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KHARTOUM - 27 Nov 2012

Analysis: Potential successors of Bashir warming up for power struggle

By Hildebrand B. Bijleveld - Tanks were roaming over Ebed Khatim Street, the people of Sudan were told the government had prevented the nation from a coup attempt and high-ranked officials were sent to prison. This proven remedy against other 'political diseases' within the current ruling party is not a new phenomenon.

But the contradictory way the minister of information explained the wave of arrests revealed that most probably there is another issue behind it. He firstly said that the government knew for several weeks that that a coup d’état was on the way. It was even known that the event would take place last Thursday, 15 November.

Yet the government decided to prevent this coup d’état by arresting high ranked officials on Thursday 22 November, Minister of Information Osman Bilal explained. And what could then be behind the appearance of tanks in the streets of Khartoum?

The National Congress Party is a key player within the Islamic Movement in Sudan, which had an important meeting in Khartoum last week. The origin of the current regime in 1989 was not just a military one, but it was branded as the National Islamic Front headed by Hassan al-Turabi. It was an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Al-Turabi gradually gained so much power becoming a speaker in the parliament, that the military leader, President Omar al-Bashir, put him in jail, accusing al-Turabi for staging a coup d’état against him.  

Since then, several times, army officers have been detained and put in prison over the same allegations. It never seemed that a serious violent attempt materialized. The small group surrounding president Omar al-Bashir became increasingly stronger. Amongst them, was his tribal and ideological brother Nafie Alie Nafie. Next to Bashir, he is the most powerful politician in Sudan, together with the Minister of Defense Abdelrahim Mohammad Hussein and the Minister of Presidential Affairs, General Bahri Hassan Salih.

The past year has been the most turbulent one of the Bashir government since its start. It lost South Sudan, the oil revenues dried up for more than a half year due to a border dispute, the Nuba Mountains are only partly controlled by the Sudan Armed Forces and popular support for the regime has faded in Darfur since also the implementation of the new peace agreement has failed. The promised prosperity and development is nowhere seen for the people concerned.

These issues, added to the forced retreat from the disputed Abyei area due to international pressure from the region (especially Ethiopia), made the military-based government lose face. The protests against the deplorable state of the national economy under the slogan 'Sudan Revolts' were significant, but did not catch fire due to the exceptional opportunistic and divided opposition. But the fundamental in tranquility did not cease. The conference of the Islamic Movement last week has been largely overlooked, but in fact it might have triggered the arrests.

The Islamic Movement can be considered as the religious legacy of the National Islamic Front. It is an important conference since it constitutes the Shura Council with 400 members that provide the traditional Muslim consultation process. But the last conference killed basically the essence of this Islamic-based consultation process that has been promoted by the prophet himself in the Holy Qu'ran.

Much to the dismay of people like Ghazi al-Saladin Atabani, a sidelined presidential advisor and Islamist, the conference agreed to appoint a Supreme Council to be chaired by members of the highest executive authority, meaning President Omar al-Bashir and his deputies. All power and consultation, even over the Islamic ideology, went back in the hands of the small group surrounding president Omar al-Bashir. Of no surprise, the attending leader of Hamas, Khaleed Mashal, congratulated the participants for taking such a step.

In order to keep the camp of Ghazi al-Saladin Atabani calm, the authorities started to arrest some of his allies, for example the former spy chief Salah Gosh. He was the first victim. The second to be detained was the brigadier-general 'Wad' Mohamed Ibrahim. He was blamed for the loss of the Heglig oilfield to the southern army SPLA earlier this year, what maddened the hawks like Nafie Alie Nafie who are always claiming Heglig to be part of the North. That temporary loss caused the Khartoum government to take unpopular austerity measures with sky rocketing fuel and food prices.

A previous power struggle with the Islamists of al-Turabi makes Bashir's allies aware that Khartoum experiences again a dangerous mix of poor economic development, losing face of the army and abuse of power. The minister of information told the nation of Sudan this week that the 'coup d’état' was staged after a 'propaganda campaign about the illness of President Omar al-Bashir'.

It was not the first time that the absence of the president from executing powers has been mentioned. But it never has become so clear that his successors are warming up for the game, ousting their main rivals outside the inner circle and trying to keep the group of strongholders around the current president as small as possible.  

Cross-posted at

See also:

Tanks appear in Khartoum after arrest of generals and security officers (22 November 2012)