PISM Spotlight: Sudan’s President Ousted
15 APR 2019 Spotlight
Mass protests in Sudan led on 11 April to the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir. The transitional military council that took charge has declared it will initiate deep reform. The end of Bashir’s 30-year- rule offers a chance to end Sudan’s international isolation.

Why did mass demonstrations erupt in Sudan?

The protests started in December 2018 after a rise in the price of bread but soon morphed into a movement demanding Bashir give up the presidency. He took power in 1989 when he led a coup staged by Muslim Brotherhood-linked military officers. In the 30 years’ since then, the authoritarian system stood on its security apparatus, particularly the intelligence sector and tribal militias. The protests had a generational dimension. Mainly young people, with the massive involvement of women, took to the streets to reject the practices of controlling privacy and manipulating ethnic divisions. The demonstrations sustained their intensity through coordination by the Sudanese Professionals Association (lawyers, doctors, and lecturers) and the memory of successful revolutions against military dictatorships from 1964 and 1985. 

Who took power after Bashir?

On 6 April, a sit-in in front of the central army headquarters began and attracted sympathy from regular soldiers who in turn pushed their officers to distance themselves from the president. On 11 April, Defence Minister Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf (also a Lt. General) declared Bashir had been ousted. He was, however, representing an incoherent group of leaders of the security structures who wanted to save the essence of the regime. They were rejected by the protesters and failed to win any international recognition. Gen. Ibn Auf resigned and was replaced by an apolitical military officer, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan. He is popular within the army and seemed acceptable to the protesters, who entered into a dialogue on the formation of a civilian transitional government.   

What are the likely consequences for Sudan and the region?

If liberalisation is to succeed, the influence of the paramilitary structures over the state must be reduced and the economic crisis overcome. For that, financial assistance is required. Saudi Arabia, which supported Bashir and has good relations with Burhan, was the first to offer it. The implementation of reform would allow the U.S. to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, which in turn allows the African country to have its external debts written off. The sidelining of Muslim Brotherhood-linked politicians will limit the influence of Qatar and Turkey. Ending support for Brotherhood-linked factions in Libya will satisfy Egypt. The Arab League, which took a neutral stance, will accept any outcome of the changes. The new authorities could also ask Russian advisers and military advisors to leave Sudan.

Does the change in power affect Poland’s plans towards Sudan?

Poland is seen positively in Sudan due to its long presence in archaeological missions. Steps to restore a diplomatic presence in this country are underway. Last year, Poland nominated a visiting ambassador. It is possible a permanent embassy could be reinstalled. Economic missions were organised to explore investment opportunities, for example, Polish companies seeking contracts to develop trains. The rotation of cadres during the transition period would require efforts to confirm newly established relations on the central and regional levels. In the long run, Poland’s plans for deepening bilateral relations are not under threat. The ambitions of members of the Sudanese diaspora in Poland to influence developments in Sudan could become a new factor in bilateral relations.