Omar Al-Bashir: A tumultuous 30-year rule comes to an end

Omar Al-Bashir was removed as president of Sudan amid a mounting series of protests. (AFP)
Updated 11 April 2019
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Omar Al-Bashir: A tumultuous 30-year rule comes to an end

  • Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir, who clung tenaciously to power in Sudan for three decades, lost his grip on the presidency
  • As head of the junta that seized power in 1989, Al-Bashir dissolved the military council in 1993 and appointed himself president

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.

In this July 8 1989 photo, Revolutionary Council ruler and military coup leader General Omar Al-Bashir announces the formation of a new government. (AFP/File Photo)

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.

June 30, 1993 - Al-Bashir and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak  speak to reporters during the 29th OAU (Organisation of African Unity) summit in Cairo. (AFP/File Photo)

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.

January 2, 2014 - Al-Bashir looks on during The India-Africa Summit in New Delhi. (AFP/File Photo)

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.

December 24, 2017 - Al-Bashir with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Khartoum. (AFP/File Photo)

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.

(With agencies)


Warning to Turkish artists as singer is jailed for ‘insulting’ Erdogan

Updated 21 July 2019
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Warning to Turkish artists as singer is jailed for ‘insulting’ Erdogan

  • Actress and singer Zuhal Olcay was charged with insulting Erdogan using hand gestures at a concert in Istanbul in 2016
  • Turkey’s appeals court has upheld an 11-month sentence, originally imposed last year but suspended

ANKARA: Accusations of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may lead to a jail sentence — even if the “insult” is in private, analysts told Arab News on Saturday.

Turkey’s appeals court has upheld an 11-month sentence on actress and singer Zuhal Olcay, 61, after a complaint that she had changed lyrics of songs and used hand gestures to insult the president at a concert in Istanbul in 2016.

The revised lyrics said: “Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it’s all empty, it’s all a lie. Life will end one day and you’ll say ‘I had a dream’.” Olcay said she had changed the lyrics only because the president’s name fitted the rhyme.

The court confirmed a sentence originally imposed last year, which had been suspended. The singer is expected to spend up to three days in prison, before being released on probation.

“This case highlights the blurring of the public and private spheres.”

Louis Fishman Academic

“Zuhal Olcay is an artist with great stature, and this case shows that no one is out of reach of a judiciary that increasingly has little independence from the government,” Louis Fishman, an assistant professor at City University of New York, told Arab News.

“The message is clear; artists in Turkey should be silent or face legal consequences that can be drawn out for years and eventually lead to prison,” said Fishman, an expert on Turkey.

He said it was significant that the hand gesture at the center of the case had happened at a private concert, and the prosecution began only after it was reported to police by someone in the audience.

“Therefore, this case also highlights the blurring of the public and private spheres,” he said. 

“In other words, there is a growing fear in Turkey of criticizing, or ‘defaming’ Erdogan, not only in public, but also in private. In both cases, vigilant citizens can report such alleged cases to the police.”