Al-Bashir makes deal with opposition but his situation remains precarious
With the regimes crumbling around him, Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir is constantly maneuvering to stay in power to avoid following in the footsteps of the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.
He made a deal this week with his chief opposition party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to join his government and his army appears to have crushed rebel pockets across the country.
But some analysts are warning that the unresolved wars, spiraling inflation and financial crisis brought on mainly by the loss of oil revenue from his risky gamble of letting South Sudan go independent have all lead to a push, perhaps very bloody, to bring down his regime.
“If and when the storm breaks here, there is good reason to fear that Sudan will witness an extremely violent power struggle that could degenerate into civil war and possibly the disintegration of north Sudan,” observed David Ottaway, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, who recently visited Sudan.
Writing in Foreign Policy, Ottaway said Al-Bashir’s opponents were “gearing up to push for an end to his regime” either through negotiations or through arms.
“He could be overthrown tomorrow, but it doesn’t look at all likely to me,” Justin Willis, an East African expert at Britain’s Durham University, told The Media Line. “At the moment he doesn’t seem very likely to fall. He is very strong. It is hard to see much in the way of substantial political action at the center of Sudan of the kind that could bring him down.”
Al-Bashir, 66, came to power with the aid of Islamists back in 1989, but Sudan has a history of overthrowing military dictators. In a move similar to the Egyptian revolt centered on Tahrir Square, in 1964 tens of thousands of workers and students took over the streets of Khartoum until Gen. Ibrahim Abboud agreed to step down. It was the first civilian uprising against a dictator in the Arab world.
Today, Sudan is still reeling from the secession of South Sudan in July, which took away some 75% of the country’s oil wealth. Government oil export revenues drop from $6.2 billion in 2010 to just $1.5 billion this year.
Earlier this year, the International Crisis Group issued a scathing report on Sudan, accusing the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of exacerbating ethnic and regional divisions in the country that could lead to more fragmentation of Sudan.
The report warned that Khartoum had ignored the grievances of the country’s marginal areas, like Darfur, and that if it didn’t move to have a more inclusive government then Sudan risked more violence and disintegration.
“Its security hardliners see these as minor issues, not imminent threats to their survival, and remain committed to a military solution to chronic instability,” the report said.
Indeed, on Sunday, Al-Bashir, who has an arrest warrant against him issued by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the western region of Darfur, called on the armed forces to finish cleaning up all rebel pockets across the country particularly in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Speaking before the NCP general conference, Al-Bashir said that rebellions broke out in these areas were driven by mercenaries and foreign agents who put the country in crisis.
The Sudanese leader said that the entire world is undergoing changes and that people everywhere and not just in Sudan are looking for freedom.
“We want to free the will of the people from subordination and oppression….humanity needs [Prophet] Mohammad’s guidance," Al-Bashir was quoted as saying.
The ICG report also noted that Al-Bashir was concerned about a possible coup and had fragmented the security services and had come to rely increasingly on personal loyalty and tribal allegiances to remain in power.
“He has been working quite determinedly to fend off any threats to the regime,” said Willis. “He has been playing the tough guy actually very successfully with the standoff with the south in the past few months. We’re witnessing a very aggressive policy which is really intended to reestablish his reputation as the regime tough guy.”
“The regime is very, very good at keeping control of the central areas. They are the people who themselves grew up with the experience of Sudan’s two earlier revolutions in 1964 and 1985 and they know the importance of keeping control of Khartoum and the central areas and they have shown themselves as pretty good at doing that.”
“While there have been a number of demonstrations and goings on over the past year, a lot of Internet chatter, there has been nothing of the kind of really impressive scale,” he added.
Just this week, Al-Bashir got a boost when the sectarian Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) surprisingly accepted an offer to join the government after strongly opposing it. Another opposition, faction, the National Umma Party, formally rejected the offer.
But Farooq Abu-Issa, a former foreign minister and head of the National Consensus Forces that is made up of a score of opposition parties, was quoted in Foreign Policy as saying rebellion was nigh. “We’re calling for an intifada [uprising],” he said.
With soaring food prices and spiraling inflation, pro-democracy groups like Girifna, or “Fed Up,” have tried to organize peaceful protests.
“The common assumption is that all these economic and political woes, combined with Al-Bashir’s international isolation, will eventually combine to blow the lid off his besieged military regime,” Ottaway wrote. “Al-Bashir has so far remained one step ahead of his impressive array of enemies and their myriad plots to overthrow him. But as his fellow Arab autocrats have discovered this year, that can change in a blink of an eye.”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” countered Willis. “Yes it could happen very quickly. I am an historian and we history teaches us that the unexpected always seems to happen. He could be overthrown tomorrow but it doesn’t look all that likely to me.”