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omar al bashir

Omar Al Bashir

The ousting and arrest of President Al Bashir on April 12 in Khartoum doesn’t change the political history of Sudan much. And it surely isn’t a venture that can bring democracy to the country.

Omar Al Bashir rose to power through a military coup in 1989. He was a colonel of the army who headed an insurrection, albeit a non-violent one, to oust a legitimately elected civilian government. After the coup, Al Bashir managed to govern until today with the help of the military.

Now the same military, faced with repeated demonstrations by the people, decided to remove him from his post, but this doesn’t imply that they are giving up their power. They’re swapping jockeys but the horse remains the same. Accordingly, the opposition in Sudan has recently denounced indiscriminate killings by the military.

Al Bashir's office was initially and “temporarily” filled by the Vice President, Minister of Defense and General, Ahmed Awad ibn Auf, who immediately made his program known: a two-year transition led by the army; a suspension of constitutional rights; a state of emergency for at least three months.

In the end, Auf was deemed inadequate because he could not 'understand' the demonstrators and was 'removed' in favor of a Military “Transitional” Council (another “termporary” solution) headed by yet another General, Abdelfattah al Buhran: an all-military rotation.

Al Buhran was given Auf’s office because he seemed to be more in touch with the protesters, with whom he attempted to start negotiations. His importance in the military was probably greater than his predecessor’s as well, since Auf had governed alongside Al Bashir for many years.

In addition, like his former President, Auf was also accused by the International Criminal Court of participating in genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. The rise of Buhran offers the advantage of an international rehabilitation of Sudan and a possibility to dodge international sanctions for the offenses.

After all, Sudan’s story isn’t too dissimilar from other African nations. One dictator is booted out and another one fills his place. The rotation is based on considerations over power and opportunity.

What the demonstrators want

The protests, organized by a coalition of qualified members of the civil society, are ongoing. No problem: the dictator gets arrested and another potential dictator fill his shoes.

Taking heed of popular resentment is theoretically a form of democracy, provided that the subsequently chosen leader is an expression of that resentment. This is not the case with Sudan. There were a series of requests on the part of the demonstrators: to freeze the assets of a number of politicians with ties to Al Bashir; to arrest the President himself; to sack a number of Generals; to sack the General Prosecutor and a number of judges; to release the military, policemen and civilians who had backed the demonstrations and are now jailed; to elect a civilian government.

The military leadership decided to agree only with the requests that didn’t damage their own position. In essence, they picked the General who was liked most by the demonstrators. No more no less.

Al Bashir is becoming impopular? No problem. He gets arrested and his entourage cleansed: Prime Minister Taher Ella and the various other ministers are arrested, including the Vice President Osman Taha, the former Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein, and Al Bashir’s personal assistant and Vice President of the National Congress Party, Ahmed Mohammed Harun (whose name also appears on a black list of the International Criminal Court).

Auf is not liked? So what? He gets removed, also from his seat as a Minister of Defense. His Vice, General Kamal Abdul Maroof, is also removed.

The all-powerful head of the NISS (National Interlligence and Security Service), General Salah Gosh, is hated and feared due to his being the former regime’s military arm? No problem: he is replaced by another General, Abu Bakr Mustafa. Even better: we shall reform the NISS, boasts the military regime.

The demonstrators ask for the head of Salah Gosh’s predecessor, General Mohammed Atta, now Ambassador in Washington and a well-known torturer? No problem: he is also removed from his diplomatic post. The same goes for the Sudanese representative in Geneva, Mustafa Ismail.

The crowd wanted the dismantling of Al Bashir’s Congress National Party? Granted. The party is dismantled, their assets frozen and its main members (whom the military have actually failed to identify this far) will be tried in court.

On top of all this, there are also a number of ‘social’ promises: to intensify the fight against corruption; to remove the curfew and state of emergency; to try those accused of brutality in court; to distribute food among the population, etc.

abdel fattah

General Abdel Fattah Al Buhran

A civilian government?

The only binding request, the shift to civilian rule, was promised but not maintained. The Military Council had initially promised that the transitional phase would last but two years but the shift to civilian rule is subordinated by the Military Council to two conditions: that the stability of the country and the security of its people be guaranteed. And who is supposed to guarantee the above? The military, of course. In other words, civilian rule with a military chaperone. Even the African Union pressed for a civilian government and threatened to sanction the new regime.

Finally, an agreement is being negotiated with the opposition: A legislative council whose two-thirds are represented by the opposition and the creation of a so-called Sovereign Council, but only three years from now.

In substance, the popular revolt in Sudan was transformed into a purge inside the military regime.

But the protests had economic connotations as well: the division between the north and south of Sudan slashed oil revenues, the main cash-cow of the regime. There followed a general impoverishment of the population and a surge in the price of basic necessities, also thanks to the economic reforms enacted in 2017.

Al Bashir had already attempted to quench the protests by lowering the price of bread and other products with scarce success. The inflation had soared to 45%, making these economic initiatives useless.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates promised to send humanitarian aid (grain, medicines, even oil), which makes things a little easier for the military regime. In addition, the two Gulf countries expressed public appreciation for the work carried out by the regime. This is mostly due to the Sudanese involvement in Yemen, which was paid for with over 2 billion dollars (in addition to a promise of 15 billion dollars of investment in the near future).

The role of the military

Surely Al Bashir was for 30 years a brutal dictator, but his actions were always supported by the military regime that kept him in power until last April. We are talking about the same ‘elite’ which now wants to judge and condemn him. In fact, the dictator initially tried to suppress protests with violence (reportedly 100 dead, a few hundred wounded and a wave of indiscriminate arrests) and by repeated changes in his government. He also refused to change the constitution, which granted him a third term in office. The results of his persecution were meager: the protest became structural, leading to his destitution and arrest.

Al Bashir carries the weight of the accusations for the repression in Darfur, which was very similar to a genocide and an ethnic cleansing. The international accusations and the arrest warrant in his name prevented the dictator from carrying out an adequate diplomatic activity abroad (with the notable exceptions of countries like Morocco, Egypt, South Africa and Saudi Arabia).

Reportedly, during a search of his residence, authorities found suitcases bloated with banknotes amounting to roughly 130 million dollars. But surely he was not the only thief in Sudan, nor the only person who became rich by milking the nation. His entourage, including the military, did the same. Alas, in the fight for survival that ensued, Al Bashir has become the only culprit for the nation’s woes: violence, corruption and the economic crisis. From home arrests he was thus eventually transferred to prison.

The game being currently played by the military fluctuates between grants and promises and tries to appear above the parts, as if the military themselves had not played a central role in Sudan's past. Presently, the military regime is looking for a way shift to civilian rule that would leave their own power untouched.

sudan map

The interests of others

What happens in Sudan doesn’t effect the Sudanese alone. With a territory among the biggest in Africa and a population of over 40 million, Sudan plays a central role in the African context. Egypt, for one, is very interested in the country’s future, since it borders Sudan and shares the Nile’s waters with the nation. They are afraid of a contagion effect, seen that the Cairo also has a military regime. Chad is also interested in Sudan’s future: they were on very bad terms with Khartoum due to their support of the Darfur rebels.

The Gulf countries are interested due to a number of reciprocal accords and to the fact that the two countries belong to the Sunni world.

Qatar and Turkey, which share a close connection with Hassan Turabi’s Muslim Brothers and his Popular Congress Party, are also keeping a close eye on Sudan. Doha is still thanking Sudan for not joining the embargo against Qatar promoted by Saudi Arabia.

With the creation of a Military Council, the USA have become privileged speakers with regards to Khartoum. In October 2017, the US administration removed – after a long and strained negotiation – the embargo that was ongoing since 1997. An embargo based on the collusion of Al Bashir with international terrorism – the same reason for the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum in 1998 (which the US thought was producing chemical agents).

China is, of course, interested as well. They are economically involved in the African continent and have violated the international embargo to help out Sudan. Russia is also interested, especially in the light of the ‘normalized’ relationship between Al Bashir and Assad’s Syria. Behind Russia there is, of course, the interest of Iran in the future of Sudan. Khartoum and Teheran have had long and good diplomatic relations until the attack against the Saudi embassy in Teheran in January 2016.

The scary part

The insurgence of a social crisis in Sudan, which would represent a new hotbed of instability in the African continent, scares the international community. Sudan is, of course, a Muslim country, where Osama Bin Laden found refuge for four long years (1992-1996). There is the possibility that in the future it could become a new target for Islamic terror. What happened in Libya and in Syria is a reminder for all.

International analysts want the country to be stable, regardless of whether such stability is guaranteed by a military regime or a by civilian rule. Democracy is not the bone of contention. The same is true inside the country: the middle class wants stability, security for its commerce and fears an uncertain future, which makes the military elite more acceptable in their eyes. The demonstrators’ slogans about peace, liberty and justice are not on anyone’s agenda. The country’s future depends on other factors altogether.

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