Hope for democracy in Sudan hangs by a thread. On Monday, the generals running what is meant to be an interim administration unleashed paramilitary forces on a peaceful sit-in in Khartoum, killing at least 60 people. Crackdowns in other parts of the country increased the toll.

The generals announced they were scrapping agreements for a transition to democracy that had been negotiated with the protesters who brought down the dictator Omar al-Bashir in April. Instead, the Transitional Military Council has said it plans to hold elections within nine months. Monday’s brutal attack shows that the generals can’t be trusted to oversee this process.

The world has seen this movie before. The killings in Khartoum may not have matched the scale of the 2013 massacre of protesters in Cairo, which likely claimed more than 1,000 lives, but the parallels are all too clear: Another military elite is trying, with deadly force, to take back the political space won by a pro-democracy movement.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton was right to condemn the killings as “abhorrent.” China and Russia have blocked an attempt to denounce them at the United Nations Security Council — but the U.S. and the European Union can still coordinate efforts to get Sudan’s transition to democracy back on track. They should start by demanding that the generals relent and call for those involved in the shooting to be brought to justice. They should oppose the generals’ new plan to force through elections, which in all likelihood is meant to buy time to consolidate power and slacken the pro-democracy movement. Instead, they should insist on a civilian-run transitional authority.

The protests that took down Bashir brought together a wide range of individuals, from politicians and lawyers to activists and students; Sudan is not lacking for civilians who can manage such a transition. The U.S. and Europe should stand ready to assist them and, eventually, to help coordinate internationally monitored elections.

The military council’s leadership should be told that failure to hand over the reins could lead to sanctions for human-rights abuses and other violations, including penalties under the Global Magnitsky Act. If they do return peaceably to their barracks, they should be offered leniency in any post-election reckoning of their behavior during Bashir’s reign and its aftermath.

Sudan’s allies can also help. Since Bashir’s ouster, the generals have courted Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All these countries should endorse U.S. and European efforts to ensure that the generals don’t block the path to democracy, and make it clear they’ll get no help if they cling to power.
The world failed Egypt in 2013. It shouldn’t fail Sudan now.

Editorial by Bloomberg News

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