The crisis in Sudan took a new turn on Wednesday when recently ousted leader Omar al-Bashir was sent to prison, even as protests against the newly-imposed military rule continued in full swing.
For the past four months, Sudan has been rocked by countrywide protests, leading to a military intervention last week which ejected Bashir from power, thereby ending his brutal 30-year rule. The protests have earned praise for employing peaceful methods.
Sudan has been engulfed by violence for more than a century, even while it was under the British-Egyptian colonial rule. Since independence in 1956, the North African nation has seen sectarian violence, famines and political instability, the latest coup toppling Bashir being the fifth such forcible takeover.
The Sudan protests
In December 2018, enacting austerity measures recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Sudan devalued its currency, the Sudanese Pound, and cut back on subsidies. This led to a steep rise in inflation and food prices. The price rise in essential commodities sparked anger among the Sudanese people, who were already wary of Bashir’s autocratic rule. Protests erupted in the eastern part of the country and soon reached the capital Khartoum.
The Bashir regime initially tried to deprive the movement of popular support by claiming that the rallies were backed by the rebel movement from the Darfur region. This tactic boomeranged as the crowds grew in size, and the slogan “We are all Darfur” was raised. What began as a protest against price rise morphed into a mass movement, calling for Bashir’s resignation.
Sudan’s male-dominated Sharia-inspired setup also came under attack following which a tremendous women turnout was registered. Women went on to constitute 70 per cent of the protesters. Religious leaders who supported Bashir were also denounced.
The tenacity of the protests finally compelled the military to step in. Bashir was removed from office on April 11 and a Transitional Military Council (TMC) took power. The TMC has since announced a three-month emergency and transition period of two years, promising a transfer of power to a civilian government in its aftermath while reserving few ministries for itself, such as Defence. Protesters were dismayed by the coup and believe that the TMC is run by those close to Bashir. The African Union Commission has also criticised the military takeover. Since taking power, the Council has appointed fresh faces to key positions such as the army, police and the intelligence wing, while lifting restraints on the media.
Omar al-Bashir became the country’s ruler in 1989 after he toppled a democratically-elected government. He was supported by the National Islamic Front, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood in the country, which sought to enforce Saudi-sponsored orthodox Islam in Sudan. After Bashir came to power, the country went on to adopt this radical version, departing from the moderate Sufi tradition that it earlier followed. This caused great detriment to women’s rights and to the status of minorities. Sudan became the nesting ground for the world’s jihadists and even sheltered Osama bin Laden in the 1990s.
The first few years of Bashir’s rule were especially blood-soaked. The Christians and Animists in southern parts of the country, already up in arms against Khartoum since 1983, engaged in a bitter civil war that lasted for 22 years and claimed over 20 lakh lives. The region finally seceded in 2011 to form the new country of South Sudan, taking away more than two-thirds of Sudan’s oil reserves.
Bashir also pitilessly cracked down on the insurgency in the gold-rich Darfur region. Its Muslim but non-Arab people accused Bashir of only favouring Arab Muslims. A savage militia backed by Bashir used sexual violence, torture, and starvation as methods to suppress dissent. The US designated the repression as ‘genocide’ in 2004 and the International Court of Justice in 2009 issued a warrant against Bashir. The leader of the militia, General Mohamed Hamdan, is currently appointed as the Vice President of the Transitional Military Council.
During his three-decade rule, Bashir had outlawed several organisations opposed to his rule, such as trade unions, and jailed or murdered political opponents and journalists. The current protests have been organised by recently emerged groups such as the Sudanese Professionals Association.