Al-Bashir is planning his own exit

Al-Bashir is planning his own exit

Omar Al-Bashir will step down from power, appointing a successor not handing him over to the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, his selection will result in a military takeover that will remove the entire regime from power.

As a result of the protests that have gained momentum since 19 December 2018, Al-Bashir has imposed extraordinary security measures of emergency law and dissolved provisional and federal governments of the country. Nevertheless, those measures have backfired, causing him to think of the possible successors. The final objective is providing him a safe exit and not sending him to the ICC.

Balancing forces: holding the stick from the middle

The increasing popularity of the uprisings is a receipt for either a palace coup or a military-takeover. This would remove Al-Bashir from power. On 27 February 2019, he declared a year-long nationwide state of emergency, giving wide powers to the security forces. He also dissolved the federal and provisional governments. Finally, Al-Bashir placed 16 officers from the military and 2 officers of the country’s National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) as governors for the country’s 18 provinces.

These measures explain Al-Bashir’s attempt to stop both the security and the military from removing him. Dressed in military uniform, he promoted Lieutenant General Awad Ibn Awf, the current Minister of Defense, to the post of First-Vice President in favour of Bakri Hassan Saleh, who many have speculated to be Al-Bashir’s successor.

Al-Bashir’s state of emergency gives the NISS and other security organs uncontested power, which is further supported by special courts that have been established to prosecute anyone for violating it.

Between army and security

His appointment of Ahmed Haroun as acting chairman of Al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) is another indication of how he is trying to balance the military and security against one another. Haroun was a former governor of south Kordofan hailing from the security establishment of the National Islamic Front (NIF), the predecessor of the NCP.

Mohammed Ayala, the current recently appointed Prime Minister, Al-Bashir’s above mentioned appointments, and Salah Gosh, the current head of the NISS, are all wanted by the ICC. All of them share the same risk. For this reason, it is probable that Al-Bashir will choose one of them to avoid being arrested.

Of course, Sudan is not exempted from the attention of external geopolitical actors. In particular, the involvement regards the US, Egypt, and both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This pressure is prompting him to transfer power to the military. He is also likely to choose candidates that are acceptable to opposition forces to head a transition period.

Major general Salah Gosh worked with the Central Intelligence Agency in post 9/11 counter-terrorist operations. For these reasons, he is favoured by the Americans, as a potential successor. However, documents show he has been implicated in many coup plots against the embattled president. This includes the recent Middle East Eye report that exposed Gosh’s secret meeting with Yossi Cohen of Mossad, which was organized by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in Munich, Germany. According to sources within the NISS, that was conveyed to a leader within the Sudanese Professionals Association, he had been placed under house arrest.

Ahmed Haroun is the head of the ruling party. However, given that he comes from the regime’s security establistment and that he was a governor, which is a position usually given to civilians it is unlikely that the military will accept his leadership over the country. Furthermore, as he used his positions to terrorize the opposition parties, also they will not accept to negotiate any deal with him. Likewise, he does not seem to have any regional or international backing.

Playing Ibn Awf’s card and the geopolitical context

Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Awf is the current First-Vice President and holds his ministry of defense portfolio. Given that he is also a member of the Sudanese Islamist Movement [SIM], which was the founding movement of both the NIF and the NCP it seems he is most likely person the NCP will accept as a successor to Al-Bashir.

Ibn Awf founds his credibility on two pillars. On a hand, he was involved in the 1989’s takeover that brought al-Bashir and his regime to power. On the other, he was an ambassador of Sudan to Oman. The latter is a position that makes him a familiar face to the eyes of the Gulf States, especially when getting financial backing from both Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, who are purposefully withholding their support from the current president.

Egypt approval of his leadership over Sudan will prove to be a factor in Al-Bashir transferring power to Ibn Awf. Given that he previously headed Sudan’s military intelligence and the Egyptians have always viewed stability within Sudan as essential to its security for its Southern borders. In particular, they are interested in maintaining water security.

Similarly, a critical factor in the transfer of power to Ibn Awf is his backing from the military’s leadership. Before his appointment as Vice-Present, senior officers were encouraged to carry out a palace coup to maintain the continuity of the regime. However, as he is a senior military officer, he may represent a continuation of the military supremacy over the regime. Therefore, they might see no need to pursue a takeover, supporting his leadership over the country.

The possible risks: inspiring a junior military coup

Transferring power to Ibn Awf, Al-Bashir will ensure his safe exit. The safety consists in avoiding facing any prosecution in Sudan or at the ICC. However, the demand of the protestors is the removal of the entire regime with him. The demonstrations are gaining a momentum. The opposition will not negotiate a transfer of power that involves any NCP regime head in a transitional government.

This situations may lead to an unexpected consequence: a break inside the army. According to an interview with a former junior officer, younger soldiers support the protests. He is still in contact with his former colleagues and the breach seems without a solution. In fact, that part of the army seems just waiting for the right moment to lead a junior military takeover.

About Author

Jihad Salih Mashamoun

Jihad Mashamoun is a doctoral candidate of Middle East Politics within the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies of the University of Exeter. Moreover, he holds bachelors’ and masters degrees in Political Science from the American University in Cairo. He has speciality focus on international relations and security within Africa and the Middle East, he also has expertise on the political economies of Latin America and the Middle East.