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Despite some important progress toward a transitional framework for Sudan—on July 5, the civilian-led forces of the Freedom and Change coalition and the Transitional Military Council signed a deal on the structure for a three-year preelection period—the country’s future remains deeply uncertain. Last week’s reported coup attempt, however dubious, is a reminder of how spoilers, real or imagined, can become a pretext for tightening the grip that the military, and particularly the brutal Rapid Support Forces, have on the country, suffocating the possibility of democratic change.
The international community must remember that it was an economic crisis that was at the heart of former President Bashir’s ouster. Elites in the security services, aware of the $50 billion-plus debt burden and the absence of deep-pocketed rescuers willing to bet on Bashir, recognized that their interests could not be served by the status quo, and so, at least for a moment, found common cause with the brave Sudanese citizens who had taken to the streets. Those same elites should be reminded that economic lifelines will be linked to real transition milestones going forward. They need reasons not to stall progress, as well as reasons to isolate and abandon those who would.
The United States should not rely on Gulf States to send this message, or on Gulf money to incentivize democratic progress. We may share an interest in a stable Sudan, but the degree of repression we will tolerate in exchange is not the same, or at least it shouldn’t be. Lasting stability and growth in Sudan requires structural reform and a response to popular demands for a new basis of political legitimacy. As the transitional timeline takes shape, the United States should be prepared to commit real resources toward compelling progress and fidelity to commitments agreed upon by all parties, and it should rally others to do the same.