Sudan 2019: Questions about “Revolution”

“Unseat the regime!”, we chant, “The president must step down!”, we demand, and “Down with the system!”, we proclaim. Questions we often forget to ask are “In with what as a replacement?”, “with who as a successor?”, and “with the company of who as your allies to achieve your goals?”. Is the revolution organic to begin with? Were its origins domestic? These must be qualifiers to supersede the former questions. A common theme among the recent upheavals and mobilizations in the wake of the “Arab Autumn”, as Laith Marouf calls it, is the lack of any long-term plan and the absence of a unified, central, guiding ideology. These are pressing matters which must be discussed and decided upon long before the unseating or uprooting of an administration or a whole system.

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Gaafar Nimeiry with a young Muammar al Qaddafi and President of the UAR, Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1969. This year marked (Nasserist) Arab Nationalist coups in both Sudan and Libya. Both nations were looking to promptly join the UAR and confer leadership to President Nasser.

In April 2019, after mass discontentment and popular demonstrations, Omar al-Bashir was ousted just as he ousted the weak coalition government before him- via a military coup. Internal leadership feuds between Hassan al-Turabi, the 20 year long re-ignited North-South war, and the conflict in Darfur mired much of Bashir’s reign. Unlike most revolutionary governments in the Arab world which are historically Nationalist and Republican in ideology, the government led by al-Bashir lacked clarity in geopolitical alignment. From being condemned as a supporter of international terrorism (relations with terrorists, rogue groups, and liberation fighters alike existed) to being an ally of the west in the “War on Terror”, Sudan’s foreign policy outlook had been inconsistent throughout Bashir’s leadership. Due to relations with Iran and Muslim Brotherhood-aligned organizations since the 1989 coup, relations between Sudan and KSA were strained. It was due to this ambiguity in alignment, relations with Iran, openness to travelling fighters and questionable characters alike that American cruise missiles attacked Sudan in the late 90s. However, in the true unpredictable fashion of the government, Sudan recently expelled all Iranian diplomats and volunteered the young men of the nation to fight in the barbaric war against Yemen. Qatar, among Sudan’s strongest allies and investors (along with Turkey), was also involved in this war until its estrangement from the GCC. Sudan’s rapprochement with the KSA brought forth questions about the special Qatar-Sudan relationship. The Crown Prince of Saudi was also involved in lobbying the US to remove sanctions from Sudan as a result of the rapprochement. The KSA has grown increasingly averse to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization which instilled natural sympathies between Turkey, Qatar, and Sudan. This trio along with the rest of the GCC and Arab League were instrumental in NATO’s regime change efforts in both Libya in Syria- quite unexpected was al-Bashir’s visit to the latter nation in December 2018 after strongly supporting opposition forces in the same country. Bashir’s support to Libyan terrorists and the NTC was framed as revenge for the Jamahiriyah’s support of revolutionaries in Darfur. Alienation from the international community and a flatlining economy led Sudan to China for its “no political strings attached” New Silk Road initiative, a move which perked the ears of Washington.

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Omar al Bashir meeting Chinese core leader, Xi Jinping, during his visit to the People’s Republic of China.

The international pariah-state status of Sudan under Bashir’s leadership was best exemplified by the perfunctory ICC warrant for the president. The military establishment’s intervention (coup) has provided a semblance of change but will unlikely diffuse the unrest. Meanwhile, military leaders and those who will compile the supposedly upcoming coalition government will be faced with the question of geopolitical alignment- will Sudan develop a clear path? Which international faction Sudan will join or remain a member of? The resulting government may enact minimal reforms in Sudan for the purpose of appeasement. Regardless, with the feudal, political, and military establishments remaining intact, the general policies and political outlook of the nation will likely remain the same or revert to the traditional client state status.

After turning on his radical/Arab Nationalist allies for an alliance with the Gulf monarchies and the Camp David regime, Gaafar Nimeiry maintained this client state and aid cow status until he was unseated in 1985. Chronic inflation, economic stagnation, and high food/fuel prices remain issues plaguing the nation of Sudan. This pressure on the masses of workers will ensure that popular discontentment will remain alight; the future of real reform depends on this body of the populace. Moreover, it depends on the ability of this body to develop a clear-cut ideology with a roadmap as an alternative to the existing old-order. As important is the ability of such a movement to maintain their identity as an independent grassroots movement, untainted with questionable allies and manipulation. Without this, mass protests will only result in more of the same or worse.

“Away with him” and “down with that”- But “up” with what, and “Forward” with who?

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Demonstration in Egypt circa 1951 against British occupation and foreign control of the Suez Canal. The Free Officer Revolution the very next year would fulfil their dreams.

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