Another Round of Protests in Sudan

Sudan experienced protests in January-February 2011, November-December 2011, and June-July 2012. The protests have responded to a diverse set of grievances, including economic stagnation, austerity policies, and political dissatisfaction with the regime of President Omar al Bashir, who took power in a 1989 coup. The protests, particularly those in early 2011, can be understood as part of the “Arab Spring,” but they should not be reduced to some parochial echo of a regional roar; the protests were and are grounded in Sudanese politics. Students have played a major role in organizing the demonstrations.

Sudan is now experiencing a fourth protest wave (Sudan has experienced protests in the past, notably in 1964, but I am grouping the protest waves of 2011-2012 together for the sake of analysis). This wave is connected to Darfur, which was the site of significant protests during the summer. The December 7 discovery of Darfuri student protester corpses in Gezira has touched off student protests in Khartoum. Protests reportedly occurred on Sunday and Monday, drawing crowds in the hundreds. Police gassed, beat, and arrested protesters on Sunday.

The Sudanese protests have not been large, rarely reaching four-digit numbers for crowds. But this round of demonstrations comes at a bad time for the regime, which recently put down an alleged coup attempt. A recent New York Times article discusses the “open secret” of “discontent within [the] ranks” of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party. During the past two years, the regime has been able to put down protests again and again, and I doubt this time will be different. But the multiple challenges the regime faces, internal and external, are serious and suggest a long-term crisis of legitimacy.

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After Latest Sudan-South Sudan Agreement, Southern Oil Exports May Resume Soon

Sudan and South Sudan have suffered economic pain in the last two years – Sudan, due to the loss of the South and its oil in 2011; and the South, due to the shutdown of oil production it began in late January of this year as a protest measure against Khartoum’s demands regarding oil transit fees. The shutdown in the South has, of course, also affected the north, and the economic picture I’m painting here is extremely simplified – more economic information about Sudan is available here and here, and more information about South Sudan is available here.

Economic pain has continued in part because of political conflict. Since South Sudan’s independence, the two countries have disputed issues including border demarcation, security, and oil revenue sharing. In August of this year, Sudan and South Sudan came to a tentative agreement on oil, and signed a deal covering oil and border security on September 26. Yet security issues remained unresolved, and the South did not restart its oil production on November 15 as it had planned.

On December 1, Pagan Amum, the South’s chief negotiator, met with Sudanese officials in Khartoum. The meeting had two important outcomes. First, the South Sudanese now plan to resume oil exports through Sudan within a few weeks (although returning production to pre-shutdown levels could take up to one year). Second, the two sides have agreed to stop supporting rebel movements within each other’s territory; the north is particularly concerned about the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North or SPLM-N, who have fought government forces in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, along the new border between Sudan and South Sudan. AFP has more on the new agreement and the background to it.

The success of these agreements, of course, will depend on their implementation. Meanwhile, other contentious issues remain, including determining when and whether the territory of Abyei will hold a referendum about joining the South or the north.

For Arabic readers, summaries of the remarks of Pagan Amum and Sudanese presidential assistant Nafi Ali Nafi are available, respectively, here and here.

Who Was Involved in the Alleged Coup Against Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir?

Sudan appeared to suffer an attempted coup d’etat last week, possibly motivated by what some observers say is the failing health and increasing political isolation of President Omar al Bashir, who took power in a 1989 coup. What follows is a list of key personalities involved and the biographical information known about them, as presented in international and local media. The list includes some very senior figures. The reported involvement of both top military commanders and Islamists – two major components of the coalition that originally brought Bashir to power – is bad news for the regime. That does not necessarily mean that Bashir’s fall is imminent, but it does point to a steady erosion of the regime’s cohesion.

Reported Military Involvement

VOA writes that “a number of military and intelligence officers [are] suspected of involvement in the purported plot.” At the center of the coverage is Salah Abdallah “Gosh,” who was arrested along with twelve other persons on November 22. According to AP,

Gosh was Sudan’s intelligence chief for 10 years before being promoted to security adviser in 2009. Once a member of the president’s inner circle, Gosh was sacked as adviser in April 2011 for becoming critical of the regime.

AP names two other individuals:

  • Maj. Gen. Adil Al-Tayeb “of military intelligence”
  • Brig. Gen. Mohammed Ibrahim, “a field commander with the Sudanese Armed Forces [SAF].”

The Sudan Tribune, which says that the entire story is “steeped in confusion,” adds a few other (possible) names of the arrested:

  • Major General Kamal Abdel-Ma’Rouf, “the army commander who led the ‘liberation’ of Heglig oil area after it was briefly occupied by South Sudan in April this year.” An SAF commander also reportedly denied that Abdel-Ma’rouf was among the arrested.
  • Lieutenant General Mohammed Ibrahim Abdel Galil, “a veteran SAF officer who served in the war against South Sudan for 12 years…He used to be close to President Al-Bashir and served as head of his security for six years.” Note: This is likely the same General Mohammed Ibrahim that AP mentions.
  • Brigadier General Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Ouf.
  • “Well placed sources later told Sudan Tribune that former presidential adviser and head of NCP bloc in parliament Ghazi Salah al-Deen Al-Attabani was summoned for questioning by [the National Intelligence and Security Services, NISS] on his possible role in the plot but was later released.”
  • The Sudan Tribune writes that there have even been denials of Gosh’s involvement.

A separate Sudan Tribune article names two other military commanders:

Other uncorroborated reports named Brigadier General Fath Al-Raheem Abdulla who headed the joint Sudanese-Chadian border forces and former head of Sudan’s armoured corps Brigadier General Sideeg Fadl.

Reported Islamist Involvement

Islamists were reportedly connected to the coup in two ways: first, through dissent that surfaced at the recent conference of the Islamic Movement; and second, through arrests of members of an Islamist sect comprising regime-allied fighters but now in a position of dissent. Time calls the conference, and the way dissenters found their path to reform blocked there, the “catalyst” for the coup.

On the militia, the Sudan Tribune writes:

Multiple security and military sources told Sudan Tribune that the NISS arrested around 100 pro-government Islamist elements who belong to a group widely known as “Al-Sae’ohoon” who formed the core of special forces fighting South Sudan rebels during the civil war since Bashir came to power in [1989] in a bloodless military coup backed by the National Islamist Front (NIF).

Al-Sae’ohoon has been vocal recently over reform demands and expressed bitterness that the NCP leadership has softened stance on Islamic principles and gave too many concessions to South Sudan in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), while allowing for army to suffer military setbacks.

“Al Sa’ihun” would be a cleaner transcription from the Arabic. “The wanderers/travelers in the cause of Allah” may be a provisional translation (see Q 9:112). Al Jazeera (Arabic) reports on the movement’s relationship to the regime, writing of “deep disagreements” that appeared at the Islamic Movement’s conference between al Sa’ihun and the Movement’s leadership. Al Jazeera quotes from a letter al Sa’ihun sent to Bashir asking for the release of their imprisoned comrades, stressing how these men have served “the Revolution…from its beginning until Heglig.” The letter affirms loyalty to Bashir while criticizing his defense minister Abd al Rahman Muhammad Hussein.

As Time says, “Those detained overnight on Thursday were not only obvious foes of Bashir.” The pattern of arrests indicates that some core supporters of the regime have broken with it, or are threatening to do so. The combination of military defections and Islamist dissent (and of course there is overlap between military and Islamist ranks) poses a major problem for a regime that has relied on these constituencies as pillars of its support.

Sudan’s Islamic Movement Heads to Its General Conference

This week, the Islamic Movement of Sudan will hold its General Conference, which takes place every four years. Various sub-national conferences have already occurred in preparation for the main event. The national conference may give some insight into the trajectory of the Movement, its relationship with the regime of President Omar al Bashir, and the hopes of various leaders to succeed Bashir, perhaps as soon as 2015.

Founded in 1945 (read a history of the Movement here, .pdf, start p. 95) as a Sudanese counterpart to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Movement has participated under several names in many of the critical moments of Sudanese politics, including the popular uprising of 1964 and the 1989 coup that brought the National Islamic Front (NIF) to power. In 1999, the Movement split amid rivalry between President Bashir and Dr. Hassan al Turabi, the longtime leader of the Movement. The greater part of the Movement remained with Bashir and his National Congress Party (NCP), while Turabi’s group renamed itself the Popular Congress Party. The (remaining) Movement has been called one of three main components within the Bashir regime, the other two being the military and the leadership of the NPC itself. Read more background on the Movement here.

The immediate background for this week’s meeting includes several points of tension:

  • memorandum, submitted by some Movement members to the regime, that called for various reforms, including a “veiled demand, namely the institution of the authority of the Islamic Movement proper over the ruling NCP.” Bashir appeared on television to reject the demands.
  • Internal divisions, possibly similar to those that drove a split in 1999. This article (Arabic) describes substantial opposition with the Movement to Bashir and the NCP.
  • An impending change of leadership for the Movement: “The IM’s secretary-general and Sudan’s first Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha will not be able to run as an incumbent because the current constitution does not allow more than two terms in the position. Taha was elected to the position during the last conference after facing strong competition with current presidential adviser Ghazi Salah Al-Din Al-Atabani. It is not clear whether Al-Atabani intends to run again but insiders say the man has recently stepped out of decision-making circles due to what they described as his unhappiness with the way the NCP has handled a number of sensitive issues lately.” More on the internal succession issue here (Arabic).
  • Jockeying for position as leaders ask who will eventually succeed Bashir. AFP writes, “Potential candidates to replace Bashir are jostling for influence within the Islamic Movement.”

Despite these tensions, some are expecting a relatively quiet conference:

While only about 12 percent of NCP members come from the Islamic Movement, most of the leadership belongs to the movement, said Amin Hassan Omer, from its ruling secretariat.

He predicted “nothing specific” about succession will emerge from the conference, and said does not see a real power struggle in the Movement.

Mahjoub Mohamed Salih, publisher of the independent Al-Ayaam newspaper, said the conference would highlight divisions between grassroots Islamists and NCP loyalists, though he does not see the movement fracturing.

We’ll find out later this week.

Roundup on Sudan, Israel, and the Yarmouk Weapons Factory

On October 23/24, explosions occurred at the Yarmouk weapons factory in Sudan. The Sudanese government has stated that an Israeli airstrike was responsible. The situation remains murky enough that I do not feel comfortable writing an analytical piece on the issue, but the incident has generated substantial media attention, so I thought I would round up some important stories.

International Press Reports

  • VOA: “The [US-based] Satellite Sentinel Project released images Tuesday that show six 16-meter-wide craters near the center of the explosion. The group said the holes are consistent with impact craters created by air-delivered munitions.”
  • NPR: “Israel Operates Inside Sudan, Israeli Official Says.”
  • AP: “In Sudan blast, signs of Iran and Israel’s rivalry.”
  • BBC (October 29): “An Iranian naval task force has docked in Sudan, carrying with it a ‘message of peace and security to neighbouring countries,’ Iranian state media report.” Reuters (October 31): “Iran Warships Leave Sudan after Four-Day Stay.”
  • Al Jazeera: “Sudan denies Iranian links to bombed factory.”
  • VOA: “Sudan’s Iran Alliance under Scrutiny.”

Speculative Commentary (International Media):

  • Time: “Did Israel Bomb a Sudanese Ammunition Depot?”
  • Reuters: “Sudan: A Front for Israel’s Proxy War on Sinai Jihadists?”
  • Washington Post/World Views: “Why Would Israel Bomb Sudan? Theories Cite Iran, Hamas, Even the US”

Sudanese, Egyptian, and Israeli Sources:

  • Sudan Tribune: “Sudanese Opposition Groups Condemn ‘Israeli Aggression,’ Criticize Government.”
  • Akhir Lahza (Arabic): “Explosions and Fire at the ‘Yarmouk’ Factory”
  • Ahram Online: “Egypt Military Dismisses Rumors of Israeli F-35 Overflights.”
  • Akhbar (Arabic): “The [Non-Governmental] Egyptian Delegation Returning from Sudan: The World Ignores Israel’s Crimes.”
  • YNet: “Egypt Denies Knowledge of Attack in Sudan.”
  • Jerusalem Post: “Sudan Strike – A Blow to Iran.”

What do you make of this whole affair?

Sudan, Uganda, and Rebels

Sudan and Uganda have been trading accusations this year that each side is supporting rebel groups against the other. In April, Uganda charged that Sudan was backing the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a group whose rebellion began in Uganda in the 1980s but has since metastasized into a regional problem. Uganda’s Chief of Defense Forces Aronda Nyakairima stated that Joseph Kony, the LRA’s leader, was now operating out of Western Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan near the borders with Sudan and the Central African Republic. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni even weighed in, warning Sudan not to support the LRA.

Sudan fired back with allegations that Uganda was supporting rebel groups against the Sudanese government, allegations that Uganda denied. Uganda does allow Sudanese rebel groups to operate in its territory, though. On October 4, rebel groups in the Sudanese Revolutionary Front coalition held a ceremony in Uganda’s capital Kampala where they signed a document “detailing how Sudan should be governed once the regime of President Omer Al-Bashir is brought down.” Fighting continued in Sudan this week as “Sudanese air force and ground troops attacked positions of rebels of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North on Wednesday in an attempt to halt a rebel advance on the city of Kadugli, South Kordofan’s capital.” The SPLM-N is a member of the Revolutionary Front.

Amid violence inside Sudan and diplomatic tensions between Kampala and Khartoum, Uganda and Sudan are attempting a rapprochement. Sudan Tribune reports:

Sudan and Uganda agreed to reactivate a joint committee between the two countries to discuss contentious issues and improve strained relations, a Sudanese official said .

Salah El-Din Wansi, state ministry for foreign affairs told the official news agency SUNA on Monday evening following his return from Kamala that the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, directed to reactivate a joint committee to tackle ways to improve bilateral relations and to ease tensions.

[…]

The two countries held different meetings in the past but they failed to settle the issues of rebel groups as Kampala insisted that Sudan should help to arrest Joseph Kony. But Khartoum kept saying they have no contact with the notorious rebel leader.

Sudan and Uganda made an effort at reconciliation in May, but it seems to have yielded little progress. We’ll see if this time is different. The outcome will have implications for a number of issues, including the hunt for Joseph Kony and the trajectory of negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan (of which Uganda is a major ally).

Nile Politics: Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan to Meet Regarding Grand Renaissance Dam

A few weeks ago, I looked at the regional politics of sharing water from the Nile River in the wake of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s death. The conflict between upstream and downstream Nile countries over water usage has historically pitted Ethiopia and the upstream countries against Egypt and Sudan. In Meles’ final years, Ethiopia began pursuing a more aggressive strategy, including the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam, set to be completed in 2018. The Dam has been a source of tension between Ethiopia and Egypt, and Meles’ successors have continued to pursue the project.

Alongside disagreement, however, Egypt and Ethiopia have made efforts at dialogue. This week brings news that may help reduce tensions. From the Africa Report:

A tripartite commission, established by Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will meet on 8 October 2012 in Addis Ababa to discuss the impact of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam on the three other countries.

[…]

The commission, established after Egypt raised alarm, will discuss the effects of the Ethiopian on both Egypt and Sudan.

However, Ethiopia maintains that the dam over the Nile River will not affect either Egypt or Sudan.

Ethiopia seems unwilling to halt construction of the Dam, but it is possible that the commission could produce some agreements and compromises. With or without the Dam, the situation is unsustainable – by 2017, even under the status quo, experts predict that Egypt’s share of the Nile will be insufficient for its needs. And in the meantime the upstream countries’ water needs and dissatisfaction will only grow. The two sides will eventually need a mechanism to settle the dispute. Hopefully the commission will represent a step in that direction.