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Sudan fights on multiple fronts

The recent attempt on the life of Sudan’s prime minister illustrates the extent to which the former regime penetrated all state institutions, including the security services, writes Haitham Nouri

Haitham Nouri , Thursday 19 Mar 2020
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Sudanese rescue teams gather next to damaged vehicles at the site of an assassination attempt against Hamdok (photo: AFP)
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Following the failed attempt on the life of Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, the country seems to be preparing for a battle that will decide its political fate against the men of the former regime that have been entrenched in Sudan’s institutions for the past three decades.

“For certain, elements of the former regime stand behind this cowardly attempt,” said Sudanese Minister of Information Mohamed Saleh Ali, commenting on the unprecedented assassination attempt that took place 9 March.

“A number of people were arrested and the investigations are ongoing, but no charges have yet been made against anyone,” added Saleh, a veteran journalist with 35 years of experience in the field.

“A transitional government that takes over following a revolution can’t point accusing fingers haphazardly,” Fayez Al-Selik, a Sudanese journalist, told Al-Ahram Weekly via telephone from Khartoum.

“But this doesn’t mean the regime will not face off with the Islamists, who stand behind this operation,” he added.

The transitional government requested the help of the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) on the matter. In fact, this is the second time the FBI was called in to investigate assassination operations in Sudan. In 2008, the bureau investigated the assassination of US diplomat Jon Granville and his driver at the hands of an extremist group in Khartoum.

“It is not that the Sudanese and US governments doubt the efficiency of the Sudanese security apparatus. It is rather the loyalty of the apparatus to the former regime that is in question,” said Al-Selik, adding that, “the Islamists are still in top managerial positions in the security and intelligence agencies, and they are implicated in several attempts to make the revolution a failure since day one.”

Some security elements were exposed a few months ago for their involvement in inciting intelligence and security cadres who refused to take their meagre end-of-service pay checks.

Soon after, Sudan came face to face with the crisis of the lack of bread and fuel. Many pro-revolution elements accuse the former regime of fuelling the crisis.

“For decades, the Islamists have controlled the economy. They were the importers, exporters, contractors and merchants,” said Al-Selik.

“This method is not unusual for the Islamists. After all, it was them that created the crisis that endured during the third democracy until they paved the groundwork for their coup under the leadership of [Omar] Al-Bashir,” he added.

With the guidance of their late figurehead Hassan Al-Turabi, the Islamists received funds from the Islamist Faisal Bank to boost their economic status since the national reconciliation of January 1977, during the time of former president Gaafar Numeiri.

After Numeiri’s fall in the April 1985 Revolution, the Islamic Front — the Muslim Brotherhood’s political facade in Sudan — used the money to create a crisis that affected the nation’s living standards, driving millions of Sudanese to withdraw their support from the democratic government (1986-1989).

It appears that the acute crises and high inflation rates — more than 71 per cent according to the central agency of statistics — that Sudan is undergoing are partially caused by Islamist merchants.

The attempt on Hamdok’s life aimed at propagating an image that Sudan is not safe, making it difficult for the country to be lifted from the US list of countries harbouring terrorism. It also aimed at preventing Sudan from cooperating with neighbouring countries to corner the Muslim Brotherhood.

The assassination attempt also aimed to sabotage the peace process in the country, by implying to Sudan’s Arab Muslims that the government is weak and can be used by non-Arab rebel forces to control Sudan.

Many observers believe the attempt aimed at obstructing talks about the fate of Al-Bashir and his trial, after the government decided he should be handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Talk is still rife about whether Al-Bashir should be tried in The Hague or Khartoum, and whether the panel of judges should be completely made up of foreigners or a mixture of Sudanese and foreign judges.

“Despite it all, political and security cooperation will increase between Sudan and neighbouring countries, especially Egypt,” said Al-Selik.

“The pace of getting rid of former regime elements in the state is picking up momentum,” he added.

Rashid Said Yacoub, manager of the radio and television establishment, said the government retired hundreds of employees hired during Al-Bashir’s rule, disregarding whether they were actually needed in their positions.

“For the first time in decades, some government foundations are holding competitions to hire employees. During Al-Bashir’s time, appointment was based on preferentialism,” Yacoub told the Weekly.

Indeed, said Al-Selik, Sudan’s central bank and a number of universities are announcing competitions “for the first time in 25 years” to hire employees. Earlier on, he added, employment was based on political allegiance.

Sudan’s civil service body published the names of “political appointees”; the words the Sudanese press used describe those hired by Al-Bashir’s regime.

However, disassembling the former regime will not be conducted by firing its loyal employees working in governmental and security circles, but rather by cornering its finances, be it through merchants, banks or companies.

Worthy of attention as well are the militias of the former regime that fought alongside it in its civil wars in the south and in Darfur. These pose a graver hazard to the revolution than the Muslim Brotherhood.

The syndicates are still controlled by the Islamists despite the fact that a decision was taken to disassemble them. The syndicates are still taking a portion of their members’ money that many people know goes into the pockets of the men of the former regime, according to Ahmed Kamaleddin, an activist with the Alliance of Freedom and Change in Khartoum.

Furthermore, there are the dangers associated with the takfiri speech adopted by leading figures in the Sudanese Salafi movement aiming at distorting truths and affecting people’s opinions.

“Sudan will not be stable until it gets rid of all the economic, social, political, legislative and security elements of the former regime,” said Yacoub.

“Al-Bashir should be handed over to the ICC in the nearest time possible, to abort the attempts of the followers of the former regime,” he stated.

Khartoum has a long way to go, and many sacrifices to make, before the goals of the revolution prevail.

*A version of this article appears in print in the  19 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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