Uncertainty clouds Sudan even after Al-Bashir’s removal

Uncertainty clouds Sudan even after Al-Bashir’s removal

Sudanese demonstrators participate in anti-government protests in Khartoum. (Reuters)

Less than a week after the toppling of Sudan’s authoritarian ruler of the last 30 years, Omar Al-Bashir, the country continues to face political uncertainty. The head of the transitional military council that removed the president, Gen. Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, bowed to public pressure and stepped down, naming a more acceptable successor, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan. However, even after the latter toned down some of the council’s initial declarations, including suspending a month-long curfew, the protests continued amid demands that a civilian government be formed as soon as possible.

The military council, which retired or arrested many officials close to Al-Bashir, is yet to make its position clear on a number of demands. Professional unions, which are spearheading the protests along with political parties, have rejected a two-year transitional phase under the military. They want an immediate handover of authority to a transitional civilian body, the annulment of unlawful decrees and the arrest of key figures in the old regime ahead of putting them on trial.

So far there is an impasse. The military council has asked the heads of professional unions and parties to present a list containing the names of possible civilian figures who could form a transitional government. But the army is unlikely to bow down and hand over power to a civilian body yet. Al-Bashir’s authoritarian rule had relied heavily on the military and many generals benefited from a corrupt regime that squandered the country’s resources and drove people to despair. These generals fear that putting Al-Bashir on trial may lead to their own arrest at some point.

On the other hand, the protestors are in defiant mood. There is no doubt they were inspired by the mass demonstrations in Algeria, which ended the rule of Abdelaziz Bouteflika and may also bring the ruling party down.

The fate of Sudan’s National Congress Party and the circle that surrounded Al-Bashir is now the main issue that will decide the country’s future. How far will the military go in yielding power to a civilian body is an open matter. And how long the demonstrators can remain united in their quest to end military rule as soon as possible is another question.

One has to remember that what triggered Sudan’s protests four months ago was the failing economy. The country’s economic woes continue to be the main driver and the military has little to offer in that regard. In fact, the situation could get a lot worse since the military council fired the government and disbanded all local bodies in the provinces. This is a crucial phase and, while both sides remain on edge, one should expect a number of scenarios to unfold.

The military will have to initiate meaningful dialogue with people’s representatives in order to agree on a road map that will pave the way for a civilian body to take over, allowing for a slow return to democratic life. But the fate of the old regime and its symbols will emerge as a major stumbling block. International pressure will increase on the military council to hand over Al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court, something that the army has so far rejected.

The fate of the circle that surrounded Al-Bashir is now the main issue that will decide the country’s future.

Osama Al-Sharif

Another scenario suggests that the military itself may lose unity and a second coup may take place, possibly leading to a takeover by hardliners. It was noted that the head of the notorious Rapid Support Forces, Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, had rejected Ibn Auf’s initial declaration and seemed to side with the protesters. His backing of the military council is essential, although he may have his own agenda too.

An internal dispute among the military is likely but the outcome is vague. Daglo has ties to Gulf states and may be biding his time to make his move, if he gets assurances of financial support. 

The longer the protests continue, the deeper the crisis will be. If the military does hand over power to a civilian body, then influential states in the region and beyond, including the US and the EU, must step in to support this nascent authority. The path to putting Sudan on the road to economic recovery after decades of turmoil and exploitation of its resources will be long and arduous. As will the drive to rebuild the democratic institutions and restore democracy in a country that has known military rule for most of its postcolonial era.

But, at some stage, Sudan must seek to heal its wounds by facing the atrocities carried out under Al-Bashir, especially in Darfur more than 15 years ago. Without national reconciliation, this country will have a rough time leaving behind a dark legacy of decades of bloody and ruthless military rule. 

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010
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