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The self-inflicted end of Bashir’s 30-year rule

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on January 3, 2019. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP/Getty Images)
Ousted Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir delivers a speech at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on 3 January 2019 [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images]

Here in Sudan, claims of responsibility for the downfall of the government of Omar Al-Bashir have become commonplace. On the dusty walls of buildings are graffiti-like writings proclaiming hashtags “just fall and still not fallen”. Sudanese capital Khartoum is awash with major players claiming victory for the removal of Al- Bashir.

The claimants range from the communist party and the professional association to conspiracy theories implicating foreign governments and even the ruling National Congress party itself.

In truth, no one factor or group of people can honestly claim to be solely responsible. Al-Bashir’s downfall followed a series of coincidental, self-inflicted and orchestrated events that created a hostile political and economic climate, thus making change inevitable.

Protests in Sudan - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Protests in Sudan – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

First in line would undoubtedly be the separation from South Sudan, the loss of 75 per cent of the country’s revenue and Juba’s insistence on receiving the majority of the revenue passing through the oil pipeline.  This caused major economic difficulties just weeks following the split of the two countries.

The second factor was the battle to remove the US economic embargo. In October 2017, when President Donald Trump’s administration nominally lifted the sanctions, expectations were that the economy would be kick started. In truth the sanctions remain in place to this day, with no official release of funds via the Office of Foreign Assets Control being permitted.

In addition, the prosecution of French bank BNP Paribas – serving as a duplicate central bank allowing Sudan to bypass sanctions – finally brought an end to the fiscal freedoms enjoyed by Sudan throughout the 2000s. This was coupled with the inept triangular economic policy adopted by the government, which did little to stabilise the country. This combination of factors only served to create an economic climate of crisis.

However, perhaps the turning point was the haphazard introduction of fiscal measures in late 2017, recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which removed long-standing subsidies and raised the customs exchange rate. The effect was an immediate rocketing of fuel and bread prices.

Furthermore, the weakening of the economy was immediately followed by currency speculation that led to a rush to purchase dollars by traders and investors wishing to protect the value of trading stocks and real estate property. The scarcity of local currency brought about the further downward spiralling of living standards and led to mile-long queues at ATM machines.

READ: US urges Sudan’s military to step aside, make way for civilian-led transition

However, journalist Ishaq Ahmed Fadallah of the Intibah newspaper theorised that the devaluation of the currency was a deliberate, wilful political act of sabotage orchestrated by the Gulf countries. He claimed the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia had flooded the market with fake Sudanese currency to create scarcity and further drive down its value.

According to Fadallah’s conspiracy theory, this interference was designed to end the domination of the Muslim Brotherhood-like government – the only one of its kind remaining in the region. His unsubstantiated claim played into the paranoia felt by leading figures in government about Israeli and Gulf attempts to overthrow the movement and break Sudan’s close ties with allies Qatar, Russia and Turkey.

At the centre of the theory was the removal of Taha Hussain, a Sudanese-Saudi national fired by Al-Bashir for his role in plotting to deploy Sudanese forces to overthrow the Qatari government. Hussain’s departure was acrimonious and many felt it would only be a matter of time before he enlisted the Saudi government to help bring down Al-Bashir.

The third major factor was the events on the political scene that loomed over the economy. Plans to change the constitution to allow Al-Bashir to run for a third term in 2020 caused indignation. Groups within his National Congress Party were angered and moved in quiet to destabilise the country. Al-Bashir’s desperate attempt to stem the bleeding economy and the dissent in his own ranks was to no avail. Measures to prevent corruption and embezzlement of government funds came too little too late.

READ: South Sudan offers to mediate political transition in Sudan

On 19 December – after bread flour intended for the country’s River Nile State was delayed by members of the National Congress Party’s administration – the town erupted in protest, burning down the ruling party headquarters. Groups of expats saw an opportunity and sent thousands of dollars to support the protest movement being led mainly through Facebook, Telegram and other social media platforms. The anonymity of the protests baffled security forces, which could not prevent the four-month-long mobilisation of street protestors.

Observers saw the classic text from “Dictatorship to Democracy”, a book by Western academic Gene Sharp, being played out on the streets of Khartoum. Inspired by the movement of protest in Algeria, the protestors wore down the government’s resistance.

Sudan's military removes al-Bashir - Cartoon [Arabi21]

Sudan’s military removes al-Bashir – Cartoon [Arabi21]

In the end, some claim it was the refusal of the head of the rapid support unit “Hamiti” to deploy troops to break up the protests and the direct appeal made to the army that led to troops protecting the protestors inside the Army Headquarters and sealing the fate of Omar Al-Bashir. In the last few days, the Popular Congress Party – an opposition group – have issued a press statement claiming responsibility for the removal of Al-Bashir.

However, perhaps the single greatest factor in his downfall was Al-Bashir himself. After having lost the confidence of his party and his army colleagues, his speech of 22 February declaring military rule signalled a man devoid of ideas paying lip service to the idea that the protestors had “legitimate grievances,” but demonstrating nothing less than a determination to cling on to power.

To add insult to injury, Al-Bashir turned a blind eye to corruption in his family and his inner circle. In a speech at police headquarters, he suggested killing protestors was an “Islamic duty” and in the end, the fear of prosecution by the International Criminal Court suggested that Al-Bashir might die or be killed in power.

Amid claims and counterclaims of responsibility, Al-Bashir’s role in his own downfall is perhaps the most valid claim of all.

READ: Saudi-Emirati delegation visits Sudan in support of military council

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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