Sudan: transformation or disorder

Summary: military and protesters still negotiating future pattern of rule. Severe economic problems.

Since our posting of 25 April very large demonstrations have continued, more than once estimated at hundreds of thousands. They have been largely peaceful, but a protest of about 5,000 in Nyala, South Darfur, ended in violence with teargas and gunshots but without casualties among the demonstrators. According to Reuters “The wide street in front of the Defence Ministry… has been transformed into a cultural hub ringed with makeshift tents. Alongside fiery political speeches, crowds that have flocked to the area from across Sudan enjoy music recitals, dance shows, photography exhibitions, chess tournaments and book readings. Most strikingly, the space has become an open-air exhibition of hundreds of wall paintings.”

During a demonstration on 25 April about hundred judges marched in their robes to the Ministry of Defence demanding civilian rule, reform, and an end to corruption.

On 29 April military rulers from the Transitional Military Council (TMC) met an opposition alliance umbrella group the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) to discuss a joint military/civilian council, but on 30 April a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association complained that the TMC were expanding their powers and were not serious about transferring power to civilians. The DFCF drafted a constitutional document, seen by Reuters, which outlines the duties of a transitional council to replace the Transitional Military Council and some other details. TMC said the document was good but that it had reservations on some points and would publish its views yesterday 7 May. On 7 May it said the TMC generally agreed with the proposals, but wanted the sharia and local customs to guide legislation, noting that the sharia is omitted from the DFCF draft; the TMC had the option to call early elections within six months if there was no agreement on an interim government.

The former intelligence chief Salah Ghosh is reportedly under house arrest and at least four members of the TMC have resigned. A militia group known as Popular Security operated by Bashir’s party is being dismantled and some of its weapons have been seized. Ex-president Bashir has been questioned over allegations of money laundering and financing terrorism. According to the military he will face justice at home and not at the International Criminal Court.

According to Al Jazeera the African Union and the UN support a civilian-led transitional government and issued a statement on 6 May supporting “AU-led efforts to facilitate a consensual and civilian-led transition, in close coordination with the UN”.

On 27 April Sudan signed a $200 million loan agreement with Kuwait, and on 28 April the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development deposited $250 million in the Sudanese central bank, following a first deposit of $500 million as part of a $3 billion grant announced earlier in the month. The UAE Minister of State Anwar Gargash tweeted that Arab states supported “an orderly and stable transition”. Reuters reported that a cash crunch with ATMs running out of money, and a pre-Ramadan fuel crisis with near daily electricity outages and long queues for petrol, posed a challenge to the Transitional Military Council. “Any new government that emerges from talks between the army and opposition factions and will face the same problems that brought down Bashir – from unsustainable state subsidies to cash and fuel shortages – while having to manage the public’s heightened expectations.”

An article by Alex de Waal of Tufts University published on the London Review of Books blog describes the institutional and personal qualities which might have proofed Bashir against overthrow, including his loyalty to his friends, his generosity, and his skill in developing reciprocal trust. These make it likely that he will not be ill treated and not be handed over to the International Criminal Court. But,

“During his last years in office, he used his formidable political talents simply to stay in power, and did nothing for the country. Anti-government protests erupted last December, first against the high prices of bread and fuel, and then against Bashir’s endless rule and the corruption that accompanied it…He thought they lacked leadership and would be easily divided, bought off or demoralised. He was wrong.

 [By] 6 April… about fifty people had died in the protests. Given the size of the demonstrations, it is a relatively low figure – more than 200 were killed in two weeks of protests in 2013. Army officers would not order their units to fire on the crowds…The violence since last December… was perpetrated by the NISS and militia groups. When Bashir’s security chiefs met in their besieged HQ on 6 and 7 April and gave orders to disperse the crowds, the paramilitaries were ready to do it, but the regular army wasn’t. On two successive nights, army units opened fire on the paramilitaries in defence of the protesters.

 Bashir knew all the political intrigue among the middle and senior ranks of the military, but failed to anticipate the doggedness of the protesters and had no idea how to respond to their demands… He was too cautious to venture any meaningful concessions.

 The Alliance for Freedom and Change consists of 22 opposition organisations… They and the demonstrators outside the walls of the military HQ have been more disciplined and … could well set the agenda in their talks with a disoriented soldiery. If they cannot, the situation could quickly deteriorate. Ghosh’s resignation [Ghosh is now reportedly under house arrest] is a warning. He is a merciless operator and no one expects him to go quietly into retirement. The security bosses all have foreign ties: the Islamists (currently sidelined by the coup) have backers in Qatar and Turkey; Ibn Auf may be gone but others in the high command are close to Egypt; Burhan and Hemeti have led troop deployments in Yemen on the Saudi payroll; Ghosh is close to the United Arab Emirates. The security hydra – multitudinous, avaricious, with each faction backed by a rivalrous foreign patron – poses an ominous threat…

 Sudan, in other words, is poised between an inspirational transformation and dangerous disorder. It is still a beneficiary of the social codes that limit violence within the elite and in the cities. Sudan’s democratic moment is still desperately fragile.

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