In a successful culmination of four months of mostly peaceful protests in Sudan, the country’s military last week ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, ending his three-decade rule. The military coup brought anger and a wary sense of victory, as protesters called for an entirely civilian government.
Al-Bashir’s rule began with a military coup in 1989. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses in the western region of Darfur, but top military officials said they will not extradite him.
In a televised statement on Thursday, Defense Minister Awad Ibn Ouf announced that al-Bashir remained in a “safe place,” likely under house arrest.
The military set up a two-year transitional council, declared a three-month state of emergency, imposed a nighttime curfew, and shut down the borders and airspace. The transitional council could disband sooner under the right political conditions, the military said. It also ordered the release of political prisoners detained during the uprising.
The protests began in December 2018 after the government raised the price of bread and other basic goods. Last October, Prime Minister Moataz Moussa announced a 15-month emergency economic reform plan, which included austerity measures to cut down excess government spending. The economic demonstrations quickly spiraled into calls for an end to al-Bashir’s leadership.
The protests gathered momentum over the past week as thousands of Sudanese staged sit-ins outside the military headquarters, which also house the Presidential Palace. Security forces responded with an intense crackdown, and members of the army stepped in to defend civilians. At least 35 people died in the clashes that started April 6, including two soldiers.
David Ottaway, a Middle East fellow with the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, said the split highlights factions within the security forces that could exacerbate the conflict as the new political climate takes shape. “The pro-Bashir faction of the security forces brought in the junta militia that caused problems in Darfur,” he explained. “The military didn’t like it.”
Now protesters are calling for the military regime to “fall again” and give way to civilian leadership. Ibn Ouf, who led the takeover, is also subject to U.S. sanctions for his involvement in “fomenting violence and human rights abuses in Darfur.” To quell complaints, Ouf named Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, a reputable former general inspector of the armed forces, as his replacement to lead the transitional council. The council also promised to appoint a civilian prime minister and Cabinet after weekend meetings with protest organizers.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, which led the protests, said it wouldn’t back a military coup and insisted on a civilian transitional government. “They are recycling the faces, and this will return us to where we have been,” Sara Abdelgalil, a spokeswoman for the association, told The New York Times. The group called for continued protests until its request is met.
The International Crisis Group said in a statement it is in the security forces’ best interests to hand over power to civilians: “If they do not, protests will continue, raising the specter of an ugly confrontation that could plunge the country into the deeper turmoil they say they are intent on averting.”
Anti-government protests in Algeria led to a similar outcome on April 2, when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika unexpectedly stepped down after two decades of rule amid pressure from the armed forces. The Algerian Parliament appointed one of Bouteflika’s allies to serve in the interim until elections scheduled for July 4 can take place. Demonstrators continued to stage protests in Algeria last week, demanding an end to corrupt leadership.
Beyond the political overhaul, Ottoway explained Sudan must still seek solutions to the economic crisis that spurred the protests in the first place.
“It’s going to require a lot of austerity measures that will be unpopular,” he said, adding it could lead to more street protests.