Al-Bashir cannot pin Sudan’s crisis on foreign plots

Like all other countries, Sudan has enemies and friends but there is little cause for its enemies to conspire against it.
Sunday 27/01/2019
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses supporters at a rally in Khartoum, January 9. (AP)
Hardly convincing. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses supporters at a rally in Khartoum, January 9. (AP)

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is walking the same path of many leaders accustomed to blaming their failures on internal and external bodies.

Sudan is a country with many problems. There is no need for foreign conspiracies in the traditional sense to shake the ground under the feet of its regime. That can easily be done by angry citizens and that is what is happening in Sudan.

Al-Bashir seems to have used up all the opportunities to stabilise his regime and protect himself from the consequences of popular protests. He is making the same mistakes as his predecessors in Sudan by seizing control and concentrating power in his hands, refusing to let go of it or to listen to the complaints of Sudanese citizens.

He has relied on his National Congress Party, which is nothing more than the political arm of the Islamic movement in Sudan, and on the military, to which he belonged and that always had the upper hand in Sudan. Both have shown discontent with al-Bashir’s actions.

With the outbreak of the current crisis, both distanced themselves from al-Bashir, believing they could save themselves even if they had to sacrifice the president. However, when the party and the military became convinced that the ship might sink with everyone on board and that the people would not be fooled into accepting al-Bashir as a scapegoat, they decided to stand behind him.

Obviously, al-Bashir, the government, the party and the Islamic movement are acting as one unit for their own self-preservation. The leaderships closed ranks and mobilised behind the pretext of facing a conspiracy from inside or outside Sudan for which they have given no evidence.

Like all other countries, Sudan has enemies and friends but there is little cause for its enemies to conspire against it, just as there was little enthusiasm among its friends to support it. If some mysterious party wished to destroy Sudan, it could have used any of the hundreds of problems and widespread tensions crippling the country. So far then, the conspiracy theory, which al-Bashir is constantly bringing up, sounds more like a smokescreen used to dam up torrents of protests.

As for Sudan’s friends — or, more accurately, those the Sudanese regime takes as friends — they did not go beyond the moral support of resounding political speeches calling for preserving the unity and stability of the state. There was no emergency economic assistance and yet the economic crisis is the heart of the problem and is likely to worsen regardless of whether al-Bashir stays in power. Sudan is a prisoner of the accumulation of years of economic difficulties.

The problem is that many parties, both inside and outside Sudan, are convinced that the chances for the regime’s survival are limited. This is bad news for al-Bashir. Should he crack down on the protesters even more or ease up the security solution to take away the opposition’s argument?

Resorting to crackdowns has rarely succeeded. The reason is simple: The inevitable rise in the number of victims of the regime’s repression leads to increased anger and hostility towards the Sudanese government at the international level. This is why al-Bashir started harping on the tune of a conspiracy.

The second approach has succeeded in some countries, depending on the wisdom of the ruling regime. However, in the case of Sudan, that approach is likely to fail. Judging by experiences of some Arab countries, whenever governments tried to bend, popular demand for social, economic and political advantages increased. This was how the regimes of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen were brought down.

The case of the Syrian regime is unique. The iron-fist policy adopted by Bashar Assad was not enough and almost led to his collapse and the state as well. However, the regime survived within the framework of a complex game of power balance in the region, thanks to the generous support of Russia, Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah and thanks to the regional and international changes at the time.

That’s not the case of Sudan. The country and the regime are fragile enough that there is no need for a conspiracy to bring them down. Going on and on about a conspiracy will harm the regime.

The spectre of a conspiracy might be useful in countries with enough resources and factors of power such that they can affect their geopolitical environments. The Sudanese regime has portrayed itself as maintaining good relations with the East, West, North and South but that was hardly convincing.

The region surrounding Sudan is rife with conflicts and the various opposition movements in other countries have well-known connections with foreign powers. Most of the countries of the region resorted to bilateral and regional agreements to keep the opposition under control. Most of Sudan’s internal problems are connected to similar problems in neighbouring countries.

External factors of instability have existed for some time in Sudan and surrounding countries. Khartoum has struck agreements with Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan and the Central African Republic to end the game of proxy wars through the opposition.

Despite the sufferings of those countries, the idea of regional conspiracy is of limited credibility. Those countries do not have the luxury or the means to engage in subversive acts in a neighbouring country, particularly when the repercussions of such acts will come home to haunt them.