All the President’s Men: On al-Bashir’s New Presidency

All the President’s Men: On al-Bashir’s New Presidency

Last week, the so-called “Salvation Regime” celebrated its 26th year in power in Sudan. At the helm of the regime remains President Omar al-Bashir and the National Congress Party (NCP). The inauguration of al-Bashir’s new tenure on 2 June 2015 has thus extended for another 5 years his quarter of a century in office, making of him the longest serving Sudanese president since the country’s independence in 1956.

For a majority of the Sudanese, the Salvation Regime has brought only forced displacement, death and devastation, which for the southern Sudanese, culminated in their independence in 2011. The same root causes that fueled separatist feelings among the southern Sudanese remain, as evidenced by ongoing armed conflicts in seven of the remaining 18 federal states in Sudan. The armed movements involved in these conflicts have since late 2014 allied themselves with Sudan’s mainstream political opposition and civil society under a political coalition, the Sudan Call, which aims to fix the ills of “Old Sudan” and build a democratic, secular Sudan with equal opportunity for all.

While the Sudan Call forces orchestrated a nationwide boycott of the April elections, the low voter turnout—estimated between 46.4%, according to figures released by the National Elections Commission (NEC) and 16%, according to informed sources—was also attributable to the population’s apathy and its disbelief that any change would result from new executive and legislative mandates. Assured of a 100% win in the legislative elections months ahead of their occurrence, the NCP blocked off a quarter of the electoral constituencies for candidates belonging to allied parties and breakaway factions of leading opposition parties who had agreed to join the elections on the NCP’s terms and conditions. The results didn’t disappoint, as the NCP now holds 323 of the new parliament’s 426 seats, or 76% in total. For his part, Omar al-Bashir won 94% of the popular vote, according to the NEC. Soon after his “re-election”, al-Bashir announced his new political appointees.

The New Cabinet: From Peers To Subordinates

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Immediately after his inauguration, President al-Bashir appointed 74 new ministers and state ministers in the new federal cabinet, 18 governors and 7 presidential advisors, assistants and vice presidents, launching the new presidency with great fanfare.

While the new cabinet reflects a bizarre mix of both familiar and new NCP faces, it represents no significant change in power configurations. President al-Bashir has merely continued the trend he started since the party’s 2012 General Convention of easing out Islamist old timers by excluding the last standing two figures of the Islamist old guard from the new ministerial formation—Mustafa Osman Ismael and Ali Karti, Presidential Advisor on Investments, and Minister for Foreign Affairs, respectively. Nonetheless, the president conceded to the party by reassigning his personal friend, Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, from Minister of Defense to governor of Khartoum State at the insistence of party barons who had repeatedly failed to oust Hussein. The new cabinet asserts the dismantling of the power centers within the NCP. All loyalties now are for the president alone.

Bashir has finally managed to entirely domesticate the NCP and render it toothless, consolidating his overall personal control of the party and the Islamist Movement that became evident for the first time at the NCP’s November 2012 national convention. However in the absence of a proper political constituency of his own, the all-dominant president will have little options beyond relying on the same structures as his support base.

With Badr al-Din Mahmoud retaining his powerful position as Minister of Finance, and the appointment of Mohamed Zayed Awad, a loyalist professional, as oil minister, the economic sector ministries are bound to pursue previously demarcated policies. A confirmation of this occurred on 23 June, when the Ministry of Finance lifted subsidies on imported wheat flour, resulting in a 38% hike in the price of this basic commodity.

Ibrahim Ghandour succeeded Ali Karti as foreign minister, following Ghandour’s replacement as the NCP’s second in command. This appointment capitalizes on the international community’s perception of Ghandour as someone within the regime whom they can lean on in their otherwise futile attempts to engage with the regime. True to that image, one of Ghandour’s first statements as foreign minister was to announce a visit to Sudan from a high level official of the US government, confirming the much-delayed visit of the US Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan to Khartoum. Likewise, the re-establishment of the Ministry of International Cooperation reflects recognition of the need for dedicated outreach to the international community for financial and development cooperation.

With three federal ministries and an equal number of state ministers granted to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the cabinet represents further consolidation of the opportunistic alliance between the NCP and DUP—an alliance solidified by the allocation of an unprecedented “First” Presidential Assistant post to the son and heir apparent of the ailing DUP chief, Mohamed Osman Al-Mirghani. Though, in the tradition of dividing the two main opposition parties, an equally honorific presidential advisory function remains for Abdel-Rahman al-Sadig al-Mahdi, the elder son of former Prime Minister and head of the National Umma Party (NUP) Sadiq al-Mahdi.

Tribal considerations appear to have influenced some of the ministerial and gubernatorial appointments. Noticeable from this perspective is the marked increase in the number of Rezeigat tribesmen appointed to high political office, diluting the previously strong presence of Zaghawa and other Darfuris of African origin. The Second Vice Presidient, Abdel-Rahman Hasabou, and the two governors of White Nile and Kassala states, Abdel Hamid Musa Kasha and Ali Jamaa, respectively, are all Rezeigat. Al Sadiq Mohamed Ali and Adil Dagalou are Ministers of State at Trade and Tourism, respectively. This could be read as part of the arrangement to appease Musa Hilal’s demands for affirmative action for Darfur Arabs in the state at large. On the other hand, Dagalou is the cousin of Hemeity, the notorious second commander of the Rapid Support Forces and Hilal’s arch rival, reflecting the regime’s expertise in divide-and-rule tactics.

The Gubernatorial Appointments: Tightening Security’s Grip in the States

Of the previous 18 governors, only five managed to stay in office, with three preserving their old states and two recycled to different ones. Two imperatives, from the regime’s perspective, appear to have driven the deployments of governors, new and old: an attempt to curb the influence of tribalism in local and federal state politics and the tightening of the grip of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), particularly in states in which the movements allied under the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) are challenging the government.

Included among those removed is Ahmed Kibir, governor of North Darfur for the last 13 years, who had developed a complex web of tribal and economic patronages, and managed along the way to polarize the population, oftentimes violently. Further reshuffling is reflected in the appointment of governors to states of different tribal composition than their own. Thus Dr. Abdel Hamid Musa Kasha, a Rezeigat of East Darfur and former governor of his home state, was appointed to White Nile state, and Mohamed Tahir Aila, a Beja of eastern Sudan, was reassigned to Gezeira state in central Sudan.

On other hand, the rise of governors with a NISS background, to the detriment of governors with a Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) background, signals the elevation of the security imperative. This trend clearly reflects the positioning of the NISS as the lead force in the government’s counterinsurgency strategy. Thus, in addition to General Abdul Wahid Yousif, who took over North Darfur from Kibir, three former governors with military backgrounds were replaced with three governors with NISS affiliations or backgrounds:

  • General Adam Mahmoud Jarelnabi of South Darfur, replaced by Adam Elfaki Mohamed El-Tayeb
  • Colonel al-Tayeb Abdel-Karim of East Darfur, replaced by Anna’as Omar Mohamed
  • General Ahmed Khamis of West Kordofan, replaced by Abu Elgasim Elamin Baraka

In addition to a shared background with strong links to the NISS, following their participation in the Jihadist campaigns in the 1990s in southern Sudan, the new governors have also risen through the ranks in the NCP. They thus perfectly fit the profile of state governors, as introduced by the regime since its inception, who prioritize political mobilization and security control for the regime over providing security and basic services for the citizens of the state.

The NCP: Changes in Continuity

In a reshuffle of the ruling party, engineer Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid, a former Minister of Interior, replaced Ibrahim Ghandour as NCP Vice-Chairman, a move widely interpreted as reflecting the president’s unhappiness with the party’s performance in the lead up to the polls overseen by Ghandour. Mahmoud is widely seen as a presidential confidant who would clear from the party any remnants of resistance to the president’s full authority. Other appointments—such as that of Speakers of the upper and lower house, Ibrahim Ahmed Omar and Omar Suliman, who are expected to show loyalty to the president—confirm the trend of consolidating al-Bashir’s individual power over that of the barons of the Islamist Movement and the NCP.

The new appointments reflect the current balance of power between the president and the party and movement. For the most part, the new officials represent the third and younger generation of committed Islamists who have been in charge of running the state’s bureaucracy and security, along the way earning the perks that come with such powerful positions. In other words, while al-Bashir appears to have eased out the first and second generations of the builders of the Islamist movement—represented by the Movement’s founder Hassan al-Turabi, and the elders Nafei Ali Nafei, Awad al-Jaz, and Ali Osman Taha—his new government reflects a reliance on the technocratic cadres of the new generation of Islamists in order to ensure the internal cohesion of the regime. This demonstrates the absence of an alternative ideological or political constituency other than that of the Islamists. However, the initial “Civilization Project” of the Inghaz (Salvation) Regime has long since been undermined by the material interests of the cadres in power in Sudan, as reflected in the pervasiveness of official corruption in Sudan.

Those among the Islamists who have despaired of achieving reforms through the prescribed channels within the NCP have migrated to dissident formations opposed to the regime and its reduction of Islamist principles into empty slogans. Among these movements are Ghazi Salah al-Din Attabani’s Reform Now Party, and The National Movement for Change, led by Professor Eltayib Zain Alabdeen. The younger generation of dissidents has come to be known as the Sai’hoon.

Army Reshuffle

Significantly, the director of the NISS, Mohammed Atta, and the Minister of Interior Ismat Abdel-Rahman retained their positions, while Lt. General. Mustafa Obeid replaced Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein as acting Minister of Defense. The three will not be expected to change the regime’s current policies, including the use of scorched earth tactics and deliberate civilian targeting in areas controlled by the movements allied under the SRF. In urban areas, harsh crackdowns on the fundamental freedoms of speech, association, worship, and assembly are expected to continue unabated as evidenced by several such incidents since the launch of the new presidency. These include the forcible evictions and relocation of thousands of villagers in Blue Nile State, and the closure and confiscation of print runs of several newspapers in recent weeks.

Prior to the swearing in of the new parliament and the unveiling of appointees to high office, al-Bashir conducted a thorough reshuffle of the army command. While the Chief of Staff retained his post, most senior military commanders were replaced, including the Inspector General, the head of the Joint Military Operations, the head of the Infantry and the Director of the Military Intelligence. The new SAF leadership is seen by a number of military experts as consisting primarily of officers with a history of liaising between the army and the NISS. President al-Bashir retains his position as Supreme Commander of the SAF, and all the serving officers in the SAF today are several ranks below his, ensuring their loyalty to his command. This would ensure that the new command of the SAF would have little disposition to challenge president al-Bashir’s militarization of the NISS as a parallel force to the SAF, and the primacy given to the Rapid Support Forces, which the former command of the army had rejected in 2013.

And so al-Bashir has assembled his gallery of men. What is clear above all else is that the regime he has presided over for the last quarter century will continue, further entrenching Sudan’s chronic and deadly crises.

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