DUBAI: Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir, who clung tenaciously to power in Sudan for three decades, lost his grip on the presidency on Thursday amid a mounting series of protests, abandoned by the military that was once loyal to him.
Born to a poor family in the village of Hosh Bannaga on the east bank of the Nile in Sudan, he has often played up his humble beginnings. In January, he repeated a story he told in 2013 of how he broke a tooth while carrying concrete at a construction site where he worked as a student to pay for his education.
Al-Bashir said that he refused a silver tooth implant when he joined the military, because he wanted to remember that incident whenever he looked in the mirror.
In 1960, Al-Bashir joined the Sudanese army and went to military college in Cairo; before returning to Sudan, he fought with the Egyptian army in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. As a young officer in the parachute regiment, he joined the armed wing of the Islamist Movement, which broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood and has ruled Sudan since Bashir took office.
As head of the junta that seized power in 1989, Al-Bashir dissolved the military council in 1993 and appointed himself president, confirmed by periodic presidential elections, first in 1996 and last in 2015.
Since taking office in what was then Africa’s largest country, he fought a protracted civil war with southern rebels which ended with the secession of South Sudan in 2011, and the loss of more than 70 percent of Sudan’s oil.
Sudan has suffered prolonged periods of isolation since 1993, when the US added Al-Bashir’s government to its list of terrorism sponsors for harboring Islamist militants. Washington followed up with sanctions four years later.
But it was Al-Bashir’s response to the insurgency in the western Darfur region that has come to define his legacy.
Facing an International Criminal Court arrest warrant over the death of an estimated 300,000 people in Darfur, Al-Bashir held on to power as a shield against a trial similar to that of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.
During his 30-year rule, Al-Bashir was a master at playing rival factions among security services, the military, Islamists and armed tribes off against each other. But he underestimated the anger of young Sudanese men and women demanding an end to economic hardship.
Al-Bashir ultimately faced almost daily defiance in towns and cities across Sudan despite a crackdown by security forces using teargas and sometimes live ammunition, in which dozens of people were killed.
Addressing soldiers in January, Al-Bashir warned the “rats to go back to their holes” and said he would move aside only for another army officer or at the ballot box.
“They said they want the army to take power. That’s no problem. If someone comes in wearing khaki, we have no objection,” Al-Bashir, wearing his military uniform, told soldiers at a base in Atbara, the northern city where protests erupted.
Later in January, Al-Bashir declared a national state of emergency that expanded police powers and banned unlicensed public gatherings. He told parliament to postpone, not cancel, constitutional amendments that would allow him to seek another term.
In the months before protests began in Sudan, people had already been struggling to makes ends meet. The trigger for the wave of protests was a government attempt to introduce unsubsidized bread. The demonstrations quickly turned political, demanding Al-Bashir step down.
He sounded a defiant note in January, wearing white robes and waving his trademark cane, he said: “We say to the youth, this country is yours, protect it, and if it goes up in smoke we won’t be refugees, we will die here.”
Facing the most sustained challenge to his rule yet, Al-Bashir had counted on steadfast support from the security establishment that he had nurtured for three decades. That came to an end on Thursday, when the defense minister announced the army had detained him, removing him from power.