The Islamist Establishment in Sudan vs. The Street

by Brad Phillips

On December 19, 2018, the little-known Sudan Professional Association (SPA) emerged as the organizing force behind a wave of protests and civil disobedience in Sudan.  Hundreds of thousands of courageous Sudanese took to the streets of Khartoum, Omdurman, and elsewhere to press for their rights.

To this day, the demands of “The Street” remain unmet and include:

  • Civilian government. The military must go to the barracks. The job of the military is to defend the constitutional rights of Sudanese under the direction of a civilian-led government.
  • The Establishment must go. The Islamist authoritarian police state which has characterized the last 32 years of Sudan’s history must end, and be replaced by a representative, religiously neutral government.
  • Religious freedom and basic human rights must be respected.
  • Justice must be served on those who perpetrated war crimes, human rights abuses, genocide, and extreme corruption.

In August 2019, after eight months of sustained protest, during which former dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir was removed and a series of brutal crackdowns were perpetrated by the Islamist-controlled military, a “power sharing” agreement and transitional authority known as the Sovereign Council was established.

There were many promises made to address some of the demands from the Street. Sadly, some fundamental flaws in the arrangement were overlooked by Sudan’s stakeholders. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo Hemeti were both high-ranking members of the Islamist National Congress Party regime.

It should also be noted that every ranking Sudan Armed Forces military officer could only acquire such a position after first having demonstrated their strict allegiance to the Islamist Movement.  Gen. al-Burhan, a close relative of Dictator al-Bashir, was the #3 ranking official in the old regime. Hemeti was also a close ally of al-Bashir and the founder of the notorious Janaweed (“Devils on Horseback”—recently re-branded Rapid Support Force). Both men represent a significant power base within the Islamist establishment.

These two men committed war crimes and atrocities together in Darfur, executing the genocidal policies that led to the ICC indictments of al-Bashir and Ahmed Haroun. In fact, all of the military represented within the Sovereign Council are “cut from the same bolt of cloth.” The National Congress Party, although officially banned, has simply been reincarnated as the military Junta now led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

But now with the October 25th Sudan coup and collapse of the Sovereign Council’s power-sharing agreement, “the Street” has struck back.

Sudanese take to the street to protest Islamist rule

October 30th marked the first “million-man march,” organized once again by the SPA.  And, once again, peaceful protests were met by military force, leaving more than 180 persons injured and at least 11 dead. In the days following this mass street protest, many Sudanese remain in the streets. But the military Junta is looking to justify its actions by presenting its own narrative of what happened.

Those who supported the August 2019 power-sharing deal may be excused for their naivete in trusting al-Burhan and others from the NCP regime. But will they make the same mistake and once again fall for the same old tricks.

The US, United Nations, World Bank, European Union, and African Union have joined in a chorus of international condemnation of the Sudan coup, even freezing billions of U.S. dollars in bailout and financial assistance.

Other stakeholders such as the Saudis and Emiratis remain more ambiguous in their reaction, declaring their commitment to support “stability” in Sudan.

General al-Burhan has put out his own narrative.  The arrest of Prime Minister Hamdok and other civilian leaders, the dissolution of the Council of Ministers and Sovereign Council, shutting down the media, the internet and mobile networks, the deploying of military in the streets, and the declaration of the state of emergency were all done “to prevent civil war.”

P.M. Hamdok, according to al-Burhan, is being kept safely under his personal protection. He is held at his home, along with his wife, “for his own protection.”  General al-Burhan claims the civilians were so divisive, they were leading Sudan to war. Now, if the stakeholders will allow it, al-Burhan has pledged to support democratic elections… in 2023. In the meantime, he plans to establish a “technocratic” Prime Minister and Cabinet. In this Cabinet, he will include some “cooperative and non-partisan” members of the Civilian component—perhaps even Hamdok himself.

This is al-Burhan’s story. To me, and hopefully most of the readers of these lines, al-Burhan’s narrative is ridiculous. But this tactic has worked well for al-Burhan for the past two years. He learned well from his teacher Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Simply deny responsibility for war crimes and atrocities, scapegoat and blame others, shuffle the Cabinet decks, absorb and neutralize members of the opposition, promise future justice, and use terror and force as necessary to silence all dissent. These tactics will hold power indefinitely and “stabilize” Sudan for its stakeholders.

The Saudi’s and Emiratis have been unwavering in their support for Sudan’s Islamist establishment. They backed al-Bashir up until his removal. They then quickly pivoted and offered their support to al-Burhan and Hemeti.

But will Sudan’s Islamist establishment and their backers convince the USA and other stakeholders to fall for the same ruse again? Will they convince us to unlock billions of U.S. dollars in bailout funds to revive their failed kleptocratic state and cover their genocidal crimes?

In the coming days, I expect these Islamists will argue to put the old deal back together, offering a new and improved power-sharing arrangement—perhaps with more “cooperative ” civilians. 

Will we be fooled again, and partner with the old establishment, which has not only terrorized its own people, but has also been the world’s number one factory of “political Islam?”

I believe we would do well to remember the words of the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, who warned us that the NCP regime (and I would add their remnants in Sudan’s Islamist military junta) is “too deformed to be reformed.”

This time we have no excuse.

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