On April 17, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudanese president who had come to power in a coup de’tat and dictated over the Sudanese people for 30 years, was ousted by large-scale mass protests aided by a military coup. The ongoing peaceful “revolution” in Sudan, while resulting in a regime change, does not specify what kind of regime will assume the reins of the state.
Sudanese Defence Minister and Army Chief General Ahmed Awad ibn Auf released a public statement saying that Bashir has been removed and placed under house arrest.
A Military Council will exercise power for two years after which elections will be held, political prisoners will be immediately released, and a state of emergency will be imposed, according to the statement.
The revolution that was
Bashir’s regime that had led the vast nation to isolation, diplomatic sanctions, famine and war, finally came to an end after three decades. But the journey has not been so easy.
The recent toppling of the Algerian dictator Abdel Aziz Bouteflika, after peaceful protests failed to yield results, seems to have encouraged a copycat uprising by the Sudanese people. It all began on December 19, 2018, when protests broke out in Atbara some 400 km north of Khartoum, snowballing into a nationwide demonstration against the government.
By the end, the nerve centre of the rebellion was the military headquarters in central Khartoum, reportedly the most dangerous place in Sudan’s capital, where thousands of protesters had been raising slogans and agitating for Bashir’s ouster for months.
They crossed the headquarters of the feared National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS); dozens died at the hands of the security forces as public protests intensified and demonstrators gheraoed the Defence Ministry. This was the beginning of the end to Sudan’s 14-week uprising.
A protestor describes security forces roaming the area firing tear gas indiscriminately and arresting people at random. Trucks from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a ruthless militia that has wreaked havoc on the rebels in Darfur, were also present.
Playing a key role were the women of Sudan, who became the voice and symbol of resistance. They were on the front lines, chanting slogans, leading demonstrators and cooking for hordes of protesters. They also voiced their anger and demanded a new Sudan where women get an equal share of seats, something that is unheard of in Arab Islamic countries.
Bashir’s crimes: A brief timeline
Bashir’s dictatorial regime was the worst in Sudan’s recent history. After Sudan gained independence in 1956, the country saw a series of military coups.
Then a military paratrooper, Bashir had seized power in 1989, which he managed to retain until now. Notable among the various charges he faces is his role in the genocide during the Darfur rebellion.
The unleashing of the Janjaweed militia on rebels led to his arraignment in the International Criminal Court for extreme human rights abuses. According to reports, military forces had caused over 300,000 deaths and made 25 lakh refugees in Darfur.
In 2011, his attempt to crush the Christian rebellion in South Sudan failed. But the civil war ended in division, and reduced Sudan from the largest African nation (by area) to two-thirds its original size, and its revenue from oil production dropped to a quarter of what it used to be.
Bread became scarce, food prices rose at an alarming rate and Sudan’s economy went in free fall since South Sudan became independent. But the conditions have worsened since 2017 as the value of the Sudanese pound (SDG) has continued to deteriorate.
Bashir’s longstanding alliance with Islamists led to the regime’s association with violent jihadis, militias, and corruption; he has been accused of harbouring global terrorists, like Osama bin Laden and other prominent members of the Al Qaeda, by the US. In 1996, Sudan was put under UNSC sanctions, after a failed assassination bid on then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and harbouring international terrorist groups.
He also imposed Sharia law and caused disaffection in a country with diverse religious and ethnic composition.
The General who issued the statement after Bashir’s ouster is himself a worrisome figure as he was the head of military intelligence during the conflict in Darfur. He has been Defence Minister since 2015 and also first vice president since early this year. He was compelled to resign as protests grew. Lt Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has taken over as head of the transitional council.
With the political situation staying fluid and al-Burhan withdrawing the curfew, each political party has since been asked to nominate two delegates for a national conference to discuss the future transition to a civilian government.
The civil society group that has spearheaded the protests since December last year, the Sudanese Professionals Association [SPA], however, has not relented—it has instead called upon the Sudanese people to continue the demonstrations till the military leadership hands over power to the people.
Why this matters to India
Bilateral ties have been cordial since Sudan became independent. India not only helped Sudan organise its first elections in 1953 but also provided humanitarian aid over the years. The Indian government has till date helped over 30,000 Sudanese students study and obtain university degrees in India.
Indian Peace Keeping Forces have been deployed in Sudan during the sensitive period when South Sudan became independent after years of civil war. India has not taken a position on the developments in Sudan, but the revolution has inspired our countrymen and women just as it has stunned the rest of the world.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.