The political calculations of Sudan’s military regime

General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo 'Hemedti' speaks during a news conference at the Rapid Support Forces headquarters outside Khartoum on November 5, 2017 [Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah]
General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo ‘Hemedti’ speaks during a news conference at the Rapid Support Forces headquarters outside Khartoum on November 5, 2017 [Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah]

On April 11, after 30 years in power, the longstanding dictator, General Omar al-Bashir, was forced out of power by his right-hand man, defence minister and vice president, General Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf.

Al-Bashir’s ouster was welcomed as a major victory by Sudanese protesters who had been out in the streets of Khartoum and other major cities since December. However, many remain wary of the dubious transition of power that Sudan’s military leadership has undertaken.

In his April 11 statement, with which he declared the removal of al-Bashir, Ibn Auf also announced the suspension of the Constitution, the imposition of a state of emergency and the formation of a transitional military council headed by him.

But just two days later, after mass protests continued to call for the whole regime to step down, Ibn Auf resigned along with his deputy, General Kamal Abdelmarouf al-Mahi. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan was appointed his place as the head of the council and General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, also known as Hemedti, as the deputy chair. Meanwhile, General Salah Abdallah Saleh, also known as Gosh, resigned as the head of the notorious National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

So what do all these reshuffles in the Sudanese regime mean and how will they affect the Sudanese struggle for democratic civilian rule?

How al-Bashir deposed

Over the past few years, it became increasingly clear that al-Bashir was doing everything to consolidate his power and prevent any possible conspiracy against his presidency.

On the foreign policy front, he was trying to reach out to anyone who could guarantee the security of his regime. When the US eased the sanctions in October 2017 but made it clear that they still demand that he step down, al-Bashir went on a visit to Russia to seek the backing of the Kremlin. He also continued to deal with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, on one side, and Qatar and Turkey, on the other, hoping to secure their support.

On the home front, al-Bashir undertook a number of reshuffles in the past few years, plagued by suspicions of conspiracies against him. In the process, he managed to alienate a number of different factions within the Sudanese regime and important commanders within the security sector and the militias. He also angered members of his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) when he declared he was a national figure that stood above all political parties in Sudan.

Most importantly, al-Bashir alienated his own people. For a long time, he had been playing the ethnic card, trying to divide the Sudanese people and justify his destructive wars in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

In December, however, public anger once again boiled over and people across Sudan, from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds, took to the streets to protest against his failing regime which had left the Sudanese economy in tatters and the general population struggling to put bread on the table.

Fearing a coup, al-Bashir kept Ibn Auf, who is on a US sanctions list due to his involvement in the Darfur conflict, and former governor Ahmed Haroun, who is also indicted by the International Criminal Court, close, believing they would not hand him over to the international prosecution. When the Sudanese streets escalated the pressure, Ibn Auf was appointed vice president and Haroun took over the chairmanship of the NCP.

Al-Bashir’s fate was sealed once the protesters managed to win over the sympathies of mid and lower-ranking military officers, as well as soldiers. This became apparent when on April 8, NISS security forces attacked the sit-in in front of the Army High Command headquarters in Khartoum, causing some soldiers to intervene and protect the protesters.

The Sudanese president and other loyalists had planned to disperse the sit-in with force, hoping that the violence would keep the protesters away. Fearing an insurrection within the lower army rank and file, the top brass of the military could not go along with the plan. More importantly, there are speculations that General Gosh, the head of the NISS, also switched sides at that critical juncture and refused to unleash a bloody crackdown.

Gosh, who is widely despised by the Sudanese people, was one of the people al-Bashir had alienated early on. In 2009, he was removed from his position as head of the NISS and made presidential adviser, only to be sacked in 2011. The following year, Gosh, who had been a point of contact in Sudan for US intelligence agencies, was accused of plotting a coup against the president and imprisoned for a year. Although he was politically rehabilitated and reinstated to his former position in 2018, he surely continued to bear a grudge against al-Bashir.

He, along with other generals, saw an opportunity to get rid of al-Bashir and seized it. Their consensus…

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