Sudan’s new Cabinet sworn in amid protests over dire economy

Sudan on Wednesday swore in a new Cabinet that includes rebel ministers as part of a power-sharing deal that transitional authorities struck last year with a rebel alliance.

The swearing-in ceremony took place amid violent protests in several Sudanese cities over dire economic conditions, forcing authorities to impose a curfew and close schools temporarily.

The new ministers were sworn in in the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the ruling Sovereign Council. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok attended.

It was the second Cabinet to be named since the military ousted autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 following mass pro-democracy protests.

The Cabinet includes Mariam al-Mahdi, deputy chief of the country’s largest Umma Party, as foreign minister, and Gibril Ibrahim as finance minister. Ibrahim is a leader at the Sudan Revolutionary Front, which stuck peace deal with the transitional government in October.

The peace deal gave rebels positions in the Sovereign Council and the Cabinet along with 75 legislative seats in a transitional parliament the prime minister said would be announced in late February.

Sudan, which is is on a fragile path to democracy since al-Bashir’s ouster, is ruled by a transitional military-civilian government is now in power.

Sudan’s government faces towering challenges, including a huge budget deficit and widespread shortages of essential goods and soaring prices of bread and other staples. The country is $70 billion in debt and its annual inflation soared past 200% in the past months.

That rapidly deteriorating economic conditions triggered protests in recent weeks in Khartoum and other cities across the country.

In South Darfur, people took to the streets of Nyala, the provincial capital. Security forces used tear gas to disperse the protesters after alleged attempts to storm shops in the city’s main market, the state-run SUNA news agency reported.

Authorities in North Darfur and South Darfur declared a state of emergency, suspended school classes and imposed a nightly curfew to contain the situation. There were also protests in East Darfur province and the Red Sea city of Port Sudan.

In North Kordofan province, authorities arrested more than 100 people after protests turned violent in the city of Obeid, the provincial capital, said Hassam Hamed Abdel-Rahim, the province’s chief police official.

After the swearing-in Wednesday, Minister of Cabinet Affairs Khalid Omar told a televised news conference that the government would prioritize alleviating the people’s economic suffering and achieve peace with other rebel groups that did not join last year’s deal.

Sudan’s largest single rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement-North led by Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, has been in talks with the transitional government but has yet to reach a deal with the government.

Another major rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement-Army, which is led by Abdel-Wahid Nour, rejects the transitional government and has not taken part in the talks.