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April 22, 2019

Political calculations in Sudan

Opinion

April 22, 2019

General al-Burhan is the commander of the Sudanese ground forces and is believed to enjoy some popularity within the army’s lower ranks. Some opposition groups see him as more acceptable because he is considered not to be an Islamist. Yet, he, too, has a murky past.

As an officer in the ground forces, he had served in both South Darfur and South Sudan. In the 2000s, he was also a mid-raking commander in the notorious Border Guards, a sub-group of the Janjaweed militia.

In recent days, people in Darfur have expressed their outrage at al-Burhan’s appointment as head of the military council, claiming that under his command, the Border Guards committed killings and forced displacement.

He also seems to support the Popular Defence Forces (PDF), which was created in 1989 by al-Bashir as a loyal paramilitary organisation with an Islamist ideology which in the 1990s fought in the war in South Sudan.

Over the past few days, a video from a news broadcast has been widely circulated on social media, which shows General al-Burhan addressing the PDF, calling them the “legitimate sons” of the Sudanese army, and saying that he would never accept their dissolution under any circumstances.

Al-Burhan’s deputy, General Hemedti, also has a similar background. In the mid-2000s, he was a commander of the Fut-8 battalion of the Border Guards in Darfur, where, in 2007, he led a rebellion against the army, which had failed to pay his men salaries. He eventually made up with Khartoum and in 2013 he was appointed head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which absorbed former Janjaweed militia. The move was engineered by al-Bashir to punish Janjaweed leader Sheikh Musa Hilal who had started criticising him.

But more recently, not fully trusting Hemedti, al-Bashir began appointing some of his loyalists to the RSF, to ensure the paramilitary force was under tight control. Hemedti was said to have had close ties to Taha al-Hussain, the former director of the president’s office, who was dismissed in 2017 and then swiftly appointed as an adviser at the Saudi ministry of foreign affairs after moving to Riyadh.

Since the protests erupted, Hemedti has been careful about his public statements, displaying a great deal of political acumen and opportunism. He distanced himself and his militia from any act of violence against the peaceful protesters and expressed support for the demands of the Sudanese people and respect for human rights.

His appointment as a deputy chair of the transitional council prompted outrage on social media and was widely rejected by people in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, where his militia has been committing crimes against the civilian population.

Hemedti also appears to be involved with the war effort in Yemen. The fact that the two generals in charge are linked by the major roles they have played in the wars in Darfur and Yemen is not coincidental. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have hastened to recognise the military council, while the African Union and the European Union have both rejected it. General Hemedti, in turn, announced that the Sudanese troops would abide by its commitments to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

No doubt, the overthrow of al-Bashir and his close corrupt and brutal clique out of power is a positive development, but what is currently going on is not a full-fledged revolution, like the ones in October 1964 and April 1985. There is yet to be a break with the old regime.

It is true that General al-Burhan has struck a conciliatory tone and seemingly accepted the popular demands for freedom, peace and justice. He also made some promises about moving away from the old regime by uprooting it, fighting corruption and pursuing justice and accountability.But there are also plenty of doubts about his true intentions and agenda.

There are real concerns that the new transitional military council is just a puppet of the old regime, which was created to buy time and ensure the continuity of the status quo. To date, it is not clear what the fate of figures of the old regime, including al-Bashir, will be and how the military council will deal with the deep state and its militias, security and financial arms.

At the same time, tensions within the regime itself remain. The appointment of Hemedti, a commander of a militia who did not graduate from a Sudanese military academy to such a high position within the state is a shocking precedent and could play a detrimental role in Sudanese politics.

It shows the weakness of the Sudanese army and the collapse of the Sudanese state institutions. This situation could trigger tensions between different groups in the regime and destabilise the state further.

Meanwhile, there are also real fears that the popular opposition could also fragment along generational, ideological, geographical and ethnic lines. A rift between the youth and traditional political forces has started to appear over how to deal with the military council and what political priorities should be pursued.

Such divisions could be exploited by the military council and the old regime to carry out a full-fledged counterrevolution. Many regional powers are not interested in seeing the foundations of democracy being laid in Sudan and are ready to do whatever it takes to undermine any peaceful democratic transition.

Furthermore, the Sudanese people also fear that their country could descend into chaos and total war, if the change does not come soon.

There are many lessons to be learned from the fate of post-independence of Sudan, the October Revolution of 1964, the April Uprising of 1985 and the separation of South Sudan. The popular protest movement has a unique opportunity not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and seek national unity, equal citizenship for all ethnic groups and reconciliation. Only a strong and united popular front could withstand the counter-revolution the Sudanese generals, the deep state and foreign powers would surely launch in order to undermine the revolutionary movement.

Excerpted from: ‘The political calculations of Sudan’s military regime’.

Courtesy: Aljazeera.com

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