Protests have rocked Sudan since December, and the Sudanese military has now apparently decided the country's long-time leader Omar al Bashir is too much of a liability to itself and the country to allow him to remain in office. His removal presents Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with an opportunity to draw Khartoum closer to their orbit, and to lessen the influence of Iran, Turkey and Qatar in Sudan.
For the second time in as many weeks, an Arab leader has been ousted following widespread demonstrations. After nearly four months of protests, Sudanese Defense Minister Awad Mohammed Ibn Ouf announced on April 11 that President Omar al Bashir had been removed from power and placed under arrest. Ibn Ouf announced that the Sudanese Armed Forces, National Intelligence and Security Service and the Rapid Support Forces would form a two-year transitional military government. Ibn Ouf also announced that the 2005 constitution would be suspended, a three-month state of emergency would be introduced and most of the country's political institutions — its governors, Cabinet and National Assembly — would be dissolved.
The Reaction at Home and Abroad
Ibn Ouf and the military leadership now face the challenge of satisfying the protesters, some of whom — like the Sudanese Professional Association, a primary organizer of the protests — have already rejected the military's palace coup as insufficient. In addition to al Bashir's removal, they have called for political and economic reforms. Political reforms are likely out of the question, but Ibn Ouf implied that the economy would be addressed in a televised statement, in which he complained that the previous government had concentrated too much on security-related issues in lieu of solving the country's economic crisis.
The lack of political reforms and improvements to the economy make it likely that the protests will continue.
But actually solving the economic crisis will be easier said than done. Many of Sudan's economic problems are structural and will require long-term reforms and investment to remedy. The lack of political reforms and improvements to the economy make it likely the protests will continue.
Farther afield, whether the West will accept the coup and the two-year transition remains unclear. For its part, the United Kingdom has rejected the coup, and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that "a military council ruling for two years is not the answer." The U.S. response will be complicated by the involvement of Ibn Ouf, whom the U.S. Treasury Department has leveled sanctions against because of his role in the Darfur conflict, when numerous human rights violations occurred.
An Islamist Purge, and an Opportunity for the Gulf
The military coup has also been accompanied by a purge of the country's Islamists, a key political component of the ruling National Congress Party. Sudan Tribune has reported that Ibn Ouf and the military led the coup against al Bashir to head off another coup that disgruntled Islamist officers were preparing to mount. Soldiers have now raided the headquarters of the Islamic Movement — the country's leading Islamist group, and which is closely associated with the ruling party — and a number of high-profile Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist figures including former Vice President Ali Osman Taha have reportedly been detained. Should this purge continue, the post-Sudanese Islamic revolutionary era would definitively begin.
Egyptian statements thus far have been supportive of the situation in Sudan, though no official remarks have come from the Gulf. The coup and the crackdown against the Islamists represent a potentially ideal outcome and a significant opportunity for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. While al Bashir already had been distancing his country from Iran, he had also been courting support from Saudi and Emirati rivals Turkey and Qatar over the past few years.
Sudan's cozying up to Turkey and Qatar had prompted the Saudis and the Emiratis to withhold investment packages during Sudan's economic crisis. Now, Saudi Arabia and/or the United Arab Emirates might have directly facilitated and/or encouraged the military's coup and subsequent Islamist purge via aid now or promises of economic aid down the road. The Saudi and UAE reaction to the coup will indicate whether Khartoum is in fact moving more into Abu Dhabi and Riyadh's orbit.