Change is in the air in Khartoum as popular protests continue in front of the General Command of the Armed Forces and amid “reports” about President Omar Al-Bashir stepping down.
The winds of change did not begin just this week with rumours that Al-Bashir had left power after three decades, and that several military commanders are being considered to lead the Armed Forces during the “interim period”.
Change began with the 6 April march reaching the headquarters of the Army General Command for the first time after four months of protests.
Coincidentally, 6 April is the anniversary of the overthrow of the second military regime led by General Jaafar Numeiri (1969-1985) which was followed by the “third democracy” led by Sadek Al-Mahdi (1985-1989), which was overthrown by an Islamist coup led by Al-Bashir and aided by Islamists.
Local and foreign media estimate that several thousand protesters set up camp and stay overnight outside the compound that houses Al-Bashir’s residence. During the night, the political scene began to change.
Al-Bashir chaired a meeting of the defence and national councils, issuing a statement 7 April admitting the need to “listen to the demands of the people”.
During the sit-in, activists documented actions by the military to prevent security forces from dispersing the crowds outside the compound.
The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (a syndicate that the opposition views as an alternative to the Islamist-controlled Doctors’ Union) reported that a soldier was killed by security forces “as he defended protesters in front of general command”.
After this “change”, as some activists viewed it, there were reports that Bashir had stepped down after submitting his resignation to the military council which is looking for his replacement.
Sources who preferred to remain anonymous told Al-Ahram Weekly that several senior officers on the military council had reservations about incumbent Minister of Defence Awad Ibn Ouf, who also serves as Al-Bashir’s first deputy.
The sources said that Ibn Ouf is staunchly loyal to Al-Bashir, and there are reports he is “convicted by the International Criminal Court”, but this claim has not been verified.
The source said there have been calls by the people, rather than the brass, to appoint General Emadeddin Adawi, former chief of staff of the armed forces, who retired 18 months ago.
“The council is looking for someone who is neither political nor convicted of war crimes during Sudan’s civil wars,” noted the source.
Sudan endured the longest civil war in Africa (1983-2005) between north and south, which ended with the secession and creation of South Sudan in 2011. Hundreds of thousands from the north and south lost their lives during this war.
Meanwhile, Darfur (far west) endured a brutal war which the UN estimates resulted in 300,000 victims and thousands of women and girls raped.
Bashir’s government denies the allegations. There have also been civil wars in eastern Sudan, as well as south of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains which are adjacent to South Sudan, which have killed thousands.
Accordingly, it is difficult to find a military commander who did not participate in “violations” during all these conflicts.
It has been four months since Sudanese demonstrators took to the streets to protest the rise in the price of bread, inflation and a lack of basic commodities, including fuel and medicine.
Since Sudan’s independence, the country has lost 75 per cent of its foreign currency revenues, which prevented it from importing vital social and economic needs such as medicine (most of which is imported), fuel and wheat (60 per cent of which is imported).
The opposition accuses Bashir’s regime of switching alliances from Iran to Gulf countries, and sending many ground troops to fight in the Saudi-led war on Yemen. In return, Sudan would receive assistance, to relieve its economic crisis.
During many months of unprecedented protests against his long tenure, Al-Bashir tried to manoeuvre by “delegating” his party powers to Ahmed Haroun, a loyal Islamist supporter who is convicted in connection to the Darfur war by the ICC.
Al-Bashir changed the government and removed Rafik Derba and his confidante Bakri Hassan Saleh who served as his first vice president. The aim was to alleviate some of the pressure on him by the people.
Bahr Idris Abu Qerda, chairman of the Crisis Follow-Up Committee, said Al-Bashir gave instructions “to gather and categorise all the initiatives and deal with them positively to create transformation in the future”.
Sudan’s official news agency SUNA reported Monday that Abu Qerda said after a meeting of his committee with Haroun, who is now acting chairman of the National Congress Party, that the current phase requires “making transitional arrangements for the country. This requires an ongoing dialogue with the participation of all political powers, whether national dialogue participants, boycotters, young activists or armed elements overseas.”Abu Qerda continued that the Supreme Coordination Committee headed by Al-Bashir ordered the collection and categorisation of all proposals in order to address them and create “the future”.
The opposition rejected all proposals made by Bashir over the past few months, and the leader of Al-Umma Party Al-Sadek Al-Mahdi demanded that he abdicate power, even though Mahdi’s son Abdel-Rahman is one of Al-Bashir’s aides. After all this tension, and reports by activists, local media and private blogs, “the ball is now in the court of the army,” according to Al-Shafei Khedr Said, a leader of the left and an economics professor. “The army must now focus and shoot to score a goal.”
Said continued: “They have not kicked the ball back yet due to the clash between middle brass who support the people and the top brass who support the president. It is difficult to find an officer who is an angel, as some revolutionaries are demanding, but the Sudanese army is patriotic and has a conscience. It has sided with the people twice against military rule: in 1964 and 1985.”
Officers in the Sudanese army participated in traditional military coups (1958), leftist coups (1969 and 1971), Islamist coups (1989), and took part in several civil wars.
Said said if the army does not make up its mind soon, the country could slip into chaos, and rogue officers could take advantage of the situation to rule the country as an open-ended dictatorship.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 April, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Will Bashir step down?