With Al-Bashir out, some Sudanese political forces say 'conflict has just begun'

Haitham Nouri , Thursday 11 Apr 2019

Sudanese demonstrators attend a protest rally demanding Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to step down outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 11, 2019 (Photo: Reuters)

On Thursday, President Omar Al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years, was overthrown by the armed forces amid mass protests against the government.

Defence Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Bin Auf said in a statement Al-Bashir, 75, was under arrest and in a "safe place," and that a military council was now running the country. 

The armed forces said that the country would be placed under a two-year period of military rule to be followed by elections.

Bin Auf also announced a three-month state of emergency, a nationwide ceasefire and the suspension of the constitution. He also said Sudan's air space would be closed for 24 hours and border crossings shut until further notice.

Thousands of people packed the streets of the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Thursday to protest against this step.

The Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), Sudan's main protest group rejected the defence minister's statement, describing it as a “coup d’etat” that will reproduce the same “faces" of the ousted regime.

The group called on all Sudanese to join the protesters to continue with their sit-in in front of the headquarters of the general command of the armed forces until civilian leadership is in place.

The political conflict in Sudan is a multidimensional one and, therefore, the future is in play.

On the one hand, there was a delay in announcing the statement by Sudan's General Command of the People's Armed Forces due to deep "political and personal" disagreements between the top-level officers, said Haidar Ibrahim, a politics professor at the University of Khartoum.

"Some of the officers are actually Islamists [who support the regime], while others remained silent and have not recently shown support for [Sudan's President Omar] Al-Bashir," he argued.

It seems that the rejection by SPA of Bin Ouf — Al-Bashir's defence minister and the vice president — as an interim leader was based on the fact that he was one of Al-Bashir's trusted men.

Atef Ismail, a Cairo-based SPA member, said that "Bin Ouf is like Al-Bashir, and he must be brought to trial instead of leading the state and people for two years."

"This is just a palace coup that seeks to contain public anger, recreate the regime and give its figures a chance to arrange themselves, maintain their power positions and protect themselves from legal trials or even flee the country," said Ismail.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Hussein, a member of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which is the largest armed faction in Darfur, said that Bin Ouf is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is "why he faces rejection."

Ahmed Haroun – Al-Bashir's National Congress leader and a leading figure in the Sudanese Islamist Movement — and Bin Ouf are on an the ICC's list of wanted people, which includes 55 names.

Al-Bashir, Haroun and a number of leading figures in the National Congress and security forces have been put under arrest.

"An act of betrayal [of Al-Bashir] by the Islamists and key figures of the regime has taken place. For example, Director of security Salah Koush unveiled the secret sites where Al-Bashir's men used to hold their meetings, which is why he has not been arrested so far," Ibrahim noted.

"It seems he will be considered a witness in the case," Ibrahim predicted.

Ibrahim added that it would be hard to "uproot the Islamists during the transitional phase, since they have governed the country since 1983, and even though people hate them, they are armed, well-organised and have money."

Ibrahim said that he hopes the transitional phase "will have no cost, because it would be a huge one if a confrontation takes place."

The SPA rejected that any individual on a list of political figures proposed for a transitional government, which has been widely circulated online, take part in any role during the transitional phase.

"There are new developments every single day, and the counterrevolution — embodied in the Islamists — tried to change the list and publish a fake one, or remove some names from it," said Ismail.

"Publishing a list with a limited number of names is unwise because the regime has hundreds of people who face different accusations."

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Darfur says it believes that the top priority during the transitional phase should be restructuring the army and collecting the weapons that have proliferated all over the country.

"The regime has an official army, and another tribal-based one in western Sudan that offers quick support, in addition to Islamist militias," said the JEM's Hussein Sharaf.

"All the issues in Sudan are priorities, and this will complicate the transitional process. If we do not deal with the matter with patriotism, I believe we will lose a lot," Ibrahim warned.

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