Sudan’s Bashir Bans Protests, Steps Down as Ruling Party Leader

For over two months Sudan’s embattled President Omar al-Bashir has contended with emboldened protestors, calling for his resignation. Though public gatherings and protests have been inundated with violence and mass arrests, Sudanese demonstrators have persisted, forcing Bashir to confront sustained anti-government street unrests. Last Monday, in an attempt to quash mass unrest, Bashir implemented a series of emergency decrees, including a ban on public gatherings and protests.

Steadfast in their struggle, demonstrators pushed on, no longer willing to yield before the decree of a despot. According to Al Jazeera, riot police fired tear gas at crowds in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. Unable to contend with chaos in the capital, Bashir declared a year-long nationwide state of emergency last Friday. Bashir’s declaration led to mass arrests and the dissolution of Sudan’s federal and provincial governments.

According to Al Jazeera, “The Democratic Lawyers Alliance, which is part of an umbrella group spearheading the protests, said at least 870 protesters were brought before emergency courts in Khartoum and Omdurman on Thursday.” In an attempt to satiate Bashir’s need to control, swift trials in emergency courts have spat out sentences at Sudanese protestors, who, according to Middle East Eye, have not been afforded the opportunity to defend themselves or delegate a lawyer to do so.

Since December 19th, 2018, when protests against a government decision to triple the price of bread first rattled the northeastern town of Atbara, scores of Sudanese have died in protest-related violence. According to Al Jazeera, officials say 31 people have died, while Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 51. In the face of repeated tear gas attacks by the police, sweeping arrests, and widespread death, ordinary Sudanese citizens have exhibited remarkable fortitude in their opposition to a dictator who came to power in a 1989 coup, and since then has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Darfur.

Financial strife has similarly fuelled dissent. Since South Sudan gained independence in 2011 and took with it the bulk of oil earnings, Sudan has been drained of foreign currency. Shortages in basic goods have exacerbated inflation, which in turn has ravaged the purchasing power and living standards of ordinary Sudanese. As these conditions have long fomented political and social turmoil, protesters have refused to capitulate to Bashir’s state of emergency.

According to Al Jazeera, protest organizers, a group named Alliance for Freedom and Change, called for Monday’s “rally to challenge the emergency”.

Similarly, a protester named Erij, who gave only her first name for security purposes, said “We are challenging the regime and we are not scared of the state of emergency,” and that demonstrators “have only one aim and that is to make the president step down.”

As February came to a close Bashir stepped down as ruling party leader, handing over leadership of the National Congress Party (NCP) to his deputy Ahmed Harun.

Huran has served as governor of both North and South Kordofan, Sudan’s minister of humanitarian affairs, and minister of state in the country’s Ministry of Interior. In 2007, he was indicted by the ICC for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The ruling NCP released a statement saying, “Harun will serve as the acting chief of NCP until the party’s next general convention, where a new president of the party will be elected.”

According to Arab News, Bashir claims to have adopted a neutral stance toward all parties but did not categorically say he would quit as NCP chief.

This statement does not signal victory for the protestors. Murithi Mutiga, an analyst at International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, expressed that “there is no explicit indication that he is actually stepping down as party chief.”

Instead, Bashir’s actions demonstrate a split within the top ranks of the ruling party. Mutiga explained that “there are voices within the ruling party that recognize that there is a major crisis and it will not be enough to suppress the uprising with repression.”

Bashir’s political maneuvering is unlikely to quell public rage. In an interview with Middle East Eye, a Khartoum-based analyst explained that Bashir has only temporarily ceded his power to Huran. This is not yet the epilogue of Bashir’s 30-year reign. Once the tempest has settled, the 75-year-old dictator will likely return to his seat of power.