12 March 2017

Sudanese Version of an Arab Spring?

opinion

By appointing Gen. Bakri Hassan Salih the first formal prime minister in almost three decades, a window of opportunity is opening for a controlled gradual change that will be the first of its kind in the country's history and could pave the way for attaining some of the much missing political stability.

Within only one month President Omar al-Bashir reiterated twice his intentions not to run again for the upcoming presidential elections in 2020. He told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat back on January 26 that he looks forward to enjoy being "former president". Late last month, while visiting the United Arab Emirates he told editors of six Sudanese newspapers, who were accompanying him, that by 2020 he would have ruled the country for 31 years and he is simply "exhausted".

This is not the first time that al-Bashir expresses his desire to retire, but what is significant this time is his reference to the constitutional obstacle that bars him from running for a third time and his need for rest.

And that is why appointing Bakri consolidates the possibility of al-Bashir relinquishing power to his most trusted lieutenant, who is the only one left around out of the 15 officers who became the face of the new Ingaz regime, though there is more to the issue than this longevity.

Back in 2012 President al-Bashir expressed his desire not to run for the upcoming elections three years down the road. Then jockeying to the yet to be vacant presidential seat ensued between the two heavy weights then the First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and the National Congress Party's (NCP) strong man at the time Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie. Both are hard core Islamists, whose commitment to the movement dates back to their schooling days and were principal pillars of the Ingaz regime since its inception. More important they sided with al-Bashir during the showdown that ousted the movement ideologue late Dr. Hassan al-Turabi back in 1999.

Under the banner of infusing new blood in the party both Taha and Nafie were ousted in addition to number of heavy weight ministers to be replaced by new faces hand-picked by al-Bashir himself. That move did not end up in changing the guards only, but more important the nerve center of the decision making has moved from the NCP to the presidency with its clear military background.

The new shift was demonstrated into two significant moves closing down the Iranian cultural centers and more important joining the Gulf coalition in fighting the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, which showed clearly where the decision rests. Al-Bashir was visiting Jeddah then, when he was told of the pending operation in Yemen. He made up his mind to join and called then defense minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein informing him of his decision to send Sudanese troops to Yemen.

The move represents a stark contrast from the position taken by Sudan in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Under the influence of al-Turabi, Sudan adopted a position seen to be sided with Iraq, a position that cost the country dearly.

The Gulf countries who have no love lost for the Islamists welcome their marginalization in Sudan as well, which adds to their pushing them aside in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

With NCP hardly had any role in naming Bakri for the new post and the expected shrinking of its ministerial portfolios to provide a room to accommodate other political forces, NCP and the Islamic Movement behind it is set for more marginalization. Bakri who is not known for his ideological Islamic rhetoric and whose name has not been associated with corruption accusations, is expected to go along the way detaching the long association between the NCP and the state apparatus.

That could be achieved through the state reform that has been entrusted to Bakri for the past two years and has involved a lot of legal and procedural reforms that needs to be implemented to show concrete results. This reform seems to be a prerequisite to make utmost utilization of the country's geostrategic position, which has been highlighted with recent challenges in the political and security scenes in issues related to human trafficking, fighting terrorism and securing borders. Besides, Sudan is emerging as a destination for growing investments particularly in agriculture and animal husbandry for the Gulf states to secure its food needs and political harmony and stability plays a significant role in securing those investments.

Sudan

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