Continued standoff between military, rallyists may slide Sudan into deeper chaos

Supporters of Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the military council, cheer at a meeting in Aprag village, 60 km from Khartoum. (Reuters)
Updated 04 July 2019

Continued standoff between military, rallyists may slide Sudan into deeper chaos

  • It was the biggest show of determination by the protesters since security forces dispersed their main sit-in outside the military headquarters on June 3

CAIRO: The mass marches held in Sudan this week breathed new life into the uprising that toppled long ruling president, Omar Al-Bashir, but the protesters and the ruling military council remain at an impasse amid fears the country could slide into further chaos.

Tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and other areas on Sunday, vowing to complete the revolution they launched in December. 

Nearly a dozen people were killed in clashes as security forces prevented the demonstrators from reaching the military headquarters and the Nile-side presidential palace.

It was the biggest show of determination by the protesters since security forces dispersed their main sit-in outside the military headquarters on June 3, killing at least 128 people. That triggered the suspension of talks on forming a transitional government just as the two sides seemed on the verge of an agreement.

Ethiopian and African Union (AU) mediators are working to restart the talks, but both sides have hardened their demands since last month’s violence, with the generals saying earlier proposals are off the table and the protesters calling for an immediate transition to civilian rule and an investigation into the killings. Here is a look at where things may be heading.

Protests first erupted in December in response to price hikes but rapidly escalated into near-daily marches calling for an end to Bashir’s nearly 30-year rule. Troops largely refused Bashir’s orders to fire on the protesters, and the military removed him from power on April 11. Bashir now languishes in a Khartoum prison where his forces once jailed and tortured his opponents.

But the protesters remained in the streets, fearing that the military would cling to power. When the military announced it would govern for up to two years until elections could be held, the protesters demanded an immediate transition to a civilian body that would govern the country for four years.

After several rounds of talks the two sides appeared to be closing in on a power-sharing agreement in which the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change, which represents the protesters, would hold 67 percent of the seats in an interim legislative body and appoint a Cabinet. But the two sides remained divided over the makeup of the sovereign council, which would hold executive power for three years.

The process came to a screeching halt on June 3, when security forces attacked the sit-in. The generals annulled all previous deals but announced to hold elections in nine months.

An unwieldy coalition

Sunday’s marches provided a powerful show of unity, but internal divides among the protesters threaten to undermine their struggle going forward.

The initial uprising was led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of independent unions, which later joined forces with the country’s various opposition parties.

The parties appear more eager to cut a deal with the military. Sadiq Al-Mahdi, the head of the Umma Party and Sudan’s last democratically elected prime minister, opposed calls for a general strike after the June 3 crackdown. He has also agreed with the military on expanding the negotiations to include other political groups that many protesters view as too close to Bashir.

The Sudanese Revolutionary Front, a rebel group that is part of the protest movement, meanwhile threatened to negotiate separately with the military council, the English language Sudan Tribune reported Monday.

Gibril Ibrahim, an SRF leader, was quoted as saying that decision-making within the coalition has been “kidnapped” by a small committee “formed in vague circumstances with limited representation.”

Mediation efforts

Ethiopia’s reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met with both sides in Khartoum last month, and his administration along with the AU has sought to mediate the crisis. The White House has expressed support for those efforts and has appointed a special envoy to Sudan.

Last month, the AU and Ethiopia offered a joint proposal based on previous agreements that left the makeup of the legislative body open for negotiations. The generals welcomed it as the basis for future talks, but the protesters refuse to meet with the military until it fully accepts the roadmap.

“We are back to square one,” said Amany El-Taweel, a Sudan expert at Egypt’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “I believe they are playing for time, especially after the pressure from the street decreased due to the breakup of the military headquarters sit-in.”

Fears of civil war

The deadlock in the negotiations has stoked fears that Sudan could slide into civil war, as Yemen, Libya and Syria did after their own uprisings.

Sudan has been at war with rebels in Darfur and other regions for decades, and the centrifugal forces that have convulsed the country since independence could tear it apart in the absence of a stable central government.

“Civil war is a terribly distinct possibility,” Sudan researcher Eric Reeves said. “The failure of the international community to push harder for civilian governance — for various reasons — is proving deeply counterproductive.”

Osman Mirghani, a Sudanese analyst and the editor of the daily newspaper Al-Tayar, said resuming negotiations offers the only hope of avoiding the “Libya model.”

“If the impasse continues, Sudan could become a new Libya, which means a set of militias control parts of the country and each militia has its government.”

Sudanese novelist Hamour Zyada blamed the impasse on the military, calling it a threat to the country’s peace and stability.

“In the near future, I am not optimistic. I do not expect that the military council will relinquish its grip on power,” he said. “But at the far future, I am optimistic. The public mood is with the civilian state and the revolution.”


Israeli leader’s son takes center stage in corruption sagas

Updated 1 min 10 sec ago

Israeli leader’s son takes center stage in corruption sagas

  • Yair Netanyahu is considered a key adviser and the mastermind of his father’s increasingly confrontational social media strategy

JERUSALEM: As scandal-plagued Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands trial for corruption, his 28-year-old son has emerged as a driving force in a counterattack against critics and the state institutions prosecuting the longtime Israeli leader.
A favorite of the prime minister’s nationalistic base and far right leaders around the world, Yair Netanyahu has become a fixture in the news, clashing with journalists on social media, threatening lawsuits against his father’s adversaries and posting online content deemed so offensive that Facebook briefly suspended his account.
In the past month alone, he has called to banish minorities from Tel Aviv, tweeted a discredited conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and intimated that a critical Israeli broadcast journalist slept her way up to her coveted job.
But his toughest broadsides have been directed at the Israeli media, judiciary and law enforcement for conducting what he has called a leftist, ideological crusade to topple his father. He’s called for the attorney general to be investigated for his “crimes,” compared the police chief to fictional mob boss Tony Soprano and described investigators as the Stasi, Gestapo and “the political police of the Israeli junta.”
It’s part of a campaign, echoed to a lesser degree by his father, that critics warn is eroding public faith in Israel’s democratic institutions.
“We would love to just disregard him as a curiosity, as this difficult kid who keeps embarrassing his father. But the truth is there is evidence that he is very influential,” said Raviv Drucker, a well-respected investigative TV reporter and favorite target of the Netanyahus, whom both father and son recently tweeted they would like to see imprisoned. “He holds very extreme positions and it affects the prime minister’s actions.”
Though he holds no official position, Yair Netanyahu is considered a key adviser and the mastermind of his father’s increasingly confrontational social media strategy.
Netanyahu faces charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of corruption cases stemming from ties to wealthy friends. He denies the charges, which follow years of scandals swirling around the family.
For years, it was his wife, Sara, who drew most of the fire because of her extravagant tastes, misuse of state funds and alleged abuse of her staff. But recently, his eldest son has taken center stage. He’s figured prominently in various scandals while earning a reputation of living a life of privilege at taxpayers’ expense.
Australian billionaire James Packer, one of the figures in the prime minister’s corruption indictments, reportedly gave the younger Netanyahu gifts that included stays at luxury hotels in Tel Aviv, New York and Aspen, Colorado, as well as the use of his private jet and dozens of tickets for concerts by Packer’s former fiancée, Mariah Carey. Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu aide turned state witness against him, told police that Yair Netanyahu was the major instigator of the bribery case against his father.
Yair Netanyahu has also sparked controversy by posting an anti-Semitic caricature aimed at his father’s critics, vulgarly confronting a woman who told him to pick up after his dog at a park, and tweeting that he hoped elderly leftist protesters would die of COVID-19.
The prime minister has been forced to denounce some of his son’s behavior, like a particularly lewd outing to a strip club with wealthy friends. But generally, he staunchly defends his son.
Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist for the Haaretz daily and author of a recent biography of the prime minister, said Yair Netanyahu enables his father to test boundaries of what the public will accept.
“If he goes too far, they can say it’s only Yair,” he said. “It gives him deniability, creates a gray area and blurs the lines on what the prime minister is saying on record.”
Yair Netanyahu was only 4 when his father first became prime minister in 1996 and has grown up in the limelight. During his compulsory army service, he was assigned as a liaison to foreign media. He was once court-marshaled for taking an unauthorized furlough.
He’s volunteered for local animal welfare organizations and briefly worked as a social media director for an Israeli NGO providing legal services to victims of Palestinian attacks. But he was put on leave after attacking Israel’s figurehead president for advocating Jewish-Arab coexistence.
As a private citizen, Yair Netanyahu has published op-eds for Breitbart, gone on US and European speaking tours and voiced support for right-wing extremists in the US and Europe. He has earned their praise in return.
Supporters claim he is a victim of the same people targeting his father. But the media have largely ignored his older half-sister Noa and his younger brother Avner, an unassuming 26-year-old university student who generally keeps to himself.
Yair Netanyahu, who still lives with his parents and declined to comment, claims to have no political aspirations. In his lone interview to Israeli media, he lamented last year to the pro-Netanyahu Channel 20 about the cost his family pays for their status. He said the three years his father was out of politics in the early 2000s were their happiest ever.
“My father decided to put the good life he had aside and get back into all this mud because of his calling,” he said. “My only political involvement is what you see on my private Facebook and Twitter.”
On Twitter, where he has more than 80,000 followers, he lashes out dozens of times a day and his feed often dictates the following news cycle. Facebook blocked his account for 24 hours in 2018 for sharing banned content and writing that he would prefer an Israel without Muslims.
His brand of provocation has proven irresistible to politicians, journalists and commentators alike, many of whom have been drawn into bouts of mud-slinging with him. Even so, at least a half dozen of his former targets refused to comment, citing his unofficial role and litigious nature.