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Protests Sweep Sudan to Revive Dream of Civilian Rule

Nearly three years after Sudan’s revolution, military power is proving difficult to uproot.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A young Sudanese girl takes part in a demonstration.
A young Sudanese girl takes part in a demonstration in Omdurman, Sudan, to demand the government’s transition to civilian rule on Oct. 21. Ebrahim HAMID/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Thousands of people protest for civilian rule in Sudan, the White House corrects U.S. President Joe Biden’s comment on U.S. “commitment” to defend Taiwan, and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II spends a night in hospital.

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Sudan’s Progress Stagnates

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Thousands of people protest for civilian rule in Sudan, the White House corrects U.S. President Joe Biden’s comment on U.S. “commitment” to defend Taiwan, and Britains Queen Elizabeth II spends a night in hospital.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Sudans Progress Stagnates

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, on Monday to renew calls for civilian rule as the uneasy coalition of military and civilian leaders at the helm of the country’s transitional government begins to buckle.

Thursday’s protests, which were reported to have numbered in the hundreds of thousands, can be seen as a show of force following an attempted coup a month before and a pro-military sit-in in front of the presidential palace in Khartoum.

Elections for a new government are supposed to take place in late 2022, but those on the streets aren’t the only ones to decide that. “There’s a growing sense that the military and security services would like to see the elections indefinitely postponed,” Alden Young, a Sudan expert at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Foreign Policy.

Alongside the obvious power of highly trained men with guns, military leaders also exercise control over key areas of the country’s economy. Many of Sudan’s gold mines, for example, are controlled by the Rapid Support Forces, a militia led by the governing sovereignty councils deputy chairperson, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemeti.

“This is not how any country’s economy should run, but this was how the kleptocracy of [former Sudanese President Omar] al-Bashir ran, and it’s very difficult to undo that,” Eric Reeves, a Sudan expert at Smith College, told Foreign Policy. What makes matters worse, Reeves said, is military leaders “know absolutely nothing about economics.”

That military’s control also extends to foreign policy. While Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a civilian, was reluctant to sign an agreement normalizing ties with Israel, the military’s support for the deal eventually won out.

Regionally, the civilian-military divide can create mixed signals. Hamdok, who spent part of his career in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is seen as more sympathetic to the neighboring country and its mega-project, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, while Sudan’s military leaders, following the lead of their Egyptian allies, were staunchly opposed.

Although the United States has applied some rhetorical pressure to speed the transition, including a call this week for disparate military groups to consolidate into one entity, it has so far kept other tools, such as sanctions, off the table.

That balancing act may be down to a desire to keep problems in the region from multiplying, especially with Ethiopia’s Tigray People’s Liberation Front conflict dragging into its second year. The U.S. position shouldn’t be considered an endorsement of future military rule in Sudan, Young said, considering the human rights record of those same leaders the United States has railed against in the past.

“The U.S. has not traditionally really loved these guys, but with the chaos in Ethiopia, theres the question of how much instability is the U.S. willing to risk,” Young said. “Ethiopia used to be a partner in the region for peacekeeping and for stability operations. Is Sudan now looking like a potential replacement?”

What We’re Following Today

Bidens Taiwan gaffe. U.S. President Joe Biden appeared to signal a shift in U.S. policy toward Taiwan, saying in a CNN town hall on Thursday that the United States had a “commitment” to defend the island, a statement that contradicts the long-held policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan.

A White House spokesperson was quick to correct the record following the event, saying: “The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwans self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”

The Queens health.
Queen Elizabeth II, the world’s current longest reigning monarch, spent a night in the hospital on Wednesday, fueling speculation over possible ill health. The 95-year-old had been scheduled to attend a 100th anniversary commemoration in Northern Ireland earlier in the week but canceled at the last minute. British officials said the queen had been sent for “preliminary investigations” and returned to Windsor Castle the following day.

Keep an Eye On

Germany’s new government. Germany will likely have a new government by the week of Dec. 6, the three parties set to form a governing coalition said on Thursday. The alliance of the Social Democrats, Free Democrats, and Greens party will see Olaf Scholz elevated from his position as finance minister to chancellor, officially ending German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign.

Britains NHS under pressure. As the U.K. National Health Service struggles with rising COVID-19 cases, the backlog of British cancer patients waiting for treatment has grown. The Guardian reported a record number of patients were forced to wait for more than two months despite urgent referrals from their doctors before starting cancer treatment. The problem has been compounded by the countrys shortage of specialized cancer care nurses, with approximately 3,000 of the required positions vacant. Family doctors in the U.K. have also threatened to go on strike in the face of government demands that they see any patient who requests an in-person appointment rather than a virtual one—a scenario doctors fear amid the pandemic and crushing workloads.

Odds and Ends

In a world where speculation on cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens capture the minds of investors, old-fashioned products appear to still have a market. On Thursday, “Big John,” a 66-million-year-old Triceratops skeleton sold at a Paris auction for $7.7 million to a private collector. The dinosaur skeleton is the largest of the species ever discovered. Although Big John commanded a handsome sum, it’s still well short of the world record held by a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, bought for $32 million in New York in 2020.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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