Sudan: Former Bashir Adviser is the Face of Protests

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
20 January 2019

Former presidential adviser Ghazi Salah al-Din is emerging as the leader of the movement seeking to remove Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from power.

Mr Din, who was a prominent member of the think tank that engineered the 1989 coup that brought President Bashir to power, is leading the Reform Now Movement (RNM), whose membership wants the Sudanese leader, who has been in power for about 30 years, to leave.

The RNM was part of the national dialogue that led to a government of national unity in 2017, but has now joined 22 other groups to withdraw from the government. The groups are calling for President Bashir to hand over power peacefully.

Mr Din, who was sacked in 2012, has joined hands with the Popular Congress -- a breakaway group from the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) that was founded by the late Hassan al-Turabi -- the Communist Party, and a host of professionals and civil society to push for civil disobedience.

'COLLAPSING ECONOMY'

The government responded by arresting Mr Din's close aide Mahmoud al-Jamel as the protests, which started last December over the high prices of essential commodities such as fuel and bread, have now spread to Darfur in the west, and to the north.

Sudan is facing a collapsing economy, ongoing armed conflicts between the regime and armed movements in the Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, endemic corruption, and a power struggle within the regime.

Jervasio Okot, a member of the South Sudan civil society who is conversant with Sudan issues, said political tension has been building since August last year, when the NCP decided to change its constitution to allow President Bashir to run for a third term.

The current protests have their roots in the January 2018 budget announcement that allotted 75 per cent of the country's funds to the regime's security apparatus and militias.

'STEP DOWN'

On January 2, the Sudan Call, the Sudanese Professional Association, and the opposition groups -- including the National Consensus Alliance -- and the Unionists, asked President Bashir to step down or they would organise to press for the removal of his regime.

The movement proposes that the transitional government lead the country for four years. During the transitional period, the technocrat government would hold a constitutional conference after negotiating peace agreements, including security arrangements with the armed groups.

But the NCP has accused the opposition of taking advantage of the current economic difficulties to incite the military to take power. Sudanese security forces have been arresting leading members of the opposition groups, while others have gone underground.

DOZENS KILLED

More than 40 people have already been killed in the protests, which the opposition says has spread to six other towns -- al-Qadarif, Atbara, Port Sudan, al-Dueim, Omdurman and Al-Ubayyid.

The Troika -- the US, UK and Norway -- has issued a warning that if Sudan does not release political detainees and rights activists arrested during the recent protests, it would impact their future relations with Khartoum.

There is no indication that there will be big changes as a result of these protests, and the opposition is hoping that President Bashir resigns or is removed by the army.

Experts on Sudan say that despite Sudanese demands for reform, disorderly change would have a serious impact on the country as well as on regional peace and security.

Dr Ahmed Adam, a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies at University of London, says that two scenarios are likely to emerge in Sudan: Either swift and meaningful change, or descent into chaos and disintegration.

"Without meaningful domestic, regional and international efforts to facilitate a credible, all-inclusive conference that leads to a fresh political transition, Sudan could move towards a tipping point," he said.

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