By Abdur-Rahman Sohail
“Unseat the regime!”, we chant, “The president must step down!” we demand, and “Down with the system!” we proclaim. Questions we often forget to ask are “In “with what as a replacement?”, “with who as a successor?”, and “with the company of who as your allies to achieve your goals?”- that is if the revolution was organic and originated domestically. A common theme among the recent upheavals and mobilizations in the wake of the “Arab Autumn”, as Laith Marouf calls it, is the lack of ideology guiding these assemblages as well as any sort of long-term plan. These are pressing matters which must be discussed and decided upon long before the unseating or uprooting of an administration or a whole system.
In April 2019, after mass discontentment and popular demonstrations, Omar al-Bashir was ousted just as he ousted the weak coalition government before him- via military coup. Internal leadership feuds between Hassan al-Turabi, the 20 year long re-ignited North-South war, and the conflict in Darfur mired much of Bashir’s reign. Unlike most revolutionary governments in the Arab world which are historically Nationalist and Republican in ideology, the government led by al-Bashir lacked clarity in geopolitical alignment. From being condemned as a supporter of international terrorism to being an ally of the west in the “War on Terror”, Sudan’s foreign policy outlook has been inconsistent. Due to relations with Iran and other parties/movements since the 1989 coup in Sudan, relations with KSA were strained. It was due to this ambiguity in alignment and relations with Iran that American cruise missiles attacked Sudan in the late 90s. However, in the true unpredictable fashion of the government, Sudan expelled all Iranian diplomats and volunteered the young men of the nation to fight in the war against Yemen. Qatar, among Sudan’s strongest allies and investors (along with Turkey) was also involved in this war until its estrangement from the GCC- Sudan’s rapprochement with the KSA brought forth questions about the special relationship between Qatar and Sudan. The crown Prince of Saudi was also involved in lobbying the US to remove sanctions from Sudan as a result. The KSA has grown increasingly averse to ikhwan, an organization which instilled natural sympathies between Turkey, Qatar, and Sudan. This trio along with the rest of the GCC and Arab League were instrumental in NATO’s regime change in both Libya and Syria- quite unexpected was al-Bashir’s visit to the latter nation in December 2018 after strongly supporting the opposition in the same country. International alienation led Sudan to China for its “no political strings attached” New Silk Road initiative, a move which perked the ears of Washington.
The international pariah-state status of Sudan under Bashir’s leadership was best exemplified by the perfunctory ICC warrant for the president. The military establishment’s intervention (coup) has provided a semblance of change but will unlikely diffuse the unrest. The officials present in the upcoming coalition government will be faced with the question of geopolitical alignment- will Sudan develop a clear path? Which international faction Sudan will join or remain a member of? The resulting government may enact minimal appeasing reforms in Sudan but with the feudal, political, and military establishments remaining intact, the general policies/outlook of the nation will likely remain the same. Chronic inflation, economic stagnation, and high food/fuel prices remain issues plaguing the common man in Sudan. This pressure on masses of workers will ensure that popular discontentment will remain alight; the future of real reform depends on this body of the populace. Moreover, it depends on their ability to develop a clear-cut ideology and roadmap as an alternative to the existing old-order. As important is the ability of such a movement to maintain their identity as an independent grassroots movement, untainted with questionable allies and manipulation. Without this, mass protests will only result in more of the same or worse.
“Away with him” and “down with that”- But “up” with what, and “Forward” with who?