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Situation Assessment 17 April, 2019

Sudan Uprising: Complications at home and Polarization Abroad

The Unit for Policy Studies

The Unit for Policy Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


After nearly four months of protests, the Sudanese army responded to protesters' demands to depose President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. However, the military coup carried out by the Vice President and Defense Minister, Lieutenant General Awad Ibnouf, on the morning of Thursday, 11 April 2019, did not receive the expected welcome. Ibnouf is one of the most prominent figures in the Bashir regime, with whom the demonstrators lay responsibility for regime violations. He also wagered the possibility of suppressing the popular movement, even after it became apparent that the movement had dwarfed the power of the regime, declaring that the army would stand by President Bashir until the end. From the outset, Ibnouf's statement was met with a categorical rejection from the masses. His plan stipulated a two-year transition period, the dissolution of the National Assembly, the removal of the governors of the ruling party states and the appointment of military personnel instead. Ibnouf’s speech ignored the chief demand of the protesters to dismantle the structure of the regime and establish a democratic civil order. One of the main reasons for the rejection of the plan offered in this speech was the proposed suspension of the constitution and imposition of a curfew; raising fears that it would be a prelude to house-arrest.

Popular Rejection

As a result of the popular rejection of Ibnouf's statement, the military council, less than 24 hours after its announcement to remove President al-Bashir, held a press conference on the morning of Friday, April 12, 2019, trying to ease public anger and make some concessions. It was notable that Ibnouf did not appear at this press conference and was instead replaced by a member of the Transitional Military Council, Lieutenant General Omar Zine El Abidine, who seemed keen to emphasize that the army came to govern but wanted to hand power to a civilian government. However, Zine El Abidine's comments were also rejected. He did not make any reference to measures being taken against symbolic figures of the former regime or to the intention to investigate cases of corruption and recover looted funds. Zine El Abidine's most widely criticized comments were regarding the head of the national intelligence apparatus, under President Bashir, Lieutenant General Salah Gosh, who is still a member of the security committee that stood behind Ibnouf’s coup.

The popular rejection of Zine El Abedine’s press conference led to the rush of the military leaders to take a new step to restore the confidence of the people. On the same evening, Ibnouf appeared to announce his resignation from the leadership of the military council and the appointment of Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, who was formerly General Inspector of the armed forces in his place. Former chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Kamal Abdelmarouf was also relieved of his post as deputy chair of the council. These actions were met with popular support. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, after waiting from Friday evening until midday Saturday, 13 April 2019, announced the new structure of the military council, noting that the council will form a civilian government, headed by an independent figure. Notably, in forming the new Military Council, the team of Rapid Support Forces commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (known as Hametti), Hamidi, became the deputy head of the military council, indicating that the military weight has become, at least divided equally between the army and the Rapid Support Forces militia.

Political Responses

The opposition forces, which include the "Declaration of Freedom and Change", representing the "Sudanese Professionals Association‎", remained firm in their assertion that the military council, even after handing over the presidency to Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, was not as keen to meet the demands of the protesters as it should be. The parties that signed the Declaration of Freedom and Change, which include the Sudanese Professionals Association, as well as some civil society forces and figures, believe that a civilian government should be formed immediately, and that the role of the army should be limited to sponsoring the transitional period. They argue that only the Ministry of Defense should be assigned to the army in the interim ministerial formation, with one representative on the Transitional Authority Council.

Under the pressure of the public and the opposition forces, as well as the international community, the Council has moved to take further steps, which seem to have been met with a positive reaction from a segment of the public reflected in a decrease in the number of protesters. But these measures were not enough for the political forces that signed the Declaration of Freedom and Change, nor was it enough to mollify many young protesters, who are the main force behind the change. The steps include removing Salah Gosh from the head of the intelligence apparatus, announcing new arrangements for the structure of the National Security and Intelligence Service, and dismissing Ibnouf as minister of defense. These measures also included lifting the state of emergency, revoking the curfew order and declaring that the authorities did not intend to put protestors on house arrest. Two restrictive laws were repealed, and the ruling National Congress Party was excluded from participating in the civil government that would manage the transitional period. In addition, a committee will be formed to deal with the National Congress Party assets, the Anti-Corruption Commission will be restructured and put to work immediately, and it was announced that a number of former regime leaders involved in corruption would be arrested. The decisions included the dismissal of Sudan's ambassador to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva and Sudan's ambassador to Washington from their posts. The latest decisions issued by the Military Council also fired the President of the Judiciary, the Attorney-General and the Director-General of the National Radio and Television Authority, under the rule of President Al-Bashir.

Fears and doubts

The complexity of the Sudanese political scene has increased dramatically since the start of the demonstrations on 6 April 2019 on the anniversary of the revolution that overthrew the Nimeiri regime in 1985. The revolution that was exploited by the army was one of the reasons for the Salvation Regime - an option that it could not avoid. Because it was not possible to resolve the battle with Bashir without the army, it was granted the right to decide the course of events. But that is no longer the professional army, which had previously sided with the October 1964 and April 1985 revolutionaries. In addition, President al-Bashir has worked to weaken the army by creating powerful parallel militias. The weakness of the army may now see the arrival of the head of the Rapid Support Militia, Lt. Gen. Daglo, to the post of Vice-President of the Military Council, who will, with the civilian government, manage the transitional period. A number of problems follow Daglo because of his external relations and roles, although he sided with the rebels, and removed the danger of the regime militias. Units from his forces fight alongside the Saudi-UAE-led coalition in Yemen. The announcement of the Military Council is proof of its commitment to the agreement of the participation of Sudanese soldiers in the war in Yemen, despite growing popular opposition to this involvement.

In addition, there were rumors that Taha Osman, the former head of offices for al-Bashir, who became an adviser to the Saudi court and was granted Saudi citizenship, arrived in Khartoum after the team took over the presidency of the Military Transition Council, along with an Emirati delegation. This cast doubt on the recent coup, and its relationship with the Saudi-UAE axis. Internationally, in the past few days, Daglo, has appeared in the media, receiving the US chargé d'affaires, the Dutch ambassador and the representative of the European Union. The roles played by the team and its militia confirm that the increased interest of Western ambassadors, especially the European Union, is due to the role played in controlling the transit routes of African migrants to Europe through Sudanese territory. Notably, Washington announced its willingness to remove Sudan from the list of countries supporting terrorism if the military council had made "real" changes and confirmed that it was free of any persons on US terrorism lists or wanted for international war crimes.

Young people, who have stood firmly behind the Sudanese Professionals Association, have doubts about party forces and traditional opposition forces that could hijack their revolution. Some have called for the formation of a new youth party that represents their aspirations and demands.

The clear relationship between the Emirates and Saudi Arabia and some elements of the military council in Sudan foreshadows the repetition of the experience of the Egyptian military council to take advantage of the revolution to resolve the fate of the head of the regime in order to overthrow the basic demands of the revolution. Therefore, political consensus on the issue of democracy is of paramount importance, as long as revolutionary legitimacy exists and can be imposed on the army without confrontation, but within a settlement that guarantees its role.

Conclusion

The current Sudanese landscape has many intersections. The revolution is threatened by the deep state, with its many arms, both civilian and military. As they are also threatened by parties in the Arab regional regime. In addition, in November 2017, President al-Bashir had offered Russia significant concessions on the mineral wealth of the Sudan, which may have made Moscow a party to the complexities of the current Sudanese situation.

The decisive element in the course of the revolution, the stability of the Sudan, its return to civilian life and democratic practice, remains dependent on the steadfastness of young people demonstrating in the streets and their ability to sustain the same pressure that forced the military to isolate President al-Bashir. If the crowds continued to gather, and with the same force, the revolution would bypass all attempts to undermine it by internal and external actors. The second condition is the agreement of the political forces and parties on a program of transition to democracy, including the acceptable impact of the military in the transition phase. Their role cannot be completely absent, but through public pressure it is possible to make achievements on the limits of this role and the army's commitment to accepting pluralistic democratic governance.