Pro sharia protesters in Khartoum, 17 May 2019. The banner reads: Islam and democracy cannot be reconciled.
21 May 2019

Blog from Sudan: Bashir is gone, but his cronies remain

When security forces searched Bashir’s house, they found millions of Euros and dollars in his safe. Sudan’s public prosecutor has charged Bashir with money laundering and illegal possession of foreign currencies. But this is not what the Sudanese want Bashir to be tried for. They want him to stand trial first and foremost for orchestrating the 1989’s military coup.

A group of lawyers have already filed a lawsuit to that effect. But is putting Bashir behind bars enough? Not really. For the past thirty years, the Islamists have created what some call a “deep state,” while others talk about a “parallel” state. I tend to see what the Islamists created as a parallel state; not a deep one. They have created parallels for almost everything: parallel to the police we all know, they created the “popular” police. Parallel to the regular armies, they created the “popular defense forces,” and parallel to the regular National Intelligence and Security Services, they created the so-called “popular security.” Added to these organs, there are other obscure security structures including the notorious jihadi units at higher education institutions, and the so-called “shadow battalions” which were mentioned by the former Vice President, Ali Oman M Taha, as the saviors of the regime. The Jihadi units comprise notorious militant students who beat up fellow students and suppress voice considered opposing Bashir’s regime. A former Khartoum University Vice Chancellor decided that these units be dismantled but his decision could not be enforced as these units were formed by a Presidential Decree from Bashir, which means that only Bashir can dismantle them.  The shadow battalions are enigmatic and nobody knows exactly what they are, but they are no less in notoriety than the Jihadi units.

In addition to these paramilitary structures, Bashir’s regime has done a lot of damage to the civil service in Sudan. The purge policy adopted during early 1990s led to the dismissal of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese professionals. All those whose loyalty was in doubt were sacked. They were replaced by unqualified loyalists. The overwhelming majority of the civil service senior staff, including university vice chancellors, are loyal to Bashir’s regime. It is a challenging task for the transitional government to deal with this situation, even though the danger in the civil service is not as serious as that coming from the paramilitary structures.

The Transitional Military Council (TMC) has done little to dismantle these structures. It has done even less to stop them and National Congress `Party (NCP) leaders from using state funds under their control. While the TMC issued a statement two weeks ago that the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) were dismantled and their bank account frozen, a week ago the Central Bank, quoting an order from the TMC, released the PDF’s bank account. It also released the account of another body, the Martyrs’ Organization. All these bodies are controlled by the NCP and their continuation simply means that the NCP is still operational through these proxies even though its premises and properties were seized.

While these structures continue unhindered and as such pose a real and serious threat to any chances of a transition from military to civilian rule, the TMC is busy playing games in a bid to consolidate its rule. Just as negotiations between the TMC and Freedom and Change Coalition (FCC) were achieving some progress, the 12th and 14th of May witnessed shootings at peaceful protesters; leading to the death of 6 and injuring over 200 others. A military officer was among the dead. It is not clear who opened fire and killed the protesters. Initially the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were accused since the attackers wore RSF uniforms. But the TMC and RSF denied this, claiming that forces belonging to the former regime that are opposed to the negotiations between the TMC and FCC were behind the shootings. In addition to accusing ‘invisible’ forces of shooting protesters, the TMC also accused FCC of escalating the situation by extending road blocks far away from the original areas of the sit-in. In the early hours of April 15th, the Chairman of the TMC made a statement in which he suspended talks with FCC for 72 hours saying that talks with FCC could only resume if or when road blocks were removed and confined to the original areas as of April 6th. The FCC engaged with its supporters and all the new roadblocks were removed; signaling the fact the FCC has control over its supporters and also not to give any excuse to the TMC to back off from the progress achieved so far. The progress made thus far indicated that the Sovereign Council will have nominal powers, there will be a civilian cabinet nominated by FCC, and the transitional parliament will be made up of 67 percent from FCC.

The progress made between the TMC and FCC made former NCP allies and religious fanatics nervous. These groups have been NCP supporters to the last minute, yet they want to be part of the negotiations and in the structures of the transitional period, which was agreed to be three years. One of these groups is led by some Jihadi Salafis, Abdelhai Yousif, Mohamed Ali El-Gizouli (supported ISS but retracted when put in jail), and Mustafa Idris (a former University of Khartoum Vice Chancellor). They called for demonstrations for what they called “supporting sharia” on Friday May 17 th. Few people turned up, and their call was met with disdain from people in Sudan: Whoever talks about sharia is hypocrite. The Sudanese people have seen sharia during the 30 years of Bashir’s rule. No one can fool them anymore.

But the existence of such groups shows that Bashir’s regime is still operative and poses a real threat to the transition. The TMC might be playing a dangerous game by allowing these groups to operate or to spoil the progress made with FCC. There is an urgent need for forming a civilian government, which is entrusted with dismantling structures of despotism, corruption and fear. Talks between the TMC and FCC must resume, especially since the two parties have said jointly that they have agreed on over eighty percent of the issues being negotiated.


Munzoul Assal, Professor at the University of Khartoum, May 20

This Blog from Sudan is part of the Assisting Regional Universities in Sudan project (ARUS).