The only way that a dictatorship has ever been overthrown in Sudan is by non-violent popular protest. The record of two ‘Khartoum Springs’ in 1964 and 1985 inspires people across the country to turn out, day after day, hoping to achieve a third. I personally hope they achieve that goal. The Sudanese people deserve a change for the better.

There’s some useful analysis of Sudan’s popular uprisings. I drew on it when I wrote a paper entitled ‘Sudan’s elusive democratization’ in 2013, and debated Willow Berridge on her superb book three years ago.

Many questions arise. The immediate on is: what is needed for protest on the streets, and the widespread disaffection of individuals in the security sector, to reach that critical turning point at which the authority of the regime dissolves? At what point will the army and security decide to stand with the people?

President Omar al Bashir has learned his lessons from 1964, 1985 and the 2011 uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. He has thoroughly coup-proofed the army and security. Bashir has an astonishingly encyclopaedic knowledge of the Sudanese elite. He knows the officer corps in the army man-by-man, holding open house at his residence in the military headquarters twice a week. The intelligence of who is who is contained in his head. He has also built up the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) to the level at which it can rival the army for firepower, as well as giving it the capacity to spy on every army officer.

Bashir’s biggest asset is that he has a well-proven reputation for not sacrificing his own. He may dismiss someone, even imprison them, but since the early months of the regime, he hasn’t executed anyone. For every would-be leader, Bashir is their second choice: they are confident of their personal safety with him in charge.

There’s a similar calculus internationally: Bashir is a known quantity, and few are ready to take risks.

Arab leaders in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh or Cairo might back an army takeover. They don’t like Bashir. But they know that Bashir calculates his interests well and won’t go beyond their limits of what is acceptable.

The African Union is opposed to unconstitutional changes in government: while it would probably welcome a peaceful transition it won’t do anything to promote it. What it might be able to do, however, is quietly encourage Pres. Bashir to step aside, handing over to an interim government that would lead the country into the 2020 elections.

Western governments are more fearful of instability than welcoming of democratization. One particular concern they have is that South Sudan’s peace deal—the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan—was designed by Bashir and can only be implemented with his attentive cooperation. No-one wants to see the modest progress in South Sudan become a casualty of regime change in Khartoum, even if that is peaceable.

One obstacle to Bashir’s departure is the outstanding arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court. While this was a major factor in Bashir’s calculus ten years ago, today the region is unanimous in its unwillingness to hand over a former head of state to face trial.

In that regard, the model should be 1964 not 1985. Faced with the choice between ordering his soldiers to shoot ordinary citizens and stepping down, President Ibrahim Abboud chose the honorable path. His reward was that he lived the rest of his life peaceably in his own home, until his death nineteen years later at the age of 82. But only a confident and conciliatory opposition could offer such a deal.

Post-uprising governments in Sudan have a poor record of solving the country’s problems. In 1964 and 1985, the transitional governments presided over an intensification of the civil war and a worsening of the economic crisis. This gives still more reason for nervousness. This puts opposition leaders in a tactical dilemma: they need to inspire their supporters on the street, but they also need to reassure the citizens, and the international community, that they are realistic about the challenges that Sudan will face when Bashir at last leaves office.

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5 Responses to Sudan’s Popular Uprising: Where Next?

  1. Khalid AlMubarak says:

    Very insightful and konwleable as usual from prof.DeWaal.During a rally in Khartoum and another Nyala/Darfur president Bashir was flanked by former rebels and former lesders of the opposition who are now his allies in the coalition government. Dr Tjani Seisi,Mr Abu Garda and Mr Hatim AlSirr have real grassroots support in the country.This is a main difference from the situation in 1964 and 1985. Nationally ,regionally and internationally he is not isolated.On the contrary,he is needed as a stabilising force.
    The demonstrations were spontaneous and justified. Bread ,petrol and bank queues caused the spark. The professional organisations and political parties(mainly the communists Baathists Nasserites and SPLM-N)are trying to benefit from the situation .The government is far from perfect. Corruption and mismanagement have been admitted even by the President;but it is highly unlikely that the demonstrations would result in more than a much needed accellration of thebdemocratic transformation which is already under way.

    • Abdullahi Ibrahim says:

      I would object to characterizing the participation of the political parties in the revolution as benefiting from the situation. I would rather call it going about the business of opposition at a turning point in their fight for democracy for three decades. I may not particularly like their style of opposition. In fact, I do not. Yet calling their opposition “benefiting” is insinuating bad faith.

  2. Mardi IBRAHIM says:

    It seems that in your analysis you were ignoring-intentionally or un intentionally- two important factors.The first one is the heavily trooped Rapid Deployment Forces led by Himidti,any reveloutionary army officer would think twice before standing by the non violent popular protests.The “Shadow Militias” which belong to the Islamic Movement in Sudan.Any army confrontation with these two forces can be avoided by massive non violent popular demonstrations
    This needs to take place simultaneously in all the streets of khartoum. Will this happen and at what time?

  3. Paul Crook says:

    Interesting synopsis of history; now where is the control of the present to project a future learning from the past?

    Sudan is in a position to debunk the myth voting brings democracy; democracy needs not only be seen through Western perspectives as we look at new forms of building accountability and delivery. External agencies, by they NGOs and UN agencies funds and programmes, no matter how well meaning are regularly not accountable to Sudanese People.

    How about some far deeper analysis, well beyond the internet searches to turn out another political economy / marketplace piece. The use of emergent techniques brought over from the business environment has real mileage to challenge what is becoming rather staid (political) thinking and approaches

  4. Abdullahi Ibrahim says:

    A good read that interweave many threads in Sudanese politics. I would say though that President Aboud (1958-1964) was forced to resign by troops surrounding his palace led by al-Bagir Ahmed,the Vice-President under President Nimerie in later years. Aboud was holding to power even after the Palace Massacre (October 28, 1964) in which tens of demonstrators met their death. Nimerie, the future president of Sudan, is said to be among the officers who forced Aboud to give up. I am putting the record straight here because of the many citations of the precedent of Aboud as a way out for elBashir.

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