Continued pressures for new Sudan outside military, Islamist rule

New clashes may erupt, which could plunge Sudan into political and security turmoil, given the many intractable problems in the country.
Sunday 21/04/2019
High hopes. Sudanese protesters flash the victory sign outside the army headquarters in Khartoum,  April 19. (AFP)
High hopes. Sudanese protesters flash the victory sign outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, April 19. (AFP)

CAIRO - The Transitional Military Council in Sudan has gone a long way towards getting rid of the main figures of deposed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s regime since April 11.

It has won confidence with Sudanese demonstrators with its flexibility in responding to demands of the Sudanese Professionals Association and the Coalition for Freedom and Change and promised to form a civilian government to end the legacy of the former regime and place the country on track for a new Sudan.

John Garang, the late leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, had long held the dream of a united and stable Sudan without distinction between North and South. He called his vision the “New Sudan.”

However, the regime in Khartoum had other Islamist goals and projects and preferred to sacrifice the south by accepting the right to self-determination in 2005 and the secession of South Sudan in 2011 in the hope of keeping the rest of Sudan under its dominance.

Al-Bashir sought to link the Islamist movement to the military establishment, which gave the latter an ideological dimension it did not previously have. This led to Islamist control of the state politically and militarily.

Following the removal of al-Bashir and a number of political, military and partisan leaders from power, the Sudanese opposition is exploiting the opportunity to have the Transitional Military Council (TMC) attempt to establish a nucleus for a new Sudan in which the government is not Islamist and in which the army is removed from politics. Such a project faces tremendous challenges after 30 years of rule by the former regime.

TMC Chairman Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is dealing cautiously with the opposition’s demand of uprooting the remnants of al-Bashir in the army and sidelining officers known for Islamist loyalties. He said he fears a split in the military establishment or a secession that would affect plans to correct Sudan’s course. He has removed some incriminated officers but the process will take some time.

Demonstrators in Sudan have continued their sit-in outside the Ministry of Defence and their numbers may have actually increased recently. They have engaged in dialogue with the TMC to ensure the country moves from the Islamist-military square to a civilian government.

Suspicions, however, hover over some TMC members, including Lieutenant-General Omar Zain al-Abdin, head of the Political Committee; police chief Lieutenant-General Tayeb Babeker; Lieutenant-General Jalal al-Deen al-Sheikh from the security forces; and Air Force Lieutenant-General Salah Abdul Khaliq. These are solid Islamist figures and might be used by Islamists to prepare and execute a counter-revolution.

In addition to the flexibility shown by the TMC in welcoming candidates for leadership positions, opposition forces benefit from one important advantage: the existence of a broad regional and international consensus on the need to accelerate the handover of power to a civilian government.

There is obvious regional support for the removal of Islamist strongholds from state institutions. Regional parties have said the Islamist Movement in Sudan created tensions because of the former regime’s ties with countries, such as Turkey and Qatar, known for supporting extremist forces.

If events in Sudan represent an opportunity to remove the Islamist legacy, shedding the military legacy faces many obstacles. There are regional and international forces that say it will not be easy to turn Sudan into a civilian state in the foreseeable future and that it will be necessary for the army to be present for some time to arrange the political scene.

The pessimistic visions are based on the fact that opposition forces in Sudan are dispersed and because there are no outstanding political figures capable of rallying large parts of the Sudanese citizenry. This is why international voices encouraged the Sudanese to grant the TMC respite to deal with remnants of al-Bashir’s regime.

Yasir Arman, deputy leader of the Sudan’s Liberation Movement-North, wrote on his Facebook page that the TMC includes figures who played a crucial role in al-Bashir’s arrest and in forcing Ahmed Awad bin Auf, the former defence minister and former head of the military council, and Salah Gosh, head of the National Intelligence and Security Services, to step down.

These individuals include junior officers from the army and the rapid support forces and they must cooperate to build a power system that ends cronyism, leads the country to safety and does away with the military, security, economic and political pillars of the old order.

Arman’s words regarding a total cleansing of the old order found a large positive echo. Some, however, say this operation will take time and fear that this grace period may become a prelude to consecrating military rule.

Many Sudanese echoed these words as they recall the long history of manoeuvres by the Sudanese Army to stay in power.

Suleiman Sari, spokesman for the Arab Alliance for Sudan, said the Sudanese demonstrators believe that the TMC has not fulfilled tasks demanded of it and is required to get rid of institutions and symbols of the former regime apparent in the political scene in Sudan.

Sari said the TMC is facing internal pressure from the demonstrations and outside pressure from the African Union, which opposes military coups. Therefore, the council needs to form a civilian government in less than two weeks.

Demonstrations will continue for longer periods to prevent countercoups and to make sure military figures with known Islamist leanings are brought to justice.

Sari said negotiations are under way between the demonstrators and the TMC on the formation of a sovereign council composed of nine people — five civilians and four military personnel —  a cabinet of no more than 15 people and a legislative council of 150 members, including experts to draft legislation and a permanent constitution for the country.

Observers said they fear the enthusiasm shown by the TMC may soon fade because the council is in favour of taking time in transferring power to a fully civilian government. Opposition forces are adamant about having their demands met. It is possible that new clashes may erupt, which could plunge Sudan into political and security turmoil, given the many intractable problems in the country.