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Sudan’s revolution anniversary marred by demonstrations and controversy

Women chant slogans during a demonstration calling for the repeal of family law in Sudan, on the occasion of International Women's Day, outside the Justice Ministry headquarters in the capital Khartoum on 8 March, 2020 [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images]

The role of the former intelligence chief, Salah Abdullah, in bringing down Sudan’s former President, Omar Al-Bashir, has become the most talked about controversy in Sudan. The admission that leaders from the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) movement met and agreed with Abdullah, known as Gosh, to stage a mass sit-in demonstration outside the army headquarters comes just days before the first anniversary of the ouster of Omar Al-Bashir and his National Salvation government.

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

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

The news has shattered the notion that the popular uprising orchestrated by the FFC movement alone was responsible for removing the former president from power. It has brought into sharp focus the complicity between the movement and the former intelligence chief, a key figure in the Al-Bashir regime. As head of Al-Bashir’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) he is generally regarded as the man responsible for the security apparatus that terrorised and killed opponents of Al-Bashir’s government and supporters of the revolution. Investigative journalist, Lima Yaqoob, claims to have approached four leaders in the Freedom and Change movement to verify the accusation. According to a video cast, she revealed three of the four leaders refused to talk but one of the group – namely, Mohamed Ridda, a prominent leader of FFC – confirmed that Abdullah had suggested protesters be moved outside the army headquarters as he would open safe corridors for entry into the area.

Journalists, like myself, who write about Sudan have known the information for some time.  I alluded to this in my article: “Sudan’s ‘revolution’ was a coup in disguise”, written in July 2019 for MEMO. However, this is the first time that a senior member of the FFC movement has confirmed the validity of the claim. Sources with knowledge of the events told me last year about Abdullah’s pivotal involvement in rounding up key military leaders to agree to overthrow Al-Bashir. I was also briefed on the close relationship Salah Abdullah had with leaders of the FFC movement and the protection he had offered the protestors. Abdullah had refused to carry out Al-Bashir’s order to break up the sit-in demonstration outside the army headquarters.

Instead, Abdullah had secretly deployed security personal to agitate the protestors and intensify the demonstration against Al-Bashir. Abdullah was infuriated by Al-Bashir’s decision in February 2019 not to rule himself out of the 2020 elections or announce his retirement from politics. Abdullah colluded with the top echelons of the army to coordinate Al-Bashir’s removal and secure the move to a transitional government. Such was Abdullah’s influence that supporters of Abdullah claimed he would be rewarded with a position in the new Sovereign council. The decision to give him the ultimate veto power on the council took a back seat when the American government sanctioned Abdullah and froze his assets. Unconfirmed reports say it was feared Sudan’s chances of reconciling with the international community would be severely damaged by the public emergence of Gosh, so the idea was abandoned.

Since then attempts to charge him for his role in the former government have failed and claims that he was being held under house arrest were unfounded. He was able to leave Sudan and travel to Egypt evading any attempt to bring him to account for his role in the Al-Bashir regime accused of corruption and mismanagement of the economy.

The news of prior arrangement with Abdullah to redirect the protest will, undoubtedly, increase the pressure on FFC and the Prime Minister, Dr Abdullah Hamdok. The prime minister has come under criticism for the inability of the transitional government to combat the inflationary conditions crippling the Sudanese economy. Fourteen days ago, the Sudani newspaper reported a statement from the prime minister suggesting he was not necessarily the best person to run the country. The reference was taken by many to indicate that the prime minister was thinking of resigning. Others understood the comments as a reflection of his feeling at the time of being appointed. Insiders within the palace revealed days before the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, there were moves afoot for a complete cabinet reshuffle. An emergency meeting to discuss the issue was postponed because it was felt that the coronavirus issue called for a coordinated and united response.

READ: Hundreds demonstrate in Khartoum, demand departure of transitional Hamdok government

While the government’s regulations and curfew are in the main being observed, yesterday witnessed yet another mass demonstration of hundreds of Sudanese calling for the fall of the transitional government. Aside from the economic difficulties, protestors are angry that the continuing state of emergency allows political prisoners to be held without a trail. As the first-year anniversary approaches, lawyers for the former president revealed that his appeal against his two-year detention for corruption and the misuse of foreign currency had been rejected.

Just under a year into the transitional government, it is clear that they have made some progress in dismantling the workings of the former regime. Sudan’s international standing has improved with diplomatic missions and relations being re-established with a number of Western countries, particularly Germany and the USA. The new government has also improved relations with neighbouring countries and in the Middle East. February’s historic meeting between Sudan’s President Abdul-Fatah Al-Burhan and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was viewed as a major breakthrough. Despite the difficulties, the government has allowed citizens the democratic right of protest and have apologised over disproportionate uses of force by the security forces. The new government has been praised for the opening up of religious freedoms and for the repealing of some laws used against women – particularly as it concerned the dress code.

Nevertheless, the latest revelations about the involvement of the former intelligence chief in the direction of last year’s military takeover have served to undermine the government’s credibility. Questions are being asked about the extent its leader cooperated with and took orders from key figures in Al-Bashir’s regime. The Sudanese want to know why the former intelligence chief has been able until now, to evade arrest or face justice. On the morning of 11 April 2019, Omar Al-Bashir was deposed and put under house arrest along with leading members of the former regime. The celebrations that followed were short-lived as the military refused to allow civilians to take control. A year on, the first anniversary of the revolution has been marred by the controversy as a growing and vocal chorus of opposition demand the transitional government to step down.

OPINION: In Sudan the death of the defence minister amid the coronavirus pandemic increases social and political tensions

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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