Sudan’s newly formed transitional military council is “adamant” on holding a public dialogue with all political factions of Sudan, including armed rebel groups, to form a transitional “civilian government,” General Omar Zein al-Abideen, the head of the council’s newly formed political committee, said in a press conference held this morning at the Sudanese Armed Forces military headquarters, where protesters have camped outside since Saturday.
The newly formed political committee’s head gave some additional insight into the trajectory of the country after former President Omar al-Bashir was ousted by the military yesterday, expanding on the list of immediate measures the transitional military council announced that include a one-month daily curfew, a three-month state of emergency and a two-year transitional period of military rule until “free and fair elections” could be held to elect a democratic Sudanese government.
Political parties must send a letter to the political committee nominating two representatives to attend a meeting, the date of which will be announced later.
Protesters have widely rejected the military’s seizure of power, vowing to maintain the sit-in outside the military headquarters until the Armed Forces hands over power to a civilian government.
In a statement issued shortly after the Armed Forces’s televised address yesterday, the Freedom and Change Coalition, an umbrella of opposition forces steered by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), called the installation of a transitional military government “a military coup” that “reproduces the same faces and institutions that the people revolted against.”
Thousands of protesters defied the curfew last night, sleeping outside the military headquarters.
In his Friday morning address, Zein al-Abideen emphasized that the primary role of the military council will be to safeguard the national dialogue in order to form a “strictly civilian government”— with the exception of the interior and defense ministries — that will rule during the transition period. Defense Minister Ibn Awad Auf, who was appointed head of the military council last night and is known to have strong ties to the Bashir regime’s atrocities in Darfur, charged the political committee with overseeing this dialogue process.
While the nature of the transitional military council’s relation to a future civilian government is not clear, Zein al-Abideen pledged that the council will not remain in power beyond the two-year transition period.
The political committee head also stated that the military will not extradite Bashir to the International Criminal Court, where he is wanted for committing crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Darfur. Any trial involving Bashir, Abideen said, will be held in Sudan under the control of civilian authorities.
“The new government will be entirely civilian in nature, but all political factions need to come to an agreement and give us a proposal for the new cabinet,” Zein al-Abideen said, in response to press inquiries about the formation of the new government. “We are only here for protection. We will not interfere, and we do not have any names or suggestions,” he added.
“But we have to be realistic,” he said. “There are sovereign ministries. The defense minister will be a member of the Armed Forces, and the military council will have a say in the appointment of the interior minister, and no one should oppose us on this,” Zein al-Abideen stated.
During the press conference, Zein al-Abideen repeatedly stressed that the interim military council’s task is to “safeguard Sudan’s security and stability.”
“We act as an umbrella for everyone, ensuring that there are equal opportunities for all factions to participate in a dialogue, including the armed groups,” he said. “Everyone is welcome in these halls until Sudan overcomes this crisis. Our mission is to preserve the opportunity for peaceful dialogue in Sudan,” he stated.
Zein al-Abideen said that the Supreme Security Committee, which was formed by the security forces in light of the demonstrations over the past few months, tried to reach out to political groups, but that “the prospects for dialogue were blocked.”
“Political groups only wanted change, and that has been achieved by the ouster and subsequent house arrest of Bashir,” he added, describing Awad Ibn Auf, the defense minister, and Salah Gosh, head of the National Intelligence and Security Service, as “pioneers of change.”
According to a Sudanese military source who spoke to Mada Masr earlier this week, there had been a push to put forward a candidate to lead the country in the event that Bashir was removed who has not been indicted and is not at risk of being indicted by the ICC in connection to the Bashir regime’s war crimes and genocide in Darfur. This was a problem for Gosh and two other candidates discussed by regional players in March. The source said that former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Emad Eddin al-Adawi was being considered for the position, as he is not connected to the genocide in Darfur.
Despite being at the helm of the country’s National Intelligence and Security Service 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 one of the individuals most responsible for the war crimes committed in Darfur.
Ibn Auf has been on the US economic sanctions list since 2007 for links to Darfur genocide. On May 29, 2007, a statement by the US State Department accused Ibn Auf and other Sudanese political figures and companies of having “widespread involvement in Darfur, and [links] to violence, atrocities and human rights abuses in the region.”
The National Congress Party, Bashir’s national ruling party which was overthrown yesterday, has not been invited to participate in the public dialogue, because the party had been responsible for what happened in the country, Zein al-Abideen said. The military council does not plan on dissolving the party as long as the latter “continues to practice politics responsibly,” the political committee head added.
“No voice will be silenced. We do not want any Sudanese person to have a reason to feel prejudice and rebel afterward. If we are not careful about this, we will go back to square one,” Zein al-Abideen added.
Yesterday, the interim military council placed Bashir under house arrest and arrested a number of NCP leaders. Zein al-Abideen explained that the interim military council is yet to be fully formed, and that consultations are still underway. Awad Ibn Auf, the defense minister, and Kamal Abdel Marouf, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were sworn in respectively as head and deputy head of the interim military council on Thursday evening.
The ongoing consultations throw into stark relief what an Egyptian government source, who has been in touch with officials in Khartoum, said yesterday is “disagreement among top generals” over who will lead Sudan going forward.
The suggestion of conflict among the military and political figures negotiating Bashir’s successor is echoed by a junior officer within the Sudanese military, who also told Mada Masr that there had been “multiple coup attempts” occurring in parallel in the hours before Ibn Auf’s announcement yesterday.
Commenting on the African Union’s rejection of the military’s takeover in Sudan, Zein al-Abideen said “We did not carry out a coup. We responded to the Sudanese people’s call for change. The council will step back later in favor of our civilian siblings.”
“If this was a coup, the picture would have been different. We would have imposed our vision on everyone. We are in this position in response to the people’s calls, not out of our own will,” Zein al-Abideen added.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission said “the military takeover is not the appropriate response to the challenges facing Sudan and the aspirations of its people,” adding that the Security and Peace Council will meet “swiftly to consider the situation and take the appropriate decisions.”
The chairperson also urged all involved Sudanese parties to participate in an inclusive dialogue to “create the conditions that will make it possible to meet the aspirations of the Sudanese people to democracy, good governance and well-being and restore constitutional order as soon as possible.”
Under the bylaws of the African Union, the membership of a state that undergoes a military coup is temporarily suspended, as happened with Egypt in 2013. Egypt, which currently sits atop the AU, however, has decided not to suspend Sudan’s membership, intending to maintain “friendly” relations with the incoming government, according to an Egyptian official who spoke with Mada Masr yesterday.
Zein al-Abideen announced that the interim military council will launch communications with the international community and all foreign countries to clarify the situation for them.
Zein al-Abideen repeatedly referred to Field Marshall Abdel Rahman Suwar al-Dahab, who presided over a military transitional council in 1985 after an uprising that ousted the elected government of President Gaafar Nimeiry before handing power to the elected government of Sadiq al-Mahdi one year later, which was later overthrown by Omar al-Bashir in 1989.
In response to calls by the Sudanese Professionals Association to resume protests to reject the military takeover, Zein al-Abideen said “what concerns us is security. You can protest and demonstrate, but do not dare to violate another’s freedom. The right to protest is granted, and we will not prevent it, but there are more dangerous outcomes. For example, we will not tolerate shutting down roads or bridges. Who are you to restrict people’s movement. Are you commissioned by the people [to do this]?”
In Friday’s press conference, Zein al-Abideen announced the military council’s refusal to hand Bashir to the ICC.
“During the transitional rule, the military council will not hand Bashir over to a foreign entity. If he will be extradited, it will be after we’ve gone. These are our values as military men: we do not hand Sudanese people to foreigners; we hold the trials ourselves. The law and the judiciary exist. And we cannot commit such a heinous act. We would not even extradite armed rebels. We do not side with the president, but rather with Sudan and the Sudanese people,” Zein al-Abideen stated.
Thursday’s ouster of Bashir comes after over three months of popular protests against his rule which came to a head in recent days, when protesters staged a sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum. Protesters have faced live rounds and excessive use of tear gas, among a host of other violations, during this three-month period.
Since the sit-in outside the military headquarters began on Saturday, periodic clashes have broken, as security forces tried to disperse the protest camp, but the military intervened to protect the thousands of protesters.
Zein al-Abideen pledged to bring those responsible for the death and violence against protesters to trial. “We will not protect or provide safe exits for anyone. All those who are responsible will be referred to the judiciary, which will say its final word,” the political committee head stated.
Zein al-Abideen also stated that the military council’s security committee will announce the members of the NCP who were arrested yesterday, saying that they will then be referred to trial.
According to the Egyptian official, who spoke to Mada Masr yesterday, at least seven leading figures in the Sudanese regime were arrested in the timeframe between Ibn Auf’s televised conference and the early morning ouster of Bashir.
“We have to cut down the tap on corruption. Whoever proves to be involved in corruption will be arrested and sent to trial,” Zein al-Abideen said. “But we will avoid a chaotic process and will be committed to the protesters’ slogans that call for justice, which we will apply to everyone.”