Faced with unceasing protests, Sudanese government attempts conciliatory approach

The regime of Omar al-Bashir has on the one hand made noises about releasing some protesters. It is also trying to effect a compromise with rebels. However, all sections of the opposition are firm in their demand that the Sudanese president step down

January 30, 2019 by Pavan Kulkarni
Over 40 people are believed to have been killed by security forces since the beginning of the protests in Sudan on December 19. Photo: Middle East Monitor

After over a month of unrelenting anti-government protests in Sudan, the regime of Omar al-Bashir now appears to be taking a more conciliatory approach in a bid to hold on to power. The agitation, which began on December 19, has only intensified with every attempt at repression, with the protesters standing firm in their demand that al-Bashir, who captured power through a military coup 30 years ago, step down.

On January 29, the director of the notorious National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), Salah Abdalla Gosh, issued a statement through the information ministry that all the detained protesters will be released. Gosh is also said to have met some of the detainees and promised to resolve some of their issues in the coming days.

However, Sudan Tribune reported that this does not include those protesters affiliated with the political parties in the opposition. Further, the actual number of protesters released is only 186, while it is estimated that around 1,000 protesters have been detained since December 19, and over 40 killed by the security forces.

Listing a number of its members who are still held in detention, the central information office of the Sudanese Communist Party said in a statement referring to the announcement, “This false bubble, whatever its purpose, does not discourage the masses of our people from their intention to overthrow the regime.”

Soon after the protests started, president Bashir justified the brutality employed by his regime in dealing with the protesting students, doctors and professionals, by claiming that they were affiliated with the rebel forces engaged in armed struggle against the government.

However, one day before announcement of release of detainees, Bashir, on January 28, sought to buy peace with the very same rebel forces by declaring an open-ended unilateral ceasefire until the political situation is stabilized.

Bashir’s regime has been engaged in a civil war with rebel groups in the Darfur region since 2003. For orchestrating a campaign of mass killings, rape and loot of civilians in Darfur in the course of this war, Bashir was convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which issued an arrest warrant against him in 2009.

In 2011, another campaign of atrocities began as the government launched a military campaign against Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/North (SPLM-N) rebels in the regions of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, known as the ‘Two Areas’.

The violence against the rebels in these affected regions has also carried over to urban centers, where protesting university students have been accused of having links with them. However, on January 28, Bashir said that the rebels “are our brothers and they belong to us and we want them to return and live among us in order to build this country.”

Addressing a gathering in the capital of South Kordofan State, Kadougli, Bashir expressed his hope that the next meeting, after achieving peace with the the rebel forces, would be in Kauda, which is an SPML-N stronghold.

Rebels support protesters

The rebel forces have not yet responded to this opportunistic maneuver by Bashir to seek peace with them rebels until he diffuses the civilian uprising. However, on the very same day that Bashir announced the ceasefire, the rebels expressed solidarity with protesters.

The Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) – an umbrella organization bringing together all the rebel forces fighting the government – called on the president to step down unconditionally. Urging the national armed forces to take the side of the protesters, the SRF, in a statement, called upon “the national army to protect the revolution and its gains and to facilitate the smooth transition of power.”

The front has also called upon organizations spearheading the demonstrations to work out the details of the program and the timeline for the transitional government, which, the protesters hope, will replace the current government after the fall of Bashir’s regime, and run the country for four years before calling for an election.

Further, by urging the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) and other unions and parties heading the protests to turn the Declaration of Freedom and Change they had signed on January 1 into a political charter, the SRF seems to have implied that it will be recognizing as legitimate the transitional government envisioned in the declaration.

This declaration insisted on immediate “withdrawal of Bashir and his regime from the rule of the country” and the “formation of a national transitional government.. by the consensus of all factions of the Sudanese people to govern for four years.” Among the primary tasks set before this new government was bringing an end to the war in Darfur and the Two Areas and addressing “its effects, including the voluntary return of refugees and displaced persons to their places of origin.”

Apart from taking measures to relieve the economic burden suffered by the Sudanese people, the envisioned transitional government, according to this document, must be tasked with prosecution of those security personnel guilty of killing civilians, and with “[e]stablishment of a comprehensive constitutional conference to resolve all national issues and the formation of the National Committee of the Constitution.”

Two days before the SRF gave the call to prepare a political charter, the leading opposition figure, Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, who heads the centrist National Umma Party and the Sudan Call coalition, said the drafting of the “Freedom and Change Charter” has been completed, with the details of the program before the transitional government and the timeline for its implementation elaborated. The charter will soon be presented before other opposition parties, civil society groups and unions to arrive at consensus.

The coalition crumbles

In the meantime, the Federal Umma Party (FUP), which, for a decade, has been in the government as a coalition partner of the ruling National Congress Party headed by Bashir – announced its withdrawal from the government. The FUP is a splinter of the National Umma Party.

This would mean a significant blow to the government whose minister of culture is from FUP. However, this minister, Omer Suleiman, has been removed from the party for refusing to abide by the decision of withdrawing support. Discounting Suleiman’s ministry, a total of three ministries in the Darfur region, eight seats in the lower house of the parliament and one seat in the upper house, apart from the many more in a number of State legislatures, are held by FUP members.

FUP is the third ruling partner to have withdrawn from the ruling coalition as the demonstrators in the streets of Sudan are increasingly making it clear that the fall of Bashir’s regime is inevitable.