Thousands of protesters celebrated the second military ouster of an unfavorable leader in the last 48 hours, even if Defense Minister Awad Ibn Auf’s 24 hours in power was much shorter than the 30 years ousted President Omar al-Bashir sat at the helm of the Sudanese state.
After declaring Bashir’s ouster and house arrest and forming a transitional military council that would guide Sudan for a two-year period on Thursday afternoon, Ibn Auf was appointed to head the council later the same night.
Bashir’s former defense minister, Ibn Auf is tied to the regime’s atrocities in Darfur and had “staunchly supported” Bashir in a high-level military meeting last week, where the then-president had faced pressure from senior officers to resign after three months of popular protests came to a head when thousands of protesters staged a sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum.
Less than 24 hours after a quick ascent, Ibn Auf was back at the podium to announce that he and his deputy Kamal Abdel Marouf had resigned from the transitional military council, and that Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan would assume the leadership position.
While the defense minister did not indicate why he was stepping down, two military sources in Khartoum tell Mada Masr that his removal is a result of broad disagreements within the senior ranks of the Armed Forces that have led to direct confrontation. The sources say that Burhan’s camp, backed by junior officers, pressured Ibn Auf to resign as part of a key play to reset the course of the country. Burhan sketched a preliminary outline of that vision in his first nationally televised address on Saturday.
While the defense minister did not indicate why he was stepping down, two military sources in Khartoum tell Mada Masr that his removal is a result of broad disagreements within the senior ranks of the Armed Forces that have led to direct confrontation, saying that Burhan’s camp, backed by junior officers, pressured Ibn Auf to resign as part of a key play to reset the course of the country.
From the outside, the transition from Bashir has been anything but orderly.
The first reports that Bashir had been ousted by the military surfaced in the early hours of Thursday morning. Sudanese national television suspended regular broadcasting and notified viewers that they should be “ready for” a statement from the Armed Forces “soon.”
The televised broadcast took hours to surface. When it did, an Egyptian government source in contact with officials in Khartoum described it as “very disturbing,” adding that it “lacked coherence and does not have consensus behind it.”
The same source told Mada Masr on Thursday that there is “disagreement among top generals” over who will lead Sudan going forward.
Signs of this internal disagreement have become more apparent.
General Mohamed Hamdan Hemedti, commander of the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary force that had taken orders directly from Bashir, distanced himself from the transitional military council, before proposing a divergent transitional plan on Friday night.
However, according to the military sources who spoke to Mada Masr, what has played out behind closed doors has at times turned violent.
“Many changes and conspiracies have emerged within the army in the past few days, leading to clashes between the Armed Forces and security units, which have left large numbers on both sides dead,” the source said.
The fault lines for these conflicts fall along several axes, according to the sources. First, there are divisions between the Islamist militias and the Armed Forces. And second, there are the junior officers in one camp and senior army officers in another, with Burhan siding with the former.
Ibn Auf’s appointment to head the transitional military council angered many junior officers, who saw the defense minister as a continuation of Bashir, according to the sources.
One of the sources says that Bashir had stepped down with guarantees from Ibn Auf and Abdul Marouf that he would not be handed over to the International Criminal Court — which indicted him in 2008 for committing crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Darfur — and that a safe exit from Sudan would be secured for him and his family.
On Saturday afternoon, National Intelligence and Security Services head Salah Gosh, another figure closely tied to Bashir’s regime, resigned from his post.
With Ibn Auf and Gosh out of the picture, Burhan and the junior officers are advancing their vision, which has already been broached in secret meetings with key opposition figures, who detailed the talks to Mada Masr.
“There was a meeting headed by the former chairman of the Sudanese National Congress Party, other leading members of the opposition, and some senior officers of the army, headed by the current head of the coup Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan,” said a senior opposition member.
According to the opposition member, the parties involved in the meeting discussed an agreement contingent on Ibn Auf’s removal from the transitional military council. If such an event occurred, the new leadership would hand over power within a few months to the civilian council formed by the Freedom and Change Coalition — an umbrella of opposition forces steered by the Sudanese Professionals Association — marking the start of a longer transitional period that will culminate in general elections.
After Burhan’s appointment on Friday night, however, the Sudanese Professionals Association continued to urge protesters to maintain their sit-ins in Khartoum and across the country, until power has been transferred to civilians, an indication that any talks broached between the new transitional military ruler and the opposition have yet to be finalized.
At a press conference on Saturday afternoon, representatives from the National Consensus Forces, the group of political parties opposed to Bashir’s party, announced the formation of a 10-person committee from the Freedom and Change Coalition that will meet with the transitional military council within hours to convey the opposition’s vision for a handover of power to a civilian government.
“The delegation will meet the military council and deliver our vision in the solution, but it will not negotiate with them,” said Satei al-Hajj, a member of the coalition, adding that the opposition’s vision rests on the formation of a civil sovereign council, a council of ministers and a legislative council.
Burhan took to television late on Saturday afternoon to give the preliminary outline of his transition plan, which included lifting the curfew Ibn Auf had imposed, releasing those detained during the past five months of protests, holding those who “shed the blood of innocent civilians” accountable, and calling for an open dialogue with all Sudanese parties, including political parties and armed groups.
Burhan also announced several measures to “restructure and review” the current political system, with an eye on stemming “corruption” and “favoritism.”
First, he announced that all state governors who were appointed by Bashir after the emergency law was put in place will be replaced by military commanders in respective states.
Second, he announced that a transitional military council would be formed “to represent the sovereignty of the state,” with the intention of forming a civilian government agreed upon by all within the two year transitional period.
At the same time as Burhan delivered his address, reports emerged in local news outlets that Hemedti had been appointed the deputy head of the military council.
Beyond the domestic front, Burhan also appears to be gathering support from key international backers, whereas Bashir regime figures like Gosh had once been positioning to take over.
According to an Egyptian official, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, there is particular support for Burhan from Cairo, as there is a belief that he gives some “political cushioning” in the face of African Union and European Union scrutiny.
The Egyptian official adds that there are also preliminary indications that key backers in the Gulf, namely Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have also endorsed the new military transitional leader.
Nonetheless, a Cairo-based Western diplomat says that there has been disagreement over Egypt’s official position, with some holding the dissenting opinion that supporting Bashir in the first place was a mistake and that supporting Bashir’s former aides will hurt Egypt’s diplomatic relations with a future Sudanese government.
In the meantime, Burhan has been sworn in before the Constitutional Court as the head of the military council, and he is expected to present his first address to the nation on Saturday, according to the Sudanese military sources.