Bashir's Old Guard Jockeys for Power as Sudan's Protests Rage On

(Bloomberg) -- Sudanese pro-democracy protesters won further concessions from the army that overthrew President Omar al-Bashir, as upheaval in the ruling military council signals a power struggle among the remnants of his 30-year regime.

Since taking control on April 11, the council has canceled its curfew, freed prisoners, changed leadership and vowed to review laws that brought trials for perceived indecency or apostasy, all in response to mass protests. Yet it hasn’t budged on the key opposition demand of an immediate handover to civilians -- insisting on retaining power for as long as two years -- and named as its deputy head Mohamed Hamdan, the chief of a powerful militia accused of rights abuses.

Bashir's Old Guard Jockeys for Power as Sudan's Protests Rage On

There’s “jockeying for power within what remains” of al-Bashir’s regime, said Harry Verhoeven, author of ‘Water, Civilization and Power in Sudan.’ He cited a failure to “agree on a division of labor among them and a joint strategy to deal with the protesters” that “has been on full display.”

The ouster of al-Bashir, one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers, followed four months of protests across the oil-producing nation in which dozens of people were killed. Now under house arrest, he’s the second North African leader forced from office this month in the face of mass demonstrations, following Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. It’s stirred echoes of the Arab Spring uprisings earlier this decade.

Security Alliances

In the final days of al-Bashir’s rule, soldiers clashed with security forces attempting to crush a sit-in outside army headquarters in the capital, Khartoum. It lay bare splits in the complex political-security alliances the 75-year-old president forged after seizing power in an Islamist-backed 1989 coup. The threat of more internecine fighting likely contributed to al-Bashir’s associates’ decision to remove him.

What’s left is “Bashirism without Bashir,” said Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Bashir's Old Guard Jockeys for Power as Sudan's Protests Rage On

Defense Minister Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, who announced the coup, stepped down as the head of transitional military council less than two days later, as protesters raged against a prominent member of al-Bashir’s regime wielding power.

On Sunday, the council announced the general is retiring and that Sudan’s ambassador to Washington, Mohamed Ata, the former head of the National Intelligence and Security Service, is being replaced. Salah Gosh, who twice served as NISS’s chief, resigned Saturday. A restructuring of the service is promised.

‘Unstable’ Deal

“The deal between the army, NISS and the paramilitaries is fundamentally unstable because of the rivalries among them and because they won’t be able to resolve the challenge of the mass protesters,” De Waal said. “It’s actually more dangerous than when Bashir was there.”

The council’s new leader, Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, was chief of staff of Sudan’s ground forces and involved in coordinating assistance to a Saudi Arabia-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. In that post, he worked with Hamdan’s Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary unit with roots in the Janjaweed militia accused of terrorizing Darfur during its war that began in 2003.

As Sudanese refuse to leave the streets, there’s no guarantee the council’s latest formation will be any longer lasting.

Opposition Demands

The main protest groups, united as the Forces of the Freedom and Change Declaration, have met the council to demand a civilian handover, winning a pledge for greater political and media freedoms.

The council on Sunday asked the opposition to submit suggestions for a transitional prime minister and cabinet. It also said it formed a committee to seize all the assets of al-Bashir’s once-ruling National Congress Party, and that it would review the public-order law, which prescribed punishments such as whipping for certain alleged crimes.

Splits are beginning to emerge in the opposition too: the National Consensus Forces, part of the alliance, has accused others of preventing it from putting its ideas to the council. Meanwhile, a rebel alliance fighting in Darfur and two southern states said the delegation failed to present its demands for a peace initiative.

That may blunt the opposition’s bargaining power. But Sudan’s new rulers -- while they have no shortage of armed might -- are also in a precarious position, according to Verhoeven.

“Further elite fragmentation is both to be expected and likely to be violent,” he said.

The Khartoum-based al-Tayar newspaper, citing people it didn’t identify, reported that al-Bashir’s two wives and brother have fled to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, where they’re being guarded by soldiers in an upscale hotel. Neither South Sudan’s army spokesman nor its presidency answered calls seeking comment.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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