After months of butting chests, the Transitional Military Council in Khartoum and democratic forces that have sustained protests against it on July 17 signed a transitional power-sharing agreement.
But there was barely any celebration by the protesters, whose unrelenting sit-in ousted the three-decade-old regime of Gen Omar Al Bashir in April.
That guarded welcome to the agreement that sets a transitional period in which the revolutionary forces are participants should, however, not overshadow the significance of the moment.
The parties agreed to a 39-month transitional period, the first 21 of which will be managed by the military, with the civilians managing the final 18 month run-up to elections.
That could be a good or bad thing, depending on which side of the argument one falls. The compromise is at odds with popular expectations, because the bulk of the protest movement envisaged a settlement under which the military would play a minimal role, with the generals returning to their regiments.
The three-year transitional period is also being viewed with suspicion. Many are convinced it is too short to allow a deep transition under which the institutional framework would be overhauled to deliver elections that will be free and credible.
There is also the question of trust since the key actors in the mayhem and slaughter of protesters that followed Bashir’s ouster remain powerful and unwilling to account for their actions.
Yet, for all its shortcomings, the deal should still be embraced as, for now, it offers the only alternative to a costly stalemate in which the civilians pay the ultimate price.
The economy, battered by Western sanctions, the secession of South Sudan—which took away the bulk of oil revenues—and a costly civil war has suffered significant shrinkage. A $50 billion foreign debt means matters can only get worse if the political impasse is not resolved.
A further deterioration of the economy would keep in place the very conditions that triggered the protests in the first place, with the attendant risk of revolutions within the revolution.
Now, a key factor is to see to it that the agreement gains traction. To gain public trust, the joint administration must draw a social recovery agenda with clear milestones against which they can be held accountable. Such an agenda would also make it easy to apportion blame for any infractions—a necessary safety fuse to save the agreement from collapsing in the event of disagreement.
Responsible for implementing an agreement that is largely seen as externally driven, the military must also work at earning the trust of the masses.
The protests have made it clear that the civilians are fed up with military rule and no amount of intimidation will change that.
Furthermore, the international community will not ease the yoke of sanctions until they see commitment from the military to a new civilian order.
It might be a long way out of the woods but Khartoum can pick up a lesson from Juba, which is still struggling to get a three-year-old accord to work.