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Uncertainty looms even after Bashir’s removal

Apr 16,2019 - Last updated at Apr 16,2019

Less than a week after the toppling of Sudan’s authoritarian ruler for 30 years, Omar Al Bashir, the country continues to face political uncertainty. The head of the transitional military council that removed the president, Gen. Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, bowed under public pressure and stepped down, naming a more acceptable successor, Lt. Gen. Abdelfattah Al Burhan. Even after toning down some of the council’s initial declarations, including the suspension of a month long curfew, the protests continued amid demands that a civilian government be formed as soon as possible.

The military council, which had retired or arrested officials close to Bashir, is yet to make its position clear on a number of demands. Professional unions, which are spearheading the protests along with political parties, have rejected a two-year transitional phase under the military. They want an immediate handover of authority to a transitional civilian body, the annulment of unlawful decrees and the arrest of key figures in the old regime ahead of putting them on trial.

So far, there is an impasse. The military council has asked heads of professional unions and parties to present a list containing names of possible civilian figures who could form a transitional government. But the army is unlikely to bow down and hand over power to a civilian body yet. Bashir’s authoritarian rule had relied heavily on the military, and many generals had benefitted from a corrupt regime that squandered the country’s resources and drove people to despair. These generals fear that putting Bashir on trial may lead to their own arrest at some point.

On the other hand, the protesters are in a defiant mood. There is no doubt that they were inspired by mass demonstrations in Algeria, which ended the rule of Abdelaziz Bouteflika and may also bring the ruling party down.

The fate of Sudan’s National Congress Party and the circle that surrounded Bashir is now the main issue that will decide the country’s future. How far will the military go in yielding power to a civilian body is an open matter. And how long can the demonstrators remain united in their quest to end military rule as soon as possible is another question.

One has to remember that what triggered Sudan’s protests four months ago was the failing economy. The country’s economic woes continue to be the main driver and the military has little to offer in that regard. In fact, the situation could get a lot worse since the military council fired the government and disbanded all local bodies in the provinces. This is a crucial phase, and while both sides remain on edge, one should expect a number of scenarios to unfold.

The military will have to initiate meaningful dialogue with people’s representatives in order to agree on a road map that will pave the way for a civilian body to take over allowing for a slow return to democratic life. But the fate of the old regime and its symbols will emerge as a major stumbling block. International pressure will increase on the military council to hand over Bashir to the International Criminal Court, something that the army had so far rejected.

Another scenario suggests that the military itself may lose unity and a second coup may take place, leading possibly to the takeover by hardliners. It was noted that the head of the notorious Rapid Support Forces, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, had rejected Ibn Auf’s initial declaration and seemed to side with the protesters. His backing of the military council is essential, although he may have his own agenda as well.

An internal dispute among the military is likely but the outcome is vague. Daglo has ties to Gulf states and may be biding his time to make his move if he gets assurances of financial support.

The longer the protests continue, the deeper the crisis will be in the Sudan. If the military does hand over power to a civilian body, then influential states in the region and beyond, including the US and the EU, must step in to support this nascent authority. The path to putting Sudan on the road to economic recovery after decades of turmoil and exploitation of the country’s resources will be long and arduous. So will be the drive to rebuild the democratic institutions and restoring democracy in a country that had known military rule for most of its post-colonial era.

But at one stage, the country must seek to heal its wounds by facing the atrocities carried out under Bashir, especially in Darfur more than 15 years ago. Without national reconciliation, this country will have a rough time leaving behind a dark legacy of decades of bloody and ruthless military rule.

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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