Sudan awaits new cabinet as premier mulls line-up

The transitional council is expected to steer the country through a three-year transition to civilian rule. (File/AFP)
Updated 29 August 2019

Sudan awaits new cabinet as premier mulls line-up

  • The new PM was supposed to pick the nominees for the cabinet on Wednesday
  • A source reports that he still hasn’t made any final decisions

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s new prime minister was Thursday locked in talks to form the first cabinet since the ouster of veteran leader Omar Al-Bashir, in another step in its transition from decades of autocratic rule.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok had been due to name his key picks on Wednesday, following last week’s swearing in of a joint civilian-military sovereign council.
The council is due to steer the country through a three-year transition to civilian rule.
On Thursday a source close to Hamdok said the prime minister was still considering nominees for the cabinet.
“Deliberations are still underway and it is not clear when they will end,” the source told AFP.
Hamdok, who took the oath last week, was set to make his selection from a field put forward by the Forces for Freedom Change — an umbrella group that led months-long protests against Bashir and then pushed the generals who deposed him in April to share power.
On Tuesday, Hamdok confirmed that he had received the FFC’s list of candidates including 49 nominees for 14 ministries.
The FFC and the generals signed a power-sharing deal earlier in August outlining Sudan’s transitional structures.
Under the deal, the cabinet should be largely selected by the premier.
Only the interior and defense ministers will be chosen by the military members of Sudan’s ruling body.
On Saturday, Hamdok told a local television channel that he would select technocrats based on their “competence.”
The delay however raised concerns among some in Sudan.
“It is not good... the country has been without a government for almost five months now,” said 48-year-old Hassan Abdelmeguid, who is a government employee.
“Sudan is facing a great deal of challenges and require quick formation of a government,” he added.
Sudan’s economy was dealt devastating blows by two decades of US sanctions, which were only lifted in 2017, and the 2011 secession of the oil-rich south.
Spiralling inflation and acute hardship were the main triggers for the anti-Bashir protests that erupted in December.
Much-needed foreign investment remains hampered by Sudan’s designation by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Hamdok said he is holding talks with US officials to remove Sudan from Washington’s blacklist.
Another challenge is forging peace with rebel groups in the country’s far-flung regions within six months.
Rebel groups from marginalized regions including Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan state waged long wars against Bashir’s government forces.
The three conflicts have left hundreds of thousands of people killed and millions displaced.
And though the conflict in Darfur which erupted in 2003 has subsided over the years, rebels in other areas remain active.
Wednesday’s delay was not the first challenge facing the country’s transition to civilian rule.
The line-up of Sudan’s 11-member sovereign council was held up for two days over differences within the opposition camp before it was finally announced on August 21.
According to the roadmap toward transition, the new government and the sovereign council are expected to meet for the first time on September 1 but it is now unclear if that date will be kept.
Government employee Sanya Mohamed said the delays may be for good reasons.
“If they serve the purpose of bringing in competent people, then it is alright,” the 33-year-old said.
“But if it was due to disagreements over the candidates then the delay would be worrying. The country can not take it.”


Thousands protest in Iraq to demand ouster of US troops

Updated 24 January 2020

Thousands protest in Iraq to demand ouster of US troops

  • A representative of Sadr took to the stage at the protest site and read out a statement by the influential Shiite cleric and populist politician
  • In the early hours of Friday, thousands of men, women and children of all ages massed under grey skies in the Jadiriyah district of east Baghdad

BAGHDAD: Thousands of supporters of populist Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr gathered in Baghdad on Friday for a rally to demand the ouster of US troops, putting the protest-hit capital on edge.

The march rattled the separate, months-old protest movement that has gripped the capital and the Shiite-majority south since October, demanding a government overhaul, early elections and more accountability.

In the early hours of Friday, thousands of men, women and children of all ages massed under grey skies in the Jadiriyah district of east Baghdad.

“Get out, get out, occupier!” some shouted, while others chanted, “Yes to sovereignty!“

A representative of Sadr took to the stage at the protest site and read out a statement by the influential Shiite cleric and populist politician.

It called for all foreign forces to leave Iraq, the cancelation of Iraq’s security agreements with the US, the closure of Iraqi airspace to American military and surveillance aircraft and for US President Donald Trump not to be “arrogant” when addressing Iraqi officials.

“If all this is implemented, we will deal with it as a non-occupying country — otherwise it will be considered a country hostile to Iraq,” the statement said.

Protesters then began peeling away from the square, tossing their signs in bins along the way, but thousands lingered in the rally camp.

The American military presence has been a hot-button issue in Iraq since a US drone strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary leader Abu
Mahdi Al-Muhandis outside Baghdad airport on January 3.

Two days later, parliament voted for all foreign troops, including some 5,200 US personnel, to leave the country.

The vote was non-binding and the US special envoy for the coalition against the Daesh group, James Jeffrey, said Thursday there was no “real engagement” between the two governments on the issue.

Joint US-Iraqi operations against IS have been on hold since the drone attack, which triggered retaliatory Iranian missile strikes against US troops in Iraq.

No Iraqi or US personnel were killed in Iran’s strike.

Long opposed to the US troop presence, Sadr seized on the public anger over the drone strike to call “a million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations.”

Several pro-Iran factions from the Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force, usually rivals of Sadr, backed his call and pledged to join.

But separate anti-government protesters, who have braved violence that has left 470 people dead since October, fear their cause could be eclipsed by Sadr’s powerplay.

“Sadr doesn’t represent us,” one teenager said defiantly late Thursday on a blocked-off thoroughfare in Baghdad.

To head off Friday’s gathering and ramp up pressure on authorities to enact reforms, young demonstrators blocked streets in Baghdad and across the south this week.

There had been worries that angry crowds might attack the presidential palace or the high-security Green Zone, home to the US embassy and other foreign missions.

The move would not be without precedent for Sadr, who urged followers to storm the Green Zone in 2016 in a challenge to the government over undelivered reforms.

But there were no attempts on Friday morning to storm government buildings.

Sadr, 46, battled US forces at the head of his Mehdi Army militia after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

He later branded himself a reformist and backed the recent anti-government protests when they erupted in October.

The cleric controls parliament’s largest bloc and his followers hold top ministerial positions.

Sadr is a notoriously fickle politician, known for switching alliances quickly.

His spokesman Saleh Al-Obeidy hinted that while others in Iraq unequivocally blamed either the US or Iran for instability, Sadr would choose a middle path.

“We believe that both are behind this ruin, and Sadr is trying to balance between the two,” he said.

Harith Hasan of the Carnegie Middle East Center said Sadr was trying to sustain his “multiple identities” by backing various protests.

“On the one hand, (he seeks to) position himself as the leader of a reform movement, as a populist, as anti-establishment,” Hasan told AFP.

“On the other hand, he also wants to sustain his image as the leader of the resistance to the ‘American occupation’,” partly to win favor with Iran.
Sadr may also have domestic motivations, Hasan said.

“This protest will show Sadr is still the one able to mobilize large groups of people in the streets — but it’s also possible he wants other groups to respond by giving him more space to choose the prime minister.”