Sudan’s Military Promises To Reform Intelligence Services

Just days after Sudan’s infamous authoritarian leader Omar Al-Bashir stepped down, the country is continuing to experience administrative upheavals. After more protests, the ruling military council has announced several concessions. In particular, Shams Eldin Kabashi, a spokesman for the council, vowed on Sunday to restructure the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

The Sudanese intelligence agency is infamous, and protesters made its reform a key issue in their demands for a civilian-led transition to democracy. The NISS has always been a key body of oppression under Bashir’s regime. According to Human Rights Watch, between January and October of 2018 alone, the NISS arrested and detained at least 15 journalists as part of a larger scheme by the Sudanese government to undermine freedom of the press in the country.

Activists have also accused NISS of violently cracking down on protests, killing dozens of protesters and wounding hundreds more. In January of this year, the Radio Station Dabanga reported NISS had been continuously harassing and jailing political protesters, including prominent human rights defender Kamal El Jazouli. NISS agents also barred the newspaper El Jareeda, at the time one of the few remaining independent newspapers, from printing for 18 consecutive days.

This history has contributed to activists pushing hard for the restructuring of the organization. In response to these demands, the head of NISS Salah Gosh resigned from his post. The military council has announced the appointment of Lieutenant General Abu Bakr Mustafa to head the NISS in his place.

The news comes days after the Defense Minister Award Ahmed ibn Auf, a close aid of former President Bashir, also stepped down from his position as leader of the transitional military council, spending less than 24 hours as the leader of the country. Ibn Auf was replaced by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who pledged on Saturday to “uproot the regime” of al-Bashir, release all detained protesters, and hold talks with all political parties and groups behind the months-long protests, according to Al Jazeera.

The organizational body spearheading the protests is the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has come up with a list of nine demands for the military council, also include an immediate handover of power to a civilian-led body, the release of protesters, a freeze on the assets of top officials of al-Bashir’s government, the dismissal of all top judges and prosecutors, and the arrest of al-Bashir himself.

Current leader of the military council Burhan has pledged that all individuals implicated in killing protesters will face justice, in an attempt to distance himself from the regime’s old guard, despite his history as a career military man, according to a report from AFP. While the military council has agreed to some reforms, many people are unsatisfied. According to Hiba Morgan from Al Jazeera, the NISS reforms “was not the main issue standing between the two sides-the main issue was how will the military council operate under the transitional government.” She stated, “They want an independent government in which the military council serves only as a protector.”

The ousting of Bashir has caused concern within the international community, with the African Union calling the move, conducted by the country’s military, “not the appropriate response to the challenges facing Sudan and the aspirations of its people.” The European Union has also called for a swift handover of rule to a civilian administration.

Sudan is no stranger to overthrowing dictatorships. In the non-violent protests known as the “Khartoum Springs” in 1964 and 1985, dictators have stepped down, but the question now becomes what to do after. In what some have called “Sudan’s Arab Spring”, the ousting of Bashir, and the subsequent end of his 30-year reign, now creates a vacuum by which multiple parties struggle to occupy. The international community, specifically geopolitical organizations like the African Union, must set aside their disagreements to forcefully encourage the military council to surrender its power to civilians to avoid falling into the vacuum of violence that has engulfed so many countries since the original Arab Spring.