Sudan was poised Saturday to celebrate a historic deal between generals and protest leaders for a transition to civilian rule, which many hope will bring increased freedom and prosperity.
During a ceremony to be held at a hall by the Nile in the capital Khartoum, members of the Transitional Military Council and protest leaders are expected to sign documents defining a 39-month transition.
But the road to democracy remains fraught with obstacles, even if the mood was celebratory as foreign dignitaries as well as thousands of citizens from all over Sudan converged for the occasion.
The deal reached on August 4 — the Constitutional Declaration — brought an end to nearly eight months of upheaval that saw masses mobilise against president Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in April after 30 years in power.
The agreement brokered by the African Union and Ethiopia was welcomed with relief by both sides; protesters celebrated what they see as the victory of their “revolution”, while the generals took credit for averting civil war.
In the town of Atbara — the birthplace of the protests back in December — people on Friday night danced and sang at the train station as they prepared to travel to Khartoum, videos shared on social media showed.
“Civilian rule, civilian rule,” they chanted, promising to avenge the estimated 250 allegedly killed by security forces during the protests.
With Saturday’s official signing, Sudan is set to kick off a process that includes important first steps.
The composition of the transitional civilian-majority ruling council is to be announced Sunday.
On Thursday, protest leaders agreed to nominate former senior UN official Abdalla Hamdok, a veteran economist, as prime minister.
He is expected to focus on attempting to stabilise Sudan’s economy, which went into a tailspin when the oil-rich south seceded in 2011 and was the focus of the initial protests.
But many Sudanese are already questioning the ability of the transitional institutions to rein in the military elite’s powers during the three-year period leading to planned elections.
The country of 40 million people will be ruled by an 11-member sovereign council and a government, which will — the deal makes clear — be dominated by civilians.
However, the interior and defence ministers are to be chosen by military members of the council.
“Political dynamics will matter more than pieces of paper,” said Rosalind Marsden from London’s Chatham House think tank.
“The biggest challenge facing the government will be dismantling the Islamist deep state… which took control of all state institutions and key sectors of the economy, including hundreds of businesses owned by the military-security apparatus.”
Saturday’s official ceremony is to be attended by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and several other top leaders from the region.
One of the most immediate diplomatic consequences of the compromise reached this month could be the lifting of a suspension slapped on Sudan by the African Union in June.
Lieutenant General Mohammed Ali Ibrahim, a senior member of the Transitional Military Council, said Friday that the official signing would “reopen the door for Sudan’s foreign relations.”
Bashir, who took power in a 1989 coup and is wanted by the International Criminal Court over an alleged genocidal campaign in the Darfur region, had been slated to appear in court Saturday on corruption charges.
But his trial has been postponed to an as yet undetermined date.
Amnesty International on Friday warned against allowing Bashir to escape trial in the Hague.
“Omar al-Bashir has evaded justice for far too long as the victims of horrific crimes still wait for justice and reparations,” it said.
Some within the protest camp are sceptical of the compromise deal, which they say did not do enough to curb the powers of the military or guarantee justice for those killed by security forces.
Absent from Saturday’s ceremony are also the various rebel groups from marginalised regions such as Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.
The Sudan Revolutionary Front that unites these insurgents has supported the protest movement but rejected the constitutional declaration, demanding representation in the government and more guarantees on peace talks.