Does the Overthrow of el-Bashir in Sudan Signal a Second Arab Spring?
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 29 Apr 2019
28 Apr 2019 – What follows is an interview on recent developments in Sudan with M.J. Hassani of the Tasmin News Agency in Tehran. The questions focus on the implications of the overthrow of President Omar el-Bashir who had been the harsh autocratic ruler of Sudan for almost 30 years. Of particular interest is whether the mass movement of the Sudanese people and the counterrevolutionary dangers posed by the retention of emergency powers by the military entourage surrounding the former dictator will destroy the hopes of the mobilized population as happened in Egypt in seemingly analogous circumstances. Also analogous is the role of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that support the counterrevolutionary option in Sudan as they did in Egypt after 2011 in the rising against Mubarak.
There is also a pending indictment from the International Criminal Court against el-Bashir, the first ever against a sitting head of state. Will el-Bashir be sent to The Hague for prosecution by the new leadership or might he be prosecuted in Sudan or will the matter be quietly dropped?
A more hopeful reading of the Sudan situation (as well as the events in Algeria) is that this second coming of the Arab Spring will be more alert to the dangers of reactionary and external forces reversing the gains achieved by populist opposition activism. Did political activists in the MENA region learn from the failures and disappointments of the earlier Arab uprisings of eight years ago?
Whatever happens in Sudan will be important for the entire region, whether encouraging or not with respect to spontaneous political activism aiming at economic reforms and empowering forms of democratization. It is helpful to recall that the movement in Sudan arose in December 2018 when the government reduced food and fuel subsidies, and only later broadened its agenda of grievances and demands.
Q1: Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir was recently removed by a military coup after months of anti-government protests against his three-decade rule. A Military Council led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is now in power and says it will oversee a transitional period that will last a maximum of two years. What do you think about the latest developments in this Northeast African country? How do you predict the future of the developments? Will the Military Council hand over the power to a democratic government?
The post-coup situation in Sudan is highly uncertain at the present time. Pessimistically, the military oligarchy that surrounded Omar al-Bashir for three decades remains in control of the governing Military Council. Its membership even includes Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo who led the notorious Janjaweed militia that terrorized Darfur in the years following 2003, committing many crimes against humanity of a character that led many observers to charge genocide. More hopefully, the mass movement in Sudan that has mounted a determined opposition in recent months, remains determined to secure satisfaction for its basic demands of a genuine civilian government and for economic justice benefitting the entire Sudanese population. As far as the durability of the protest is concerned, the spirit of the movement seems strong. One opposition leader expressed the resolve of the movement, “We can wait for 100 years until we get what we want.”
What General al-Burhan has so far proposed as a political compromise is highly ambiguous. It consists of a three-month period of emergency rule, which has already been proclaimed to be followed in two years by a transition to a government of technocrats, which is apparently supposed to satisfy the demand for a civilian. The prospect of a government of technocrats seems to be a promise to establish an apolitical form of governance removed from any kind of op. This conceivably could be a retreat from prior patterns of military rule, but it more likely would be a collection of bureaucrats taking orders from uniformed generals. It is doubtful that such a prospect will satisfy the opposition, which has announced plans for massive demonstrations in the capital city of Khartoum during the coming days and weeks to press its demands. These include not only the civilianization of the governing process, but also a softening of Sharia law, especially as applied to Sudanese women who are reported to be the dominant presence on the streets, estimated at over 70%.
Q2: According to media reports, there have been some meddlesome measures pushed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Sudan. However, Sudanese protesters have declared their strong opposition to the two countries. What do you think about the future of relations between Sudan and the two Arab countries and do you think that the next Sudanese government would be an ally of the two?
According to the most accurate reports, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are joined by Egypt in supporting continued military rule in Sudan, both economically and politically. This should not be surprising, mirroring the diplomatic stance of Gulf monarchies, except for Qatar, during the Arab Spring uprising of late 2010 and 2011. Egypt since 2013 has been under the oppressive and anti-democratic leadership of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in power thanks to a coup carried out against the democratically elected government of Mohamad Morsi. These three states are opposed to any democratic movements throughout the MENA region regardless of its religious identity. Morsi was a Muslim Brotherhood leader, and one might have expected Saudi/UAE support on sectarian grounds, but what became evident even during the earlier uprising in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak was that these Gulf States gave an absolute priority to maintaining political stability provided it was achieved by rulership from above. In this sense, movements from below are always perceived by these regimes as dangerous, and will be opposed, even if religiously oriented and seeking to remove secularists. The response to developments in Sudan is fully consistent with past political behavior, especially if the Sudanese developments are interpreted, and understood as indicative of a new activist mood possibly linked to the protest movement in Algeria, which can be viewed as the second coming of the Arab Spring. In this sense, the Military Council can be expected to be under severe external pressure not to give way to the continuing demands of the Sudanese opposition. And this pressure will probably be reinforced by internal concerns by the members of the Military Council that a real civilian government might investigate corruption and criminal charges. On the basis of this analysis, it would seem that the opposition has a long way to go before it can claim victory!
Q3: As you know, Sudan is part of Saudi Arabia’s disastrous military campaign against Yemen. Given that a huge number of the Saudi-led coalition forces fighting in Yemen are Sudanese, what do you think about the effect of developments in Sudan on the protracted war on Yemen?
This is a vital question. It is known that the opposition forces object to the assignment of Sudanese soldiers to fight in Yemen on behalf of the Saudi war policy. What is not known is whether the economic assistance being given to Sudan in this period is conditioned on continued participation in the Saudi war effort, or the issue will be treated as negotiable, and somewhat subordinate to maintaining the continuity of military rule in Sudan. It is possible that the Saudi approach is to insist on the assurance from the Military Council of both continuing present levels of engagement in Yemen and the retention of military rulership in Sudan.
There is growing international pressure based largely on humanitarian grounds to bring the conflict in Yemen to an end. Whether this will be effective is far from clear. In other words, there are multiple uncertainties that bear on the future of Yemen, as well as Sudan. So far the United States seems to have remained removed from these latest developments, neither siding with the military nor the opposition, but this could change if Saudi Arabia and possibly Israel exert pressure on the US government to support and stiffen the anticipated hard-line approach of General al-Burhan.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB, author, co-author or editor of 40 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies, and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).
Tags: Africa, Conflict, Democracy, ICC, International Court of Justice ICJ, Politics, Power, Sudan, UN
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