Is there a third surprise in Sudan’s future?
In 1964 in Sudan, General Ibrahim Abboud was forced to relinquish power to a civilian government. In 1986, after the collapse of Jaafar Nimeiry’s regime, Major-General Abdulrahman Siwar al-Dahab assumed office until power was transferred to a civilian government. He was a Sudanese officer who believed the national interest came before his personal desire for power and wealth.
These events indicate that Sudan remains the country of surprises. Will Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir produce a third surprise or will he remain prisoner of his Muslim Brotherhood background, which means, among other things, that he lusts after power and nothing but power?
Isn’t 20 years in power enough for a Sudanese military officer who knew how to manoeuvre since the 1989 military coup to stay in the presidency at any cost? Even if that cost was the split of Sudan and losing its south?
In 1958, two years after Sudan’s independence, Abboud led the first military coup in Sudanese history. He had done it at the request of the civilian government. He himself had nothing to offer Sudan except securing the country internally after partisan squabbles had led it to bankruptcy.
Why can’t al-Bashir recall the 1964 revolt against military rule or the civilised way Dahab handed over power in 1986? Doesn’t Sudan deserve a third happy surprise that would spare it more bloodshed?
Abboud took power from Prime Minister Abdullah Khalil, who found himself stuck in a political and economic predicament. There were endless disagreements among the political parties in Sudan and even within each party. There was no economic plan for getting out of the economic crisis. Khalil couldn’t find a better exit than to hand over power to the military.
Since then, there have been several military coups in Sudan, the most recent was the 1989 coup that left al-Bashir as president. He benefited from the political support of Hassan al-Turabi, who was representing the Muslim Brotherhood and believed that al-Bashir could be used to pursue the Brotherhood’s ambitions in Sudan.
Abboud did abuse his power. He silenced political dissent, strangled political parties and even cancelled them. In 1964, the Sudanese had had enough and took to the streets in a real revolution. They shouted with one voice: “To the barracks, you insects.”
The military did withdraw, leaving the field to civilian politicians. The latter returned to their squabbles until the next military coup, in 1969, this time led by Nimeiry and his comrades. Once again, Sudan went from bad to worse as Nimeiry and his regime discovered the benefits of betting on religion by associating with the Islamists, who had been waiting in the wings to seize power.
In 1985, a military man, Dahab, emerged. He headed a military council that was handed power. In 1986, power was handed back to a civilian government but Sudanese politicians still refused to learn from their experiences.
From 1986-89, Sudanese politicians and party leaders repeated the mistakes of the past and bankrupted the country. The military-civilian alliance between al-Bashir and Turabi easily gained power and, since then, internal conflicts in Sudan never ceased.
From 1989-2019, the date of the outbreak of a genuine popular uprising whose end is unknown, al-Bashir tried all the manoeuvres that a veteran politician could exercise. Many politicians, who underestimated the skills of the man who dared kick Osama bin Laden out of Sudan, dared hand over Carlos the Jackal to France and dared to engage in negotiations with the southerners to divide Sudan, were the first victims of al-Bashir’s moves.
During every crisis, al-Bashir accepted to pay the price required for him to stay in power, regardless of what that price was. All those who dealt with him discovered he is a practical man. He had no qualms whatsoever. He had no qualms about imprisoning Turabi and would have executed him were it not for the intercession of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Al-Bashir’s latest daring act was his trip to Damascus to be the first Arab head of state to meet with the pariah Bashar Assad since he was rejected by his people and the Arab League. That visit was like a curse on al-Bashir. He returned to Khartoum to find a popular uprising waiting.
Al-Bashir’s actions and decisions reflect his camp’s political bankruptcy. Has the man run out of new ideas to cling to power? After 30 years of monopolising it, why doesn’t he dare take the step of moving Sudan to a transition stage? Why can’t he enlist the help of people with economic expertise instead of appealing to outdated political tricks?
In short, why can’t al-Bashir recall the lessons of the 1964 revolution or the civilised way Dahab handed power to the civilians in 1986?
Doesn’t Sudan deserve a third happy surprise that would prevent more bloodshed?