The international community expressed concern over Monday’s developments.
Jeffrey Feltman, the US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, said Washington was “deeply alarmed” by the reports. Feltman met with Sudanese officials over the weekend in an effort to resolve the growing dispute between civilian and military leaders.
European Union foreign affairs chief Joseph Borrell tweeted that he’s following events with the “utmost concern.”
The UN political mission to Sudan called the detentions of government officials “unacceptable.”
The first reports about a possible military takeover began trickling out of Sudan before dawn on Monday. The information ministry later confirmed that Hamdok and several senior government figures had been arrested and their whereabouts were unknown.
Hamdok’s office denounced the detentions on Facebook as a “complete coup.” It said his wife was also arrested.
Internet access was widely disrupted and the country’s state news channel played patriotic traditional music. At one point, military forces stormed the offices of Sudan’s state-run television in Omdurman and detained a number of workers, the information ministry said.
There have been concerns for some time that the military might try to take over, and in fact there was a failed coup attempt in September. Tensions only rose from there, as the country fractured along old lines, with more conservative Islamists who want a military government pitted against those who toppled al-Bashir in protests. In recent days, both camps have taken to the street in demonstrations.
After the September coup attempt, the generals lashed out at civilian members of the transitional power structure and called for the dissolution of Hamdok’s government. The Sovereign Council is the ultimate decision-maker, though the Hamdok government is tasked with running Sudan’s day-to-day affairs.
Burhan, who leads the council, warned in televised comments last month that the military would hand over power only to a government elected by the Sudanese people.
His comments suggested he might not stick to the previously agreed timetable, which called for the council to be led by a military figure for 21 months, followed by a civilian for the following 18 months. Under that plan, the handover was to take place sometime in November, with the new civilian leader to be chosen by an alliance of unions and political parties that led the uprising against al-Bashir.
Since al-Bashir was forced from power, Sudan has worked to slowly rid itself of the international pariah status it held under the autocrat. The country was removed from the US’ state supporter of terror list in 2020, opening the door for badly needed foreign loans and investment. But the country’s economy has struggled with the shock of a number of economic reforms called for by international lending institutions.
Sudan has suffered other coups since it gained its independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956. Al-Bashir came to power in 1989 in one such takeover, which removed the country’s last elected government.
Among those detained on Monday were senior government figures and political leaders, according to two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to share information with the media.
They include Industry Minister Ibrahim al-Sheikh, Information Minister Hamza Baloul, Cabinet Affairs Minister Khalid Omer, and Mohammed al-Fiky Suliman, a member of the Sovereign Council, as well as Faisal Mohammed Saleh, a media adviser to Hamdok. Ayman Khalid, governor of the state containing the capital, was also arrested, according to the official Facebook page of his office.
After news of the arrests spread, the country’s main pro-democracy group and two political parties issued appeals to the Sudanese to take to the streets.
One of the factions, the Communist Party called on workers to go on strike after what it described as a “full military coup” orchestrated by Burhan.
The African Union (AU) has called for the release of all Sudanese political leaders including Hamdok. “Dialogue and consensus is the only relevant path to save the country and its democratic transition,” said Moussa Faki, the head of the AU commission.