President Omar al-Bashir Overthrown in Coup

Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, in 2009.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who took power in 1989, has been ousted after months of protests against his rule.

On April 11, the Sudanese Minister of Defense, Awad Ibn Auf, announced on state TV that President Bashir has been ejected from power and placed under arrest. Ibn Auf stated, “I announce as minister of defense the toppling of the regime and detaining its chief in a secure place.” He added that Sudan had been suffering from “poor management, corruption, and an absence of justice,” BBC News reported.

The National Intelligence and Security Service, Sudan’s intelligence agency, has reportedly freed political prisoners, including key figures from the protest movement, over the last few months.

One day before President Bashir’s ouster, the U.S., U.K., and Norway released a trilateral statement saying that demonstrations against President Bashir’s rule had “reached a new level of intensity and popular support on 6 April,” when a sit-in began in front of the Sudanese Defense Ministry. The three countries called on the government to release detainees and cease violence against activists, and urged “a credible political dialogue in a conducive environment with all key Sudanese actors that has as its basis the goal of a political and economic transition to a new type of Sudan.”

In recent days, following pressure from activists, the military had come out in defense of protesters who have been demonstrating against Bashir’s rule since late last year. The Army had called for a peaceful resolution to the protests, in contrast to reports of government security forces firing on crowds. Amnesty International reported on Tuesday that a number of people had been killed as government forces cracked down.

Viral footage on social media purported to show some soldiers exchanging gunfire to protect civilians. Several soldiers have been reported killed in the clashes.

France24 reported earlier in the week that the protest movement had begun to call on the Army to intervene directly. Crowds chanted, “When the Army is here, we have no fear.” Activist Omar el-Digeir, of the Sudanese Association of Professionals (SPA), said on Tuesday, “We reiterate our people’s demand that the head of the regime and his government have to immediately step down. We also call on the Sudanese armed forces to withdraw their support for a regime that has lost its legitimacy.”

However, the SPA rejected the coup, saying, “[I]t is not acceptable to address the current [political] crisis with yet another military coup that reproduces and further complicates the same crisis…there is no other alternative but to hand over power to a national civil transitional government.” The organization, one of the key actors in the protest movement, aims to push for continued demonstrations.

With President Bashir now under arrest, the Army has enacted a three-month state of emergency. The Constitution is suspended and martial law is in place, with a night curfew from 10 pm to 4 am. The Army is to remain in control of the country for a two-year transitional period that will be followed by elections.

The protests initially began by targeting the poor living conditions in Sudan, taking aim especially at high food and energy prices. The protesters subsequently began calling for a transition from President Bashir’s rule to a more open political system, free from not only his command but also the influence of his political network, especially in the security forces.

The country regularly scores toward the bottom in human development, and President Bashir stifled dissent against his government. According to the International Monetary Fund, the economy contracted in 2018 and is expected to do so again in 2019. Pervasive corruption in the country – as well as the fact that President Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur – has ensured limited interest among international investors.

Economic reform has been limited and the national budget is often not investing in key sectors. Under President Bashir’s rule, Sudan had heavily focused on military and security spending, often at the expense of other social development items, such as health and education. His government had prioritized developing the domestic defense industry as well as importing military hardware from abroad, typically turning to Russia and China for imports, given Western embargoes. In 2016, the country acquired Mi-24P attack helicopters from Russia. Last year, it received FTC-2000 jet trainers from China.

President Bashir once stated, “I say that if 100 percent of the state’s budget was allocated to the Army to secure the country then that is still not enough.” It was ultimately the Army that was the key element in ending his rule, propelled onward by thousands of Sudanese outraged at the years of state neglect.

Given the lengthy amount of time for the transition – and activists’ suspicion about the continuation of authoritarian rule – the protests may well continue even after the change in government. The protests aimed to open the political space and can be expected to proceed to hold the Army to that standard.

About Derek Bisaccio

Military markets analyst, covering Eurasia, Middle East, and Africa.

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