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U.S. suspends economic aid to Sudan after Monday's military coup

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Biden administration suspended $700 million in aid to Sudan after the military took control of the country yesterday. The chief of the military then announced the end of the joint civilian-military government that was put in place two years ago. Sudanese civilians, helped by the military, overthrew the dictator Omar al-Bashir, and Sudan started a transition toward democracy, a transition that now seems deeply imperiled. With us now is Isma'il Kushkush. He's a reporter who's covered Sudan for many years. Isma'il, thanks for being with us.

ISMA'IL KUSHKUSH: Thank you for having me.

KING: As far as you know, what is happening in Khartoum and the surrounding areas today?

KUSHKUSH: So there are protests against the military coup. The announcement of a declaration of the dissolvement of the Sovereignty Council, which is the council that was the partnership between civilians and the military after the fall of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's autocrat for 30 years, people have declared that they will resist this, that there would be civil disobedience and that - a slogan that has come out of the protest (non-English language spoken) retreat is impossible.

KING: Retreat is impossible. We saw images of people protesting in the streets yesterday and again very early this morning. Reuters reports seven people dead, 140 wounded, so it is very clear what the military is willing to do. You still think the protests will continue?

KUSHKUSH: I think so. There's been a build up to this. We saw huge protests on October 21, just a few days ago on the anniversary of Sudan's October Revolution of 1964, the first major uprising in the region to remove a military government. That I think has energized people. The mood on the street, the mood among Sudanese locally and globally is that after 30 years of attempts to remove a dictatorship and hopes to transition into a democracy, I don't think it will be easy for them to accept anything else but to transition into a new government, to new - and to democracy. We will see. I mean, what - we are expecting from the government, from the military, violence at the highest level. But I don't doubt that the Sudanese people are going to challenge this.

KING: You're optimistic, and I appreciate that. I want to ask you about the suspension of U.S. aid. Jeffrey Feltman is the U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa. Yesterday, he told our colleague Michele Kelemen this. He said, quote, "We were very explicit that a military takeover of the civilian institutions would trigger a reevaluation of the types of commitments we have." He's essentially saying we're going to suspend aid to Sudan, and then the U.S. did. How serious is that? And does it effectively mean that the U.S. doesn't really have any leverage in Khartoum?

KUSHKUSH: In some ways, that was surprising to see that despite the meetings with the special envoy and despite the apparent promises that the military would allow for the transition, which was expected next month. The agreement that was reached between civilians and military stated that by this time, we would see a full transition into civilian rule to complete the transition and lead to elections. That the military would turn against that promise and go against what it promised the special envoy, I think, is somewhat surprising. But one has to speculate that the military thinks that they have other sources for diplomatic support and other sources for financial support.

KING: You mentioned that this was a surprise, in part because it was the military along with civilians or amid civilian protests that overthrew Omar al-Bashir. The two sides, the civilians and the military, have been working together. Why would the military turn on Sudanese civilians?

KUSHKUSH: There are some key issues that the military has been fearful of, namely the loss of power and authority and access to wealth. We know that a part of the dismantling of the old government was to reform the access of the military to companies that were owned. And I think that the militia had feared the loss of that access to wealth and power. But also a key question is justice and accountability, that a transition into a full civilian government might put some figures in the military up for accountability on crimes committed either during the reign of Bashir, particularly in Darfur and namely the June 3 massacre of 2019 that saw the massacre of those involved in the - in front of the army headquarters that were demanding a transition into full civilian rule. So the question of justice, I think, is something that worries many in the military.

KING: Journalist Isma'il Kushkush has covered Sudan for many years. Thank you for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.

KUSHKUSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.