Commentary from Alex de Waal

Below is commentary from WPF Executive Director, Alex de Waal, regarding the evolving situation in Sudan.

May 7, 2019

The Sudanese know the script of non- violent popular uprising. Indeed, they have a strong claim to being pioneers in the field, long before the 2011 Arab Spring, in October 1964, when peaceful protests forced the country’s military ruler, General Ibrahim Abboud, to quit. The demonstrations were organized in an ad hoc way by university lecturers, other professionals and students. That was one of their strengths – had they spent time debating goals and strategies, they wouldn’t have seized the moment. After four days of rallies across the capital Khartoum, the fifth day’s protest followed the funeral procession of a student killed by the army. Saying, “I do not want to kill another student”, Abboud drove out of the presidential palace on the Blue Nile, crossed the bridge to the twin city of Omdurman where he had his private house, and lived the rest of his life…

 

April 23, 2019

The transitional government is now engaged in two sets of parallel negotiations. The first is with the state security services and paramilitary groups over the security pact. Unlike in Egypt, the Sudanese army cannot control the country on its own. In the capital, the National Intelligence and Security Service is a formidable military power independent from the army, and its director, General Salah Abdalla “Gosh” was a feared operator under Bashir. There are also a half dozen or so paramilitary groups in Sudan, the most powerful of which is the Rapid Support Force commanded by General Mohamed Hamdan, known as “Hemeti.” When the April 11 internal deal fell apart, Gosh and Hemeti jumped different ways—Gosh resigned and Hemeti took the job of deputy to Burhan in a revamped military council.

The second negotiation is over a the deal with the opposition. Striking a deal will be no easy task…

 

April 22, 2019

Experts say the ICC warrant against al-Bashir likely pushed him to resort to even more brutal tactics to remain in power, prolonging his autocratic rule and the conflict in Darfur, where low-level unrest continues to this day. The warrant may have sent a similar message to other leaders accused of war crimes, such as Assad, that the only way to avoid prosecution is to remain in power by any means necessary.

“The ICC probably delayed democratization by 10 years because Bashir believed he could not safely step down, and it shouldn’t do any further damage to Sudanese democratization,” said Alex de Waal, an expert on Sudan at Tufts University.

 

April 18, 2019

If the civic opposition can seize the day, they could well set the agenda in their talks with a disoriented soldiery. If they cannot, the situation could quickly deteriorate. Gosh’s resignation is a warning. He is a merciless operator and no one expects him to go quietly into retirement. The security bosses all have foreign ties: the Islamists (currently sidelined by the coup) have backers in Qatar and Turkey; Ibn Auf may be gone but others in the high command are close to Egypt; Burhan and Hemeti have led troop deployments in Yemen on the Saudi payroll; Gosh is close to the United Arab Emirates. The security hydra – multitudinous, avaricious, with each faction backed by a rivalrous foreign patron – poses an ominous threat.

 

April 17, 2019

In this interview, de Waal discusses the news that former Sudanese President Bashir has been moved to Kobar prison.

 

April 15, 2019

What’s left is “Bashirism without Bashir,” said Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Defense Minister Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, who announced the coup, stepped down as head of transitional military council less than two days later, as protesters raged against a prominent member of al-Bashir’s regime wielding power.

On Sunday, the council announced the general is retiring and that Sudan’s ambassador to Washington, Mohamed Ata, the former head of the National Intelligence and Security Service, is being replaced. Salah Gosh, who twice served as NISS’s chief, resigned Saturday. A restructuring of the service is promised.

“The deal between the army, NISS and the paramilitaries is fundamentally unstable because of the rivalries among them and because they won’t be able to resolve the challenge of the mass protesters,” De Waal said. “It’s actually more dangerous than when Bashir was there.”

 

April 12, 2019

Gen Ibn Auf and his collaborators cannot have been so naïve as to assume that their gambit would satisfy the opposition. Rather, they are buying time so that they can decide whether to follow the path of repression or co-option, or more likely a bit of both.

Sudan has taken one step back from the precipice of bloodshed on the streets of the capital, but only one. If the 11 April coup turns out to be a step towards democracy, it will be despite what the coup makers wanted, not because of them.

 

On Thursday, a cabal of military officers, security chiefs and paramilitary commanders overthrew President Omar al Bashir, who had been in power since 1989. All were Pres. Bashir’s most senior lieutenants. Their intent is clearly to keep the existing system intact—with all the power and privilege that they enjoy. But it was one of the least competently organized coups in history: there was a conspicuous power vacuum as the military and security leaders argued over what they should do and who should be in charge.

 

April 11, 2019

It will be tempting for the United States, the United Nations and the African Union to congratulate General Ibn Auf on the overdue removal of Mr. Bashir and the promise of stability, and leave democratic change to news bulletins. That would be a mistake: The work of solving Sudan’s problems is only just beginning.

The first challenge of preventing civil war among the branches of the security apparatus has been averted, at least for now.

But the economy remains in free fall. The main reasons are mismanagement, corruption, unchecked spending on the security sector and the loss of oil revenues after the secession of South Sudan in 2011. The economic malaise was so deep it could not be fixed by the United States’ easing of sanctions on Sudan. Nor could it be fixed by an injection of Arab cash, which might ease the crisis for a few weeks but cannot fix the fundamentals.

Without serious progress toward democracy and a resolution of the continuing wars in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, Sudan will remain at the precipice of bloodshed and turmoil. The Sudanese must deliver this for themselves, but today they need active international engagement to move in the right direction.

 

Mr. al-Bashir assiduously attended the funerals and weddings of military officers, often sending presents of sugar, tea or dried goods to their families. He held an open house once a week where commissioned officers could drop in and meet with him, said Alex de Waal, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and an expert on Sudan.

“He’s like the spider at the center of the web — he could pick up on the smallest tremor, then deftly use his personalized political retail skills to manage the politics of the army,” he said.

Mr. al-Bashir used a similar approach to manage provincial leaders and tribal chiefs, Mr. de Waal added. “Most of them became militarized and enmeshed in one of the popular defense forces. He has that extraordinary network, and it’s all in his head.”

 

“What the bargain seems to have been is to avert a civil war, for now,” said Alex De Waal, the executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University.

 

  • 9 am EST: Audio commentary from Alex de Waal, introduced by WPF Research Director, Bridget Conley.

 

Mr. al-Bashir assiduously attended the funerals and weddings of military officers, often sending presents of sugar, tea or dried goods to their families. He held an open house once a week where commissioned officers could drop in and meet with him, said Alex de Waal, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and an expert on Sudan.

“He’s like the spider at the center of the web — he could pick up on the smallest tremor, then deftly use his personalized political retail skills to manage the politics of the army,” he said.

Mr. al-Bashir used a similar approach to manage provincial leaders and tribal chiefs, Mr. de Waal added. “Most of them became militarized and enmeshed in one of the popular defense forces. He has that extraordinary network, and it’s all in his head.”

 

The possible brokers of a deal that manages a transition to democracy and avoids the perils of massacre or civil war – the US, the Arab League and the African Union – are calling for restraint, and hoping for the best.

Until now Mr Bashir has been able to manipulate and manoeuvre and keep afloat amid Sudan’s turbulent elite politics.

It’s been Sudan’s misfortune that their large-scale popular uprisings – in 1964 and 1985 – have been staged when the international community has not been ready to support democratisation.

The same counter-cyclical mismatch appears to be happening today, when there is little international appetite for such democratic movements.

Fearful of the possibility of chaos, as followed uprisings in Libya, Syria and Yemen, Western powers are cautious, focusing on stability.

This caution risks missing the slender opportunity for snatching a solution from the teeth of potential calamity.

 

April 8, 2019

When you have an intricate patronage-based system, removing the president is like decapitating the head in a drug cartel, said de Waal, the Tufts professor. “You will get an outbreak of rivalry among the oligarchs, which could become a civil war.

“The issue in Sudan is not authoritarianism versus democracy. It’s, do you have a well-organized autocracy, a coalition of security chiefs, or anarchy? The worst is the free-for-all,” he said.

 

“The army would like to come out of this as the people who saved Sudan from chaos,” Alex de Waal, an expert on Sudan, told Al Jazeera.

“What we see on the streets in the moment is a clear division between some in the army and some in the NISS … which is overplaying its hand,” added de Waal, a research professor and executive director of the World Peace Foundation at the US-based Tufts University.

De Waal also said “enormous effort” was being made by military leaders to “keep the army together” over fears any internal fractures in responding to the anti-government protests could raise the prospect of a full-blown civil war.

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