Updated Oct 26, 2021 - World

U.S. freezes aid to Sudan over military coup

Protesting the coup in Khartoum. Photo: AFP via Getty

The Biden administration froze a $700 million aid package to Sudan after a military coup on Monday threatened to end the country's transition toward democracy.

Driving the news: At least three protesters have been killed and dozens wounded in the chaotic scenes that followed the announcements from Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's ruling council, dissolving the government and declaring a state of emergency.

  • Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and other civilian leaders were arrested, apparently after Hamdok refused to endorse the coup.
  • Amid the confusion, Sudan's Information Ministry called on Sudanese people to “use all the peaceful means to recover their revolution from any kidnapper." That call was heeded by thousands, some of whom erected barricades in the capital.
  • Security forces reportedly used live ammunition during the ensuing demonstrations. TV and radio stations went dark, and internet outages were reported.

Behind the scenes: The coup took place just hours after a meeting in Khartoum between U.S. envoy Jeffrey Feltman, Hamdok and Burhan aimed at finding a solution to the standoff between the military and civilian wings of the government.

  • Feltman departed Khartoum after the meeting, but by the time he arrived in Doha to catch a connecting flight back to Washington the first reports about the coup had started to emerge.
  • During a separate meeting with Feltman on Sunday, Burhan mentioned the possibility that elements within the Sudanese army might take action due to tensions with the civilian government, according to sources briefed on the meeting.
  • Feltman told Burhan that the U.S. would respond forcefully, including by suspending all aid to Sudan and freezing many aspects of the bilateral relationship.

What they're saying: Secretary of State Tony Blinken said in an emailed statement calling for the lawmakers' immediate release that the military's actions contravened Sudan’s Constitutional Declaration.

  • "These actions have the potential to derail the country’s transition to democracy and are a betrayal of Sudan’s peaceful revolution," Blinken said.
  • Feltman has not flown back to the U.S., but it's unclear whether he will return to Sudan.
  • The $700 million aid package that has been paused was promised to Sudan last year after the government agreed to start a normalization process with Israel.

The big picture: A joint military-civilian council took power after dictator Omar al-Bashir was toppled in 2019 to oversee a three-year transition to democratic elections.

  • Control of the council was supposed to pass from Burhan to a civilian in the coming weeks, but he had been claiming in the lead-up to the coup that squabbling between civilian politicians was endangering the revolution.
  • Also setting the stage for the coup was a pro-military sit-in outside the presidential palace. Still, tens of thousands of people marched in Khartoum last Thursday in defense of the democratic transition.

Worth noting: In an interview with Axios last week, one of the most high-profile civilian members of the ruling council, Mohamed Elfaki Suleiman, accused Burhan of seeking to effectively take power without resorting to a coup.

  • Suleiman was among the politicians reportedly arrested on Monday.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Blinken.

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