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Sudan’s protesters demand civilian control amid leadership shake-up

A military coup ousted former President Omar al-Bashir last week.

Sudanese protesters in Khartoum on Saturday, April 13.
AP Photo
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Protesters in Sudan continue to demand that the military turn over power to a civilian government, days after the military overthrew longtime President Omar al-Bashir in a coup.

Demonstrations — including a massive sit-in outside the military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum — persisted over the weekend against Sudan’s ruling military council, which took control of the country after deposing al-Bashir.

Many protesters see the military’s grip on power as merely a continuation of al-Bashir’s authoritarian regime. The 75-year-old ruled Sudan for 30 years and faces international war crimes charges for his role in the genocide in the country’s western region of Darfur.

Protesters saw some victories over the weekend, though it’s not clear how substantial or deep they will be.

On Friday, Gen. Awad Ibn Auf, Sudan’s longtime defense minister who became the de facto leader after al-Bashir’s ouster, stepped down just a day after taking control. Ibn Auf’s record was also tarnished by his role in Darfur, and protesters rejected his leadership as a continuation of al-Bashir’s regime.

Ibn Auf was replaced with by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, who served as the chief of ground forces for the Sudanese military. He oversaw Sudan’s role in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, according to Reuters, and has close ties to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which largely seem pleased with his appointment.

On Saturday, Salah Abdallah Gosh, al-Bashir’s powerful intelligence chief, also resigned. Advocates say Gosh was behind the security crackdowns against protesters, who’ve been demonstrating against the government since December. The United Nations had named Gosh on a list of Sudanese officials who participated in the genocide in Darfur, though he also had ties to the CIA.

The consequences of these shake-ups within the Sudanese military ruling council are still unclear — and it’s hard to gauge how much is coming from protester pressure versus internal power struggles within the military.

What happens next in Sudan is still unclear

Burhan is something of a wild card, as he hasn’t been a public figure in the same way as Ibn Auf has.

Burhan assured protesters on Saturday that he was committed to taking down al-Bashir’s regime, and he announced other personnel shifts within the military and security services. He also said he would lift the 10 pm curfew that had been imposed by his predecessor, though protesters had largely ignored it anyway.

The military ruling council followed up on Sunday by saying it was committed to appointing a civilian prime minister and cabinet to help run the country during the transition from al-Bashir’s rule, with the military ceding control of all but two ministries: defense and the interior. The military had previously said it would maintain control during a two-year transition period, after which it would hold elections.

But these apparent concessions will satisfy the demands of protesters, who want to see an immediate move to a civilian government and still believe al-Bashir loyalists are entrenched within the military and security establishments.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), one of the main groups organizing the protests, has encouraged demonstrators to continue rallying outside military headquarters until their demands are met. Protesters say the military tried to break up the demonstrations on Monday, and called for more people to join the resistance.

“We hope that everyone will head immediately to the areas of the sit-in to protect your revolution and your accomplishments,” the SPA said, according to the Guardian.

For now, the standoff between protesters and the new government continues. The African Union, a consortium of African countries, has demanded that the Sudanese military turn over power to civilian-led authorities within 15 days, and the US, UK, and Norway have issued calls for an “orderly transition to civilian rule.”