Month after Bashir ouster, Sudan far from civilian rule

Sudanese people queue up at an ATM in Khartoum on Thursday as a deep economic crisis sparks months of protests in the North African country. (AFP)
Updated 12 May 2019
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Month after Bashir ouster, Sudan far from civilian rule

  • The protest movement says the military appears intent on hijacking the revolution and determining its outcome

KHARTOUM: One month after ousting veteran President Omar Al-Bashir, Sudan’s military rulers show no sign of handing power to a civilian administration and talks with protest leaders remain deadlocked.
Thousands of protesters remain encamped outside army headquarters in central Khartoum, vowing to force the generals to cede power just as they forced Bashir from office.
“We want civilian rule or we will stay here forever,” said protester Iman Hussein, a regular at the sit-in which protesters have kept up since April 6.
Protesters initially gathered at the army complex to seek the generals’ help in ending AlBashir’s three decades of iron-fisted rule.
On April 11, the army toppled Bashir in a palace coup, replacing him with a military council formed entirely of generals that has shattered protesters’ dreams of a civilian-led transition to democracy.
The deepening economic crisis that fueled the four months of nationwide protests which led to Bashir’s ouster shows no sign of abating.
Huge queues form daily at ATM machines as the freezing up of the banking system forces consumers to use cash to buy basic goods made ever more expensive by the sliding value of the Sudanese pound.
The generals insist they will not use force to disperse the sit-in, which protesters have kept up through the daytime fasts observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.
The generals have offered several concessions to placate the protesters, including detaining Bashir in Khartoum’s Kober prison, arresting several of his lieutenants and promising to prosecute officers who killed protesters during the demonstrations against the old regime.
But when it comes to the protesters’ key demand for a civilian authority to oversee a four-year transition, the military has simply dragged its heels.
“They are pressuring us with time, but we are pressuring them with our presence here,” said protester Hussein.
“One of us has to win in the end, and it will be us.”
Last month, the Alliance for Freedom and Change, which brings together the protest movement and opposition and rebel groups, handed the generals its proposals for a civilian-led transition.
But the generals have expressed “many reservations” over the alliance’s roadmap.
They have singled out its silence on the constitutional position of Islamic sharia law which was the guiding principle of all legislation under Bashir’s rule but is anathema to secular groups like the Sudanese Communist Party and some rebel factions.
The protest movement says the military appears intent on hijacking the revolution and determining its outcome.
Protest leader Khalid Omar Yousef told reporters on Wednesday that the movement was now considering “escalatory measures” like launching a nationwide civil disobedience movement to achieve its demand.
The generals are under pressure too, with the United States and the African Union calling on them to ensure a smooth transition of power.
In a telephone call with military council chairman Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, backed “the Sudanese people’s aspirations for a free, democratic and prosperous future.”
The State Department said Sullivan encouraged Burhan to reach agreement with the Alliance for Freedom and Change and “move expeditiously toward a civilian-led interim government.”
Some members of the protest movement are optimistic however that the generals will ultimately cede power.
“They will hand over executive power to a civilian government if we present a credible, viable form of a civilian government,” opposition leader Sadiq Al-Mahdi, the prime minister Bashir overthrew in a 1989 coup, told AFP earlier this month.
“Because they know if ultimately they settle for a military dictatorship, they will be in the same position as Bashir.”


Haftar’s rule brings security to eastern Libya, at a cost

Updated 36 min 54 sec ago
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Haftar’s rule brings security to eastern Libya, at a cost

  • Haftar’s rivals see him as a dictator who is hoping to rule
  • He worked with Qaddafi until he defected in 1980s

BENGHAZI: After years of assassinations, bombings and militia firefights, Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi finally feels safe again — but security has come at a heavy cost.
Uniformed police are out at major intersections, cafes and restaurants stay open late into the night, and local groups hold art exhibitions and festivals. But the city center lies in ruins, thousands remain displaced, and forces loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar, who now controls eastern Libya, have cracked down on dissent.
Benghazi offers a glimpse of what may befall the capital, Tripoli, where Haftar’s forces launched an offensive last month against rival militia loosely allied with a weak, UN-recognized government. Its fate could also harden the resolve of Haftar’s opponents — who view him as an aspiring dictator — and further imperil UN efforts to peacefully reunite the country.
Haftar’s forces have met stiff resistance on the outskirts of Tripoli, and experts say that despite considerable international support, he is unlikely to succeed in defeating his rivals in the west or unifying the country. They point out that even in the east, his forces rely on local militia as well as Salafists.
Benghazi was the epicenter of the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 that toppled and killed long-ruling dictator Muammar Qaddafi. But in the years after his ouster, the city and much of the country came to be ruled by a patchwork of armed groups: local and tribal militias, nationalist and mainstream extremist groups, as well as Al-Qaeda and Daesh. Extremists attacked the US Consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, killing US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Haftar served as a senior officer under Qaddafi but defected in the 1980s during the ruinous war with Chad, in which he and hundreds of soldiers were captured in an ambush. He later spent more than two decades in the suburbs of Washington, where he is widely believed to have worked with the CIA, before returning to join the uprising in 2011. He eventually built up forces known as the Libyan National Army.
In February 2014, he declared the start of an operation to root out the militia and unify the country. Four months later, when it appeared they would lose influence in a disputed election, extremist and other factions in Tripoli launched an attack on their rivals, eventually splitting the country into rival authorities in the east and west, each beholden to an array of militia6.
“Back to normal”
Haftar’s prominence rose as his forces battled extremists and other rival factions across eastern Libya, and the parliament there eventually recognized him as the head of its armed forces, giving him the rank of field marshal.
He also gained the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, as well as France and Russia, all of which came to see him as a key ally against extremists and are widely believed to have provided weapons and other support despite a UN arms embargo. His opponents in western Libya are believed to have gotten aid from Qatar and Turkey.
Today his forces are firmly in control of the country’s east, and the near-daily assassinations, abductions and shootings that once terrified Benghazi’s residents are a thing of the past. Billboards and posters showing Haftar in full military regalia line the streets — with so many placed along the airport road that many jokingly refer to the display as Haftar’s Instagram page.
“In 2019 we have recorded no terrorist attacks or assassinations in Benghazi, which was a daily event back before the LNA took control over the city,” said Maj. Tarek Alkarraz, spokesman for the Interior Ministry in the east. He added that the city of Derna, which was under Daesh control, was similar. “Now life is back to normal and it’s safe and secure.”
Streets are cleaner, garbage is being collected and the electricity cuts out far less often than it did at the height of the fighting. Outside the devastated city center, modern shopping malls have sprung up, as well as upscale seafood and Turkish restaurants. Local ride-booking services are modeled on Uber and Careem.
“The only thing that matters is safety, which we are enjoying, thank God,” said Wanees Amgadah, a retired teacher. “The whole east, and God willing even the west, will be safe with the help of God, thanks to our soldiers.”
Inspired by Egypt’s El-Sisi
Haftar has modeled his rule on that of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, his close ally in neighboring Egypt, who led the overthrow of an elected but divisive president in 2013. Both have declared war on terrorism. El-Sisi has launched an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people and heavily restricting independent media and civil society.
“The LNA primarily emphasize stability and deem the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies and associates as a security threat,” said Claudia Gazzini, a Libya expert at the International Crisis Group. “This is a very vague term and this brand could be slapped on anyone who opposes the LNA.”
A human rights activist in Benghazi, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the security forces are more aggressive than at any point since Qaddafi’s time, restricting the movement of activists and NGO workers, and regularly bringing them in for interrogation.
In a report issued last month, the Tripoli-based Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press documented 29 attacks on reporters by Haftar’s forces over the past year and a half, more than any other armed group. Haftar’s forces “prohibit all the media and journalists who are not loyal to it, and thus totally curtail all civilian state aspects in eastern Libya,” it said.
The report said more than 80 journalists have fled the country since 2014. Across Libya, it said, “journalists now face one of three options: to work under threat, or observe silence and not talk about the threats they face, or abandon their profession.”
Haftar’s supporters insist the LNA is not seeking to rule the country, but to rebuild the state and create the conditions for elected government.
“Our goal is not to rule or to establish a military government,” Abdulhadi Lahweej, the foreign minister in the eastern government, told The Associated Press earlier this month. “We want a civil state based on institutions and human rights. We want a government that the Libyan people choose and we will approve of whatever the people choose.”
Egypt has also held elections under El-Sisi, but they resulted in a parliament packed with his supporters, which earlier this year approved constitutional changes allowing him to potentially remain in office until 2030. El-Sisi was re-elected last year in a vote in which all potentially serious competitors were either arrested or pressured into withdrawing from the race.
After years of unrest, many Libyans may prefer that kind of stability.
“Is it possible to achieve democracy in the presence of two and a half million weapons?” asks Ahmed Almahdawi, an independent political analyst based in Benghazi. “I don’t think so.”
Younis Fanoush, a Benghazi lawmaker who recently helped launch an independent political party backing the LNA, said the only hope of establishing a civil state is to first defeat the militia.
He says the armed groups “chose to destroy any hope for establishing a democratic state and drafting a constitution. Now the only way is forward, and this war is a must to remove these cancerous entities from the capital.”