Three decades ago, a military coup d’etat led by Sudanese brigadier Omar al-Bashir ousted Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi and his democratically elected government. On April 11, the Sudanese military removed Bashir from office in another coup. This move highlights the uncertainty that the Sudanese people now face as they continue their decades-long push for a civilian-led government.
For Andrew Hart, visiting professor of political science, the protests and the coup weren’t surprising, given the long history of mass demonstrations and unrest in the country. On the other hand, he noted that it is hard to determine why the coup happened last week in particular.
“A lot of this has to do with deep, deep dissatisfaction by people who live in Sudan for what it’s like to live in Sudan,” he said.
The mass demonstrations that this coup followed were sparked by a sudden rise in the cost of living in December 2018. These protests created a favorable environment for a coup by placing pressure on the Bashir regime, according to Hart. “I think of it as structural forces mixed with the more unpredictable. We can see the mechanisms at work; we have trouble understanding why they happen now,” Hart said.
On Monday, Al-Arabiya reported that the African Union threatened to suspend Sudan if the military failed to hand power over to civilians by the end of the month.
After Bashir — who analysts suspect is currently under house arrest — was removed from power, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Awad Ibn Auf, defense minister and vice president, declared himself the head of state. The military regime dissolved the National Legislature and imposed a strict 10 p.m. curfew.
Auf announced that the military government would rule for a two-year transitional period. Demonstrators calling for civilian government in Sudan continued to protest, and the new government soon reversed its position, announcing on Friday that they will shorten the length of their rule to as brief as a month if they are able to negotiate a civilian government. Additionally, Auf stepped down and Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan took control. On April 14, the military council announced that they will implement a civilian government if opposition parties can reach an agreement and appoint a prime minister, according to the BBC.
Very little has been uncovered about either Auf or Burhan. According to Anadolu Agency, a Turkish state-run media outlet, Burhan is a 60-year-old who fought in the Second Sudanese Civil War, which led to South Sudan’s declaration of independence. He has been a commander of Sudanese forces in Yemen as well as a military attache to China.
According to Anadolu Agency on April 13, Burhan is the only senior military official in Sudan who does not have a case at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has charged Bashir with genocide and crimes against humanity for his actions in the country’s Darfur region.
The sudden rise of Auf and then Burhan begs the question of who exactly comprises the new government. Hart hopes that it becomes clear what the different factions are within the new military regime, which might help demonstrate how it will contend with protests for a civilian government.
As protests continue and the government seeks to consolidate its power, this is an incredibly precarious time for Sudan according to Hart. So long as a military council remains in control of the state, he is not optimistic about Sudan’s democratic prospects.
As the story continues to develop, it will become clearer whether this new military council plans to extend military rule under a different leader or if it is interested in helping to create a civilian-led government.