Double-headed Sudan?

Haitham Nouri , Wednesday 8 May 2019

In the midst of cracks threatening to break opposition ranks, Sudan’s military proposes a two-council formula

Sudanese protesters
Sudanese protesters attend a demonstration in front of the defense ministry compound in Khartoum, Sudan, May 6, 2019 (Photo: Reuters)

Events in Sudan are taking a turn familiar to previous revolts in sister Arab countries. The toppled president is being investigated for corruption by the state prosecution — which he created — as counter-revolution clouds loom over the country that is witnessing a partial fissure in its revolutionary camp.

Sudan’s Chief Prosecutor Al-Walid Sayed Ahmed ordered the interrogation of removed President Omar Al-Bashir over money laundering and terror finance charges, the country’s official Suna news agency reported.

High-profile officials in the former regime will be investigated for financial crimes, Ahmed’s bureau said in a statement.

A security unit confiscated €7 million, £5 billion and $350,000 from Al-Bashir’s presidential palace. The overthrown president was transferred to Kobar, a maximum-security prison in north Khartoum.

Sudan’s army toppled Al-Bashir on 11 April after demonstrations swept the country against his three-decade rule. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 2003 war in Darfur.

“It’s good news Al-Bashir is investigated and tried. But he shouldn’t be interrogated as a thief. He is a murderer. He should also be tried for dividing and ruining the country,” said Sudanese journalist Mohamed Al-Asbat, one of the spokesmen of the Sudan’s Professionals Association (SPA) which has spearheaded the demonstrations since they broke out 19 December 2018.

Wide-ranging protests erupted in Darfur demanding Al-Bashir be handed over to the ICC for “masterminding” genocide and crimes against humanity during the bloody violence that rendered 300,000 people dead in the western region of Darfur.

Protesters requested deposing vice-president of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) General Mohamed Hassan Dagala, better known as Hemeti, who leads the Rapid Support Forces implicated in the Darfur massacre.

It is no secret Hemeti, who hails from an Arab tribe in Darfur, is not a graduate of the military school, nor did he serve in the Sudan army.

The general dropped out of school at the age of 15 to become a camel keeper. He then provided security services to merchants’ camel convoys headed to Chad, Egypt and Libya where the expensive beasts were sold.

Despite the lack of strong evidence incriminating Hemeti for committing war crimes in Darfur, a number of the region’s politicians, opposition figures and armed movements are pointing their accusing fingers.

Al-Asbat says tensions are boiling below the surface between Sudan’s opposition bloc and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. At its core, “it is a tug-of-war between the TMC and Declaration of Freedom and Change forces.”

The Declaration Forces are not united, however. Cracks in the Declaration bloc’s ranks appeared in conflicting reactions the political movement showed when the TMC proposed forming a security council alongside a sovereign council.

News reiterated from Khartoum’s news agencies reported that the sovereign council shall be civilian in its majority with a military president and vice-president, while the security council shall be composed by a majority of military men.

The TMC proposal was accepted by the National Umma Party, said one of the party figureheads, Seddik Al-Sadek Al-Mahdi, son of its leader. The proposed arrangement was one way to begin mending fences between the military and the opposition, said Seddik Al-Mahdi, adding that his party will work on convincing the remaining Declaration forces to accept it.

Omar Al-Doqeir, president of the Sudanese Congress Party, an affiliate of the Declaration bloc, said his party accepted the TMC proposal in principal. Al-Doqeir admitted that civilian forces hastened to present to the TMC a constitutional declaration, to which he had several reservations.

Nevertheless, Al-Doqeir emphasised the notion of a civilian Sudan. “This is what the people want,” he said.

“The revolution [bloc] cannot reject everything. The two-councils’ proposal will be the subject of negotiations with the TMC to decide on the division of seats between the military and civilian blocs,” Mohamed Dawoud, the Sudanese Congress Party representative in Cairo, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The Sudanese Communist Party, on the other hand, announced its rejection of forming two councils. The party, part of the Declaration alliance, said in a statement of which the Weekly obtained a copy, the TMC proposal “opens the door to counter-revolution forces”.

“We refuse the inclusion of a military man, as president or member, in a sovereign council,” added the Sudanese Communist Party statement.

The idea of a composing a military council for national security outside the civilian institution was rejected by the Sudanese Communist Party. “A national security council is a body composed by and affiliated to the cabinet which draws up its tasks according to the country’s needs,” explained the statement.

The SPA, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), and the Popular Congress Party, founded in 2000 by late Islamist leader Hassan Al-Turabi have not revealed where they stand on the TMC proposal.

“The proposal is a major shift in the military’s position. In the beginning, the military demanded a sovereign council made of 10 members, seven of which from the military, and it rejected the proposed 15-member council, in which eight would be civilian,” said Al-Asbat.

“This is an attempt by the military to reach the best possible formula to preserve their merits, I believe,” the journalist added. “But the present security threats cannot be underestimated, which is why the civilians are led to seek the help of the military to get over them. But this help will not be without sacrifices.”

The inter-disputes consuming the Declaration alliance may lead to its disassembly and work in the favour of counter-revolution forces, opined Al-Asbat.

The Declaration of Freedom and Change forces is an umbrella bloc for several political powers that share no common interest save for toppling Al-Bashir and eradicating his regime.

The Declaration alliance gathers the Islamist Popular Congress Party together with conservative parties with Islamist ideology such as the National Umma Party and the Unionist Alliance – affiliated to Al-Khatmeya sect and headed by Osman Al-Mirghani.

The Declaration bloc includes, also, liberal parties such as the Sudanese Congress Party and a number of Unionist groups who oppose Al-Mirghani’s leadership, in addition to the Sudanese Communist Party and the SPLM-N, which is based in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions.

There are political players that do not function under the Declaration umbrella, nonetheless, including political forces in Darfur and east Sudan, as well as Islamists who defected from Al-Bashir’s regime during his last decade at the helm, such as the Islah Party, currently headed by Islamist figurehead Ghazi Salaheddin, and other Islamist movements who remained loyal to Al-Bashir until his downfall.

“A fissure in the ranks of the Declaration forces will benefit none other than the Islamists, their traditional allies and the SPLM-N, who are pushing towards holding elections by all means,” said Al-Asbat.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Double-headed Sudan?

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