Hopes of a bright future for Sudan fading three years after Al Bashir's fall

As supporters of ousted dictator make a comeback and army generals sideline the pro-democracy movement, dreams of a nation free of civil strife, military rule and sectarian violence are crumbling

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrives to meet with police officials at the headquarters of the "police house" in the capital Khartoum on December 30, 2018. Sudan's top Islamist party, a member of President Bashar el-Bashir's government, called on December 26 for a probe into the killings of protesters in demonstrations that have rocked the economically troubled country. Angry crowds have taken to the streets in Khartoum and several other cities since December 19 when the government tripled the price of bread.
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Three years since Sudanese dictator Omar Al Bashir was ousted in a popular uprising, hopes that the country can be freed from the burdens of civil war, military rule and a woeful economy have been crushed.

Sudan instead appears to be a country adrift, beset by deadly political unrest and sectarian violence, while hunger stalks the land and leaves nearly a third of its population of 44 million in danger.

The most common chant during the uprising against Al Bashir – “freedom, peace and justice!” – continues to ring out through the streets of Khartoum in near daily protests against the military coup last October.

It is a sign that the promises of the uprising, which ended nearly 30 years of power for Al Bashir, went unfulfilled.

With events in Sudan failing to attract international attention amid war in Ukraine and the continuing coronavirus pandemic, experts say the country is on a downward spiral.

“Sudan’s present course will not produce results,” said Michael Hanna, director of the US programme in the International Crisis Group. “Sudan looks like it will continue to be in drift while it becomes less and less of a priority to the world. Sudan has definitely fallen down in terms of importance.”

The cycle of unrest

Last year’s coup, led by army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, has upended Sudan’s fragile democratic transition and plunged the impoverished nation into a political crisis that the United Nations says could lead to an economic and security collapse unless addressed swiftly.

Though justified by Gen Al Burhan as a “corrective” measure needed to save the country from civil war, the coup sent shock waves through Sudan's political landscape and the country remains plagued by instability.

Sudan has not escaped the trap of repeated military takeovers and popular uprisings. Since it gained independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956, a series of coups have toppled civilian governments, only for the people to rise up and remove the generals from power.

For the activists who continue to rail against Sudan's military rule, the country's gradual slide towards becoming the pariah state it was during Al Bashir's 29-year rule is also a cause for concern.

That label was cast off under the civilian-military transitional administration that took the reins of power after Al Bashir’s removal, with Sudan removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism last year to make it eligible again for international and bilateral economic aid.

The coup has also meant that Sudan been denied the billions of dollars in aid and debt forgiveness pledged by the West and international financial agencies following Al Bashir’s departure, thus accelerating its march toward a possible economic meltdown.

Al Bashir loyalists find favour with Sudan's military rulers

In addition, since the military takeover, Gen Al Burhan has been reinstating scores of Al Bashir’s supporters in the key government jobs they had lost after the dictator’s ousting.

Sudan's courts, which are dominated by Islamist judges, have been issuing rulings delegitimising the dismissal of members of Al Bashir’s once-ruling National Congress party from government jobs and ordering their reinstatement or their release from detention while awaiting trial for corruption.

To the dismay of the pro-democracy movement, the return of Al Bashir’s supporters to their old jobs has in some cases been lavishly celebrated at government offices, including the traditional slaughter of sheep, say witnesses who did not want to be named.

Emboldened by the court rulings, Al Bashir’s party faithful are planning to legally challenge the ban on their party so that they can contest elections promised for 2023.

“For anyone to say that the National Congress Party can be back through the courts is belittling the people whose consensus decision brought down the party,” said prominent Sudanese analyst Osman Al Mirghany.

The party, he said, “should acknowledge its guilt and ask the people for forgiveness for 30 years of corruption under Al Bashir”.

“The world will not deal with today’s Sudan,” said another Sudanese political analyst, retired army general Al Sir Ahmed Said. “There was a measure of imbalance before the October coup, now it has become extreme confusion. The situation is very complex.”

The political deadlock at home and the suspension of substantial foreign aid have combined to persuade Gen Al Burhan to look for regional backers, to keep the country economically afloat and defuse growing popular discontentment over the steep rise in the price of foodstuffs and fuel.

Efforts to find a way out of the political crisis are bubbling away in the background, with the military insisting on being the sole guardian of the democratic transition until elections are held next year. These efforts, however, are unlikely to succeed or resonate with the majority of Sudanese given that they exclude the pro-democracy groups orchestrating the street protests.

Pouring further cold water on their chances of success is the resolve by the pro-democracy groups not to deal directly with the military and that Gen Al Burhan and his associates are tried for overthrowing a legitimate government and for the killing of at least 93 protesters since October 25.

“The return of the Islamists could expedite a showdown between Sudan’s competing forces,” said Sudanese analyst Gameel Al Fadel. “They will feel safe and entitled to act against the pro-democracy camp because they have many supporters within the ranks of the military.”

Updated: April 11, 2022, 5:07 PM