Omar al-Bashir will step down as president of Sudan “soon,” after more than three months of popular demonstrations that came to a head in recent days when protesters in the thousands staged a sit-in outside the national Armed Forces headquarters in Khartoum, according to a Sudanese military source.
According to the military source, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, the announcement that Bashir will step down is contingent on the military, National Congress Party, security sectors and Arab backers coming to an agreement on a successor. The source adds that this successor may be an interim president who will serve for several months until a president is elected.
According to the source, this announcement is expected to come within the week.
Hassan Ismail, the Sudanese minister of information, denied a report published by news outlets that Bashir was close to handing over power to the military.
Protesters remain stationed outside the military headquarters in Khartoum — which also houses the National Intelligence and Security Service headquarters, Bashir’s official residence and the Defense Ministry — and the situation remains “very tense,” eyewitnesses tell Mada Masr. At dawn on Monday, security forces tried to disperse the sit-in by firing tear gas and live bullets into the air, but the military returned fire, pushing security forces back and allowing protesters to resume their demonstration.
While the military source says that inner circles of the Sudanese state and international actors are narrowing in on a candidate, the opposition Freedom and Change Coalition announced Monday in a press conference the formation of a committee to engage in dialogue with the military about a transition plan, making it unclear who exactly will fill the vacuum in a post-Bashir landscape.
Bashir rejected calls from some senior officers to step down in a Saturday night meeting following the first day of the “million-man” protests.
An Egyptian official briefed on Egyptian-Sudanese relations previously told Mada Masr that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Sheikh Mohammed bin al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the deputy head of the Emirati Armed Forces, met in mid-March to discuss the situation in Sudan.
In the meeting, they pledged to support Bashir during the remainder of his presidential term for as long as possible, after which a “smooth handover of power” would be facilitated, with National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) head Salah Gosh among a short list of candidates.
However, according to the Sudanese military source, there is a push to put forward a candidate that has not been indicted or is at risk of being indicted by the International Criminal Court in connection to the Bashir regime’s war crimes and genocide in Darfur, a problem for Gosh and the other previously considered candidates.
Despite being at the helm of the country’s NISS at the time and being accused by human rights groups of organizing violent militias and masterminding bloody counterinsurgency efforts that led to the genocide in Darfur, Gosh — whose 2005 visit to the US was heavily criticized — was reportedly investigated by the ICC but was never indicted. The US also campaigned for Gosh to be left off the UN sanctions list pertaining to the genocide — arguing that he was a strategic asset in counter-terrorism intelligence in the US-led “war on terror,” given his former links to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — even though a UN panel of experts listed Gosh as being one of the individuals most responsible for the war crimes committed in Darfur.
The Sudanese military source says that former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Emad Eddin al-Adawi is being considered for the position, as he is not connected to the genocide in Darfur. Adawi was appointed as the military chief of staff in 2016 and served in that capacity until he was removed from his position by Bashir in 2018 in a reshuffle that also saw Gosh reclaim his former position as head of the NISS.
The other primary issue, according to the Sudanese military source, is to secure Bashir’s safe exit from Sudan, with Saudi Arabia being the primary potential destination, a fact corroborated by an Egyptian official, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.
While discussions play out at the state and international level regarding the future of Sudan’s leadership, protesters continued to occupy the area in front of the military headquarters.
Saturday’s “million-man” demonstration in front of the military headquarters, which was called for by the Freedom and Change Coalition operating under the banner of the Sudanese Professionals Association, was to coincide with the anniversary of the uprising that overthrew the military regime of former President Gaafar Nimeiri in 1985.
Protesters planned to make their way along the road toward the military building. However, security forces had been deployed hours earlier, and bridges leading to the heart of the capital were also closed. Deserted markets and shops of the capital had also been shuttered amid a widespread arrest campaign.
A police source told Mada Masr that the campaign targeted over 800 demonstrators, who are now being held in the Hadi prison in Omdurman, the sister city of Khartoum.
As the hour approached for the launch of the marches, the sounds of tear gas canisters boomed in the city center, echoing against the loud cheers of demonstrators.
The road running through central Khartoum was opened by the military to allow protesters to reach the headquarters, but protesters were prevented from accessing the roads from the west and south of Khartoum, where security forces used tear gas to disperse crowds.
The protesters eventually managed to take full control of all the squares and roads leading to and around the headquarters after a three-hour standoff with security forces. The military also deployed vehicle units to protect demonstrators and attend to the injured.
Mada Masr observed more than one attempt by security forces to disperse protesters using teargas. In response, protesters threw stones to keep the police and security forces at bay from the protest camp.
As the sun began setting on Saturday, security forces and police fired tear gas canisters at the crowd, some of which fell directly inside the sit-in outside military headquarters. Security forces also fired live rounds into the air and detonated sound bombs in an attempt to scare off protesters who had decided to camp the night in front of the headquarters.
On Sunday morning, eyewitnesses estimated that the number of protesters had surpassed Saturday’s highpoint. The roads leading to the headquarters remained open, but security forces attempted to control the entrance of crowds into the protest camp via the Armed Forces Bridge, sparking a confrontation with the military.
“The security forces tried to prevent us from moving toward the sit-in and crossing the Armed Forces Bridge, firing into the air and firing tear gas canisters at us when we were on top of the bridge,” Rami al-Serr, an eyewitness, tells Mada Masr. “We tried to escape, and then an army vehicle came and we shouted and cheered. As the military approached the security forces, the two forces exchanged fire, causing the security forces to withdraw to [the north Khartoum neighborhood of] Bahri.”
In the evening, security and intelligence surveillance patrols were widely deployed in the streets of Khartoum to search private cars, public vehicles and passersby.