By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s ruling military council and a coalition of opposition and protest groups agreed provisionally on Friday to share power for three years, bringing thousands onto the streets to hail a first step towards ending decades of dictatorship.
The deal, concluded in the small hours and due to be finalised on Monday, revived hopes for a peaceful transition of power in a country plagued by internal conflicts and years of economic crisis that helped to trigger the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir in April.
Relations between the military council that took over from Bashir and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) alliance broke down when security forces killed dozens as they cleared a sit-in on June 3. But after huge protests against the military on Sunday, African mediators brokered a return to direct talks.
After two meetings, the sides agreed early on Friday to “establish a sovereign council by rotation between the military and civilians for a period of three years or slightly more” African Union mediator Mohamed Hassan Lebatt told a news conference.
The council will be led for the first 21 months by the military, and for the final 18 months by civilians, according to a statement from the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded months of protests against Bashir.
The sovereign council will be Sudan’s highest authority. It will comprise five military members and five civilian appointees, with an additional civilian member agreed by the two sides, and the deal will be finalised by Monday, the SPA said.
The deal includes the formation of a technocratic government beneath the council, and an independent investigation into recent violence – though it was unclear how this could be guaranteed, given the military’s leading role in the first phase of the transition.
Protesters have blamed the violence on the military council and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), whose leader, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, is the council’s most prominent member.
The deal also postpones the establishment of a legislative council – on which the FFC was due to take two-thirds of the seats before security forces crushed the sit-in outside Khartoum’s Defence Ministry on June 3.
“This agreement is only the first step,” Khaled Omar, a senior FFC member, told reporters later on Friday.
Sudanese analyst Khalid al-Tijani said both sides had made concessions. “The biggest challenge is to provide trust between the parties to implement the agreement,” he said.
He also said high expectations would put the government under heavy pressure to address the economic crisis swiftly.
The streets of Omdurman, Khartoum’s twin city across the Nile, erupted when the news broke during the night, and celebrations continued into the morning on both sides of the river.
Thousands of people of all ages took to the streets, chanting “Civilian! Civilian! Civilian!” Young men banged drums, people honked their car horns, and women carrying Sudanese flags ululated in jubilation.
Many were initially unaware of the details of the deal because of an internet cut ordered by the military last month, and the FFC was holding public meetings on Friday evening to spread news of the agreement.
FFC member Mervat al-Neel said it had been told the internet would be restored in the coming days, after “security checks”.
“We have won a victory against injustice,” said Shihab Salah, a 23-year-old unemployed engineering graduate carrying a national flag. “Our goal is to achieve freedom and justice and find jobs for young people. Civilian rule and democracy are the future of Sudan.”
RSF leader Dagalo, who is widely known as Hemedti, was among those announcing the deal.
“We would like to reassure all political forces, armed movements and all those who participated in the change … that this agreement will be comprehensive and will not exclude anyone,” he said.
The FFC accuse the RSF of leading the operation to crush last month’s sit-in. Opposition medics say more than 100 people were killed in the dispersal and subsequent violence. The government put the death toll at 62.
Amnesty International called for the RSF, which emerged from militias accused of war crimes in the western region of Darfur, to be barred from policing activities to help secure the deal.
Sudan, a country of 40 million, is a gateway into Africa from the Middle East, and foreign powers including wealthy Gulf Arab states have been vying for influence there.
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which have close ties to the military council, both welcomed the power-sharing deal.
(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty and Alaa Swilam in Cairo, Nafisa Eltahir in Dubai, and Stephen Kalin in Riyadh; Writing by Aidan Lewis and Yousef Saba; Editing by Kevin Liffey)