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Sudan's Crisis Explained: Dictatorship, Coups & Attempts at Democracy

The latest coup's origins are complicated, with disagreements on power-sharing following a dictator's overthrow.

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Edited By :Saundarya Talwar

Sudan is back in the news after reports emerged on Monday, 25 October, of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok being placed under house arrest by the Sudanese military, who carried him off to an undisclosed location.

The military also arrested several members of the cabinet, as internet services crashed and Sudan’s top military official, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, declared a state of emergency in the country.

Pro-democracy groups took to the streets and seven have died so far in clashes between protestors and soldiers.

The US, Germany, France, and other countries expressed concern and condemnation about the military’s takeover and urged for the release of Hamdok, The Hindu reported.

This was not the first coup attempt in Sudan in the very recent past. Only a month ago, soldiers of the Sudanese military allegedly loyal to the former dictator Omar al-Bashir who was ousted in 2019, organised a failed coup d'état in a bid to overthrow the Sovereign Council of Sudan.

Clearly, Monday’s coup is rooted in a complicated past. In this explainer, we break down that past for you.

Who is Omar al-Bashir, the former Sudanese president who ruled for 30 years and what led to his defeat? How did the Sudanese government look like after his fall? What catalysed the failed September coup and the October coup that seems successful for now?

Sudan's Crisis Explained: Dictatorship, Coups & Attempts at Democracy

  1. 1. The Authoritarian Rule of Omar al-Bashir

    Let's rewind to June 1989, when al-Bashir, as colonel, led the military in a bloodless military coup to overthrow then Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, who had become increasingly unpopular due to his inability to fix a crashing economy and to end the Second Sudanese Civil War.

    After seizing control of the government, al-Bashir became Sudan’s dictator for the next 30 years.

    He appointed himself as president in 1993, banned all rival parties and consolidated full control over legislative and executive processes within Sudan’s central administration.

    He also Islamised Sudanese society and was repeatedly accused of sheltering and financing Islamic terror organisations, leading Sudan to be placed on the US list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism.”

    Multi-party elections weren’t even held until 2010. For the first two decades of his rule, al-Bashir de facto ran for president uncontested.

    In 2005, the civil war ended, and a power-sharing arrangement was agreed upon by Sudan People's Liberation Movement or the SPLM (which would later go on to become the ruling party in the country of South Sudan after it seceded in 2011) and al-Bashir’s party – the National Congress Party.

    By the time he started contesting elections, al-Bashir was not a popular leader.

    Under his tenure, in an attempt to control the fall of the economy, subsidies in essential commodities had been removed, while food and energy prices had surged, The New York Times reported.

    al-Bashir was also accused of genocide and heinous human rights violations against the non-Arab population in Darfur during what is now known as the Darfur war.

    He was indicted for the same by the International Criminal Court in 2009.

    It was, however, his failure to rectify the economy and his brutal response to civilian protests the eventually led to his downfall.

    Expand
  2. 2. Al-Bashir’s Fall

    On 19 December 2018, protests erupted in several cities in Sudan due to high costs prevalent all over Sudanese society and the worsening of economic and financial conditions, Reuters reported.

    The demonstrations escalated as the demands of the protestors upgraded to Omar al-Bashir’s resignation as president.

    The protestors, all from different blocks of society, came together under the banner of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

    Some of the organisations in the FFC included Sudanese Professionals Association, No to Oppression against Women Initiative, and the Sudan Revolutionary Front among many others.

    al-Bashir tried to strike back using his army, but he was quite unpopular among the soldiers as well, who often sided with protestors during their demonstrations.

    On 11 April 2019, Omar al-Bashir was ousted by the Sudanese Armed Forces and placed under house arrest.

    Sudan was now under military rule led by a council of generals.

    Expand
  3. 3. The Post al-Bashir Era

    By 13 April 2019, talks began between the protestors and the Transitional Military Council (TMC), the military junta that was established after al-Bashir’s deposition.

    The April talks reached a point where the TMC agreed to have a transitional government in which there would be a civilian prime ministers and civilian leadership of all government departments except defence and interior.

    Protests, however, continued because the people, led by the FFC demanded complete freedom from military rule, leading to heightening of tensions.

    These tensions culminated into the Khartoum massacre on 3 June in which the paramilitary forces of the TMC, led by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), fired on peaceful protestors in Khartoum, murdering more than 100.

    In response to the massacre, non-violent resistance (some call it a civil disobedience movement) began on the streets with nationwide strikes, the Washington Post reported.

    By July, the FFC protestors and the TMC finally came to a verbal and then a written agreement on the creation and role of government institutions for the future of Sudan.

    Expand
  4. 4. Divisions Within the New Regime

    The FFC and the TMC arrived at power-sharing arrangements to form a collective head of state in Sudan called the Sovereign Council of Sudan (SCS), which would last for 39 months starting on 20 August 2019.

    The rules of the arrangement also said that for the first 21 months of the 39-month tenure of the SCS, the chair of the SCS will be selected by the military, and then for the next 18 months, the chair will be chosen by the civilian leadership, according to BBC.

    Elections would be held after the expiry of the agreed period of power-sharing.

    The composition of the SCS, according to the agreement, would be 5+5+1, that is, five civilian members and five military members, and one member whose participation would be agreed to by both sides.

    The prime minister, who will be nominated by the FFC and the larger pro-democracy movement, shall head the cabinet, except those ministers who lead the defence and interior departments. They shall be nominated by the military.

    The civilian-military government marked the first time since the 1989 coup d'état that Sudan was not governed solely by a military dictatorship.

    The Hamdok government agreed on various progressive reforms like revoking any law that restricted the rights of women to study or dress however they want.

    It even criminalised the practice of Female Genital Mutilation.

    However, it failed to turn around a faltering economy. Various policies of the Hamdok administration were subject to intense criticism, like “the removal of fuel subsidies, the increase in electricity fees, and the rising expenditure on security forces and government agencies”, according to the economist Mohamed Sheikhoun, reported by an independent Sudanese newspaper called Dabanga.

    But the disagreements within the Sovereign Council were not about the economy, but about the structure of the Sudanese military and regarding the military’s war crimes during the Darfur war.

    With respect to the latter, the International Criminal Court (ICC) wants al-Bashir and other members of his administration on trial for human rights atrocities in Darfur 2003 onwards.

    The civilian faction of the government is cooperating with the ICC. Both signed an agreement in August 2021 to move forwards the cases against the accused, including the former President, Associated Press reported.

    The military doesn’t like this, because of al-Bashir is put on trial, then many members of the military themselves will be exposed and charged with crimes against humanity.

    Therefore, while the cabinet has approved of turning in suspects to the ICC, the SCS, which has 5/11 military appointed nominees, has not.

    A similar source of tension is the investigation related to the Khartoum Massacre of June 2019, which is also portraying the military as rapists and murderers.

    In fact, the head of the investigative commission, Nabil Abid, had himself stated to Newsline Magazine on 4 May 2021 that “the result could lead to a coup d'état or to mass unrest in the streets.”

    Expand
  5. 5. The Failed Coup and the Current Coup

    Abid’s words turned out to be prophetic.

    On 21 September, Sudan’s government announced that it had foiled a coup attempt by forces that were still loyal to al-Bashir, based on the statements made by interior minister Hamza Balul.

    The perpetrators allegedly tried to take control of a state media house but failed. Instances of gunfire near a military base was also reported.

    Forty soldiers were arrested as Prime Minister Hamdok insisted that the failed coup was “an extension of the attempts by remnants since the fall of the former regime to abort the civilian democratic transition”, Reuters reported.

    The September attempts weren’t the last. The coup on 25 October led to Hamdok’s arrest and sparked protests, which were justified by the top general as a step necessary to provide stability to Sudan and to protect the revolution.

    The coup will have major consequences. Sudan had been recently removed from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and the US had even promised financial support to the transitional government, according to a Reuters report.

    Even the International Monetary Fund and the Hamdok government had agreed to a $50 billion debt-relief settlement.

    All that has been put in jeopardy by a military force that is simply not ready to give the civilian government a proper chance to rule.

    Sudan has now been plunged back into chaos, with paramilitary forces patrolling the streets of Khartoum and protestors being attacked.

    And the fate of al-Bashir, who was quite close to being prosecuted by the ICC for his alleged crimes against humanity, remains unknown.

    (With inputs from Reuters, the New York Times, the Washington Post, BBC, the Associated Press, Dabanga, and Newsline Magazine)

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

The Authoritarian Rule of Omar al-Bashir

Let's rewind to June 1989, when al-Bashir, as colonel, led the military in a bloodless military coup to overthrow then Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, who had become increasingly unpopular due to his inability to fix a crashing economy and to end the Second Sudanese Civil War.

After seizing control of the government, al-Bashir became Sudan’s dictator for the next 30 years.

He appointed himself as president in 1993, banned all rival parties and consolidated full control over legislative and executive processes within Sudan’s central administration.

He also Islamised Sudanese society and was repeatedly accused of sheltering and financing Islamic terror organisations, leading Sudan to be placed on the US list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism.”

Multi-party elections weren’t even held until 2010. For the first two decades of his rule, al-Bashir de facto ran for president uncontested.

In 2005, the civil war ended, and a power-sharing arrangement was agreed upon by Sudan People's Liberation Movement or the SPLM (which would later go on to become the ruling party in the country of South Sudan after it seceded in 2011) and al-Bashir’s party – the National Congress Party.

By the time he started contesting elections, al-Bashir was not a popular leader.

Under his tenure, in an attempt to control the fall of the economy, subsidies in essential commodities had been removed, while food and energy prices had surged, The New York Times reported.

al-Bashir was also accused of genocide and heinous human rights violations against the non-Arab population in Darfur during what is now known as the Darfur war.

He was indicted for the same by the International Criminal Court in 2009.

It was, however, his failure to rectify the economy and his brutal response to civilian protests the eventually led to his downfall.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Al-Bashir’s Fall

On 19 December 2018, protests erupted in several cities in Sudan due to high costs prevalent all over Sudanese society and the worsening of economic and financial conditions, Reuters reported.

The demonstrations escalated as the demands of the protestors upgraded to Omar al-Bashir’s resignation as president.

The protestors, all from different blocks of society, came together under the banner of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

Some of the organisations in the FFC included Sudanese Professionals Association, No to Oppression against Women Initiative, and the Sudan Revolutionary Front among many others.

al-Bashir tried to strike back using his army, but he was quite unpopular among the soldiers as well, who often sided with protestors during their demonstrations.

On 11 April 2019, Omar al-Bashir was ousted by the Sudanese Armed Forces and placed under house arrest.

Sudan was now under military rule led by a council of generals.

The Post al-Bashir Era

By 13 April 2019, talks began between the protestors and the Transitional Military Council (TMC), the military junta that was established after al-Bashir’s deposition.

The April talks reached a point where the TMC agreed to have a transitional government in which there would be a civilian prime ministers and civilian leadership of all government departments except defence and interior.

Protests, however, continued because the people, led by the FFC demanded complete freedom from military rule, leading to heightening of tensions.

These tensions culminated into the Khartoum massacre on 3 June in which the paramilitary forces of the TMC, led by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), fired on peaceful protestors in Khartoum, murdering more than 100.

In response to the massacre, non-violent resistance (some call it a civil disobedience movement) began on the streets with nationwide strikes, the Washington Post reported.

By July, the FFC protestors and the TMC finally came to a verbal and then a written agreement on the creation and role of government institutions for the future of Sudan.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Divisions Within the New Regime

The FFC and the TMC arrived at power-sharing arrangements to form a collective head of state in Sudan called the Sovereign Council of Sudan (SCS), which would last for 39 months starting on 20 August 2019.

The rules of the arrangement also said that for the first 21 months of the 39-month tenure of the SCS, the chair of the SCS will be selected by the military, and then for the next 18 months, the chair will be chosen by the civilian leadership, according to BBC.

Elections would be held after the expiry of the agreed period of power-sharing.

The composition of the SCS, according to the agreement, would be 5+5+1, that is, five civilian members and five military members, and one member whose participation would be agreed to by both sides.

The prime minister, who will be nominated by the FFC and the larger pro-democracy movement, shall head the cabinet, except those ministers who lead the defence and interior departments. They shall be nominated by the military.

The civilian-military government marked the first time since the 1989 coup d'état that Sudan was not governed solely by a military dictatorship.

The Hamdok government agreed on various progressive reforms like revoking any law that restricted the rights of women to study or dress however they want.

It even criminalised the practice of Female Genital Mutilation.

However, it failed to turn around a faltering economy. Various policies of the Hamdok administration were subject to intense criticism, like “the removal of fuel subsidies, the increase in electricity fees, and the rising expenditure on security forces and government agencies”, according to the economist Mohamed Sheikhoun, reported by an independent Sudanese newspaper called Dabanga.

But the disagreements within the Sovereign Council were not about the economy, but about the structure of the Sudanese military and regarding the military’s war crimes during the Darfur war.

With respect to the latter, the International Criminal Court (ICC) wants al-Bashir and other members of his administration on trial for human rights atrocities in Darfur 2003 onwards.

The civilian faction of the government is cooperating with the ICC. Both signed an agreement in August 2021 to move forwards the cases against the accused, including the former President, Associated Press reported.

The military doesn’t like this, because of al-Bashir is put on trial, then many members of the military themselves will be exposed and charged with crimes against humanity.

Therefore, while the cabinet has approved of turning in suspects to the ICC, the SCS, which has 5/11 military appointed nominees, has not.

A similar source of tension is the investigation related to the Khartoum Massacre of June 2019, which is also portraying the military as rapists and murderers.

In fact, the head of the investigative commission, Nabil Abid, had himself stated to Newsline Magazine on 4 May 2021 that “the result could lead to a coup d'état or to mass unrest in the streets.”

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

The Failed Coup and the Current Coup

Abid’s words turned out to be prophetic.

On 21 September, Sudan’s government announced that it had foiled a coup attempt by forces that were still loyal to al-Bashir, based on the statements made by interior minister Hamza Balul.

The perpetrators allegedly tried to take control of a state media house but failed. Instances of gunfire near a military base was also reported.

Forty soldiers were arrested as Prime Minister Hamdok insisted that the failed coup was “an extension of the attempts by remnants since the fall of the former regime to abort the civilian democratic transition”, Reuters reported.

The September attempts weren’t the last. The coup on 25 October led to Hamdok’s arrest and sparked protests, which were justified by the top general as a step necessary to provide stability to Sudan and to protect the revolution.

The coup will have major consequences. Sudan had been recently removed from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and the US had even promised financial support to the transitional government, according to a Reuters report.

Even the International Monetary Fund and the Hamdok government had agreed to a $50 billion debt-relief settlement.

All that has been put in jeopardy by a military force that is simply not ready to give the civilian government a proper chance to rule.

Sudan has now been plunged back into chaos, with paramilitary forces patrolling the streets of Khartoum and protestors being attacked.

And the fate of al-Bashir, who was quite close to being prosecuted by the ICC for his alleged crimes against humanity, remains unknown.

(With inputs from Reuters, the New York Times, the Washington Post, BBC, the Associated Press, Dabanga, and Newsline Magazine)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Edited By :Saundarya Talwar
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