On November 22, 2012, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) announced that it had successfully foiled a coup, and arrested several high-ranking army officers accused of plotting the takeover. Former NISS head, Salah Gosh, was also arrested.

The governing National Congress Party (NCP) has been known to concoct charges of sabotage and assassination to justify the arrest and neutralization of political opponents. However, since all the detained individuals are prominent Islamists and members of the ruling regime, the logic behind these recent events is not as clear-cut.

Most theories center around a power struggle for succession triggered by Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir’s ailing health. This past August, in Doha, the President had a benign tumor removed from his throat. A second operation was carried out in Saudi Arabia in November, fueling rumors the tumor may in fact be malignant.

According to one theory, key civilian elements in the regime ordered the arrests as a preemptive measure to weaken would-be military successors, such as Brigadier General Mohamed Ibrahim Abdel-Galil “Wad Ibrahim” who is popular within both the army and the Islamic Movement (IM).[1]

Others believe that allegations about coup members planning acts of sabotage and assassinations were fabricated, but that the coup itself – in planning rather than implementation – was real.

This philosophy is inherent in the writings of “Al-Sae’ohoon”, a group of former “Mujahideen”[2] that have recently become more vocal and present themselves as NCP reformists. There are strong links between Al-Sae’ohoon’s official statement about the coup and an article written by prominent London-based Sudanese Islamist Abdelwahab Al-Affendi, titled, “The army sides with the people (in advance)”.

Both Al-Sae’ohoon and Al-Affendi suggest that the takeover would have been widely supported and within the army officers’ rights to save the nation by overthrowing the failing regime. Salah Gosh, a polarizing individual hated and mistrusted by many Sudanese, was arrested, they claim, in order to tarnish the officers’ reputations and turn the NCP and public opinion against them.

Roots of the Coup

Tensions within the ruling clique had been brewing for some time, and have escalated considerably since the secession of South Sudan.  The Islamist dominated army has been dismayed by a series of military setbacks, most notably in the border oilfield area of Heglig. Following a brief conflict with South Sudan, the government was much maligned for its acceptance of an African Union resolution, which was perceived by several government hardliners as biased toward South Sudan.

Increasingly close relations between Iran and Sudan have been another source of contention. Foreign Minister, Ali Karti, has been vociferously critical of this relationship. Sudan’s growing relations with the Islamic Republic likely motivated an October air strike on the Yarmouk arms factory, widely believed to have been orchestrated by Israel. Karti has also publically warned against the impact of budding relations with Iran on Sudan’s strategic ties with the Gulf.

Internal government dissension has been building over corruption, nepotism and generally undemocratic behavior among the NCP leadership. The 8th General Conference of the Islamic Movement, held on November 16-17, 2012 and attended by an estimated 4000 Sudanese Islamists and 150 foreign visitors, fueled additional resentment.

Many hoped the conference would be an opportunity for internal reform. A number of participants called for the election of members unaffiliated with the government to lead the IM and NCP in order to loosen the regime’s hold on the IM. Instead, through several electoral and constitutional amendments, the government’s hold over the organization was further deepened at the conference. The Movement’s new secretary-general was appointed by the government-dominated Shura council rather than through election by conference participants. A Supreme Council, consisting of top-level government officials and led by President Omer al-Bashir and his deputies, was also established.

The Coup’s Aftermath

Some argue that the warring NCP should be allowed to implode from within. This approach is, however, a risky one as any intra-NCP confrontation would add further instability to a nation teetering on collapse.

Without any doubt, internal upheaval would cause Sudan to deteriorate at a faster pace. Moreover, so-called Islamic Movement “reformists” and members of Bashir’s ruling coalition represent two sides of the same coin – while the faces may be different, the politics remain the same.

This extends to the regime’s original puppet master, the ousted Hassan Al-Turabi, and his opposition group, the Popular Congress Party (PCP). Far from being concerned about Sudan’s plight, Al-Sae’ohoon, Al-Turabi, Gosh and others are disillusioned over what they see as a softening of the regime’s Islamic principles. They are angered by concessions made by the government, both in its implementation of Shari’a as well as in its negotiation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which culminated in the secession of South Sudan. While they have been vocal in their concerns over corruption – specifically, the largess of the regime leadership and its monopolization of power and wealth – the marginalization they oppose is their own, and not that of the Sudanese people.

Sudan is in critical need of tangible democratic change. Achieving this is not simply a matter of exchanging one dictator for another, but rather requires overhauling the entire governing system. Anything less than this cannot be contemplated.

The only scenario in which change can or should incorporate internal regime elements must involve the opposition, the youth, and civil society in a meaningful way to ensure a managed, stable, and inclusive transition of power. This, in turn, can only transpire through popular mobilization.

The Resumption of #SudanRevolts

Protests in Sudan, which tailed off last August, have re-emerged. The latest wave started on Saturday December 8, 2012, ignited by the NISS murder of four students from Darfur in the Sudanese state of Gezira.

The students had been arrested for protesting against tuition fees imposed upon them by Gezira University, to which they were exempt per the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. Their bodies were discovered in a canal on Friday, December 7, 2012.

These killing were by no means new to this regime; marginalized groups are systematically targeted and impoverished by the NCP, leading some to respond by taking up arms. This, in turn, has abetted the racial brainwashing of many average Sudanese, who have become programmed to fear these groups and condone the pillaging and bombing of whole villages in places like Darfur and the Nuba Mountains.

Those killed in Gezira were unarmed students two-weeks into university life, striving merely to obtain an education. While much work still needs to be done, chants of “one nation, one land,” “death of a student is the death of a nation” and “no tribes, no ethnicities, 100% Sudanese” heard over the last few days offer hope that the imbedded racism in Sudan can be reversed.

While the protests (whether those that started in June 2012 or in December) were sparked by specific incidents, their overriding message has been for the fall of the regime. Though challenges to a successful revolution endure, the regime’s many difficulties have also significantly increased.

Collaboration agreements[3] signed in September 2012 with South Sudan have yet to be implemented and hang in the balance due to deadlock over border and security arrangements. As a result, Sudan has not been able to build into its 2013 budget revenue from oil transit fees, as agreed to in the Agreement Concerning Oil and Related Economic Matters.

The 2013 budget has projected a deficit of 10 billion Sudanese pounds (US$2.3 billion). Meanwhile, Sudan’s central bank is two months’ away from foreign currency reserve depletion. Debts associated with ongoing wars in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile continue to mount.

Against this backdrop of military, economic and political failures the internal NCP organ has developed its own melanoma, indicative of a malfunctioning regime. As one blogger put it, “If #SudanRevolts once again re-ignites to June’s levels, it’s going to be a bigger challenge to Bashir and his weaker, divided government.”

Conclusion

Rather than gamble on regime discord, #SudanRevolts must seize upon it and dictate change. The alternative, be it a continuation of the present regime, its reincarnation around any one NCP faction, or a stand-off between the factions, would lead (at varying paces) not only to the NCP’s self-inflicted disintegration but to the inevitable collapse of Sudan itself. The ultimate success of the country’s nascent protest movement remains the only hope for national survival.


[1] The Islamic Movement (IM) was created by Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), following the 1999 schism with its former leader Hassan Al-Turabi and his supporters who formed the Popular Congress Party (PCP). The IM was created as a parallel organization to generate a broader political base to support the Islamist orientation of the NCP regime and rally Sufi and radical Islamist groups under its umbrella, while excluding the PCP.

[2] The Mujahideen are hard-line Islamists that formed the core of special forces fighting South Sudan rebels during the civil war after president Omar al-Bashir came to power in 1989 in a military coup backed by the then National Islamist Front (NIF).

[3] The “Collaboration Agreements” are a series of arrangements reached on 27 September 2012 between the Governments of the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan and include: the Agreement on Security Arrangements, the Framework Agreement on the Status of Nationals of the Other State, the Agreement on Border Issues, the Agreement on Trade and Trade-related Issues, the Agreement on a Framework for Cooperation on Central Banking Issues, the Framework Agreement to Facilitate Payment of Post-service Benefits, the Agreement on Certain Economic Matters, Division of Assets and Liabilities, Arrears and Claims and Joint Approach to the International Community, the Agreement Concerning Oil and Related Economic Matters, and the overall Cooperation Agreement.