Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 29 March 2020

Sudan: Hamdok government takes crucial steps towards lasting democracy

Mr Al Bashir's National Congress Party was dissolved following a bill passed by the transitional government

Sudan's Prime Minister in the transitional government Abdalla Hamdok. Reuters
Sudan's Prime Minister in the transitional government Abdalla Hamdok. Reuters

Sudan’s pro-democracy activists have welcomed a law decreed by the transitional government to dissolve Omar Al Bashir’s once-ruling National Congress party, a move that has showcased the challenges ahead as the country’s new rulers seek to dismantle the dictator’s 29-year regime.

The decree was issued at the end of a 14-hour meeting on Thursday that brought together in a rare joint meeting the government and the Sovereign Council, a military-led, 11-member body that serves as a collective presidency. That the decision was adopted seven months after Mr Al Bashir’s removal speaks of how thorny and delicate the question of uprooting the former regime can be.

Also repealed during the meeting was the public order law, Bashir-era legislation that placed rigid restrictions on, among other things, women’s freedom of dress, movement, association, work and study.

It was ostensibly designed to implement Islam’s teachings, but was effectively used to disenfranchise women, drive them away from public life and further cement men’s hegemony over women in an already patriarchal society.

The two decrees were warmly received in Sudan, where thousands took to the streets or to social media to celebrate them. Pro-democracy activists welcomed them too, branding them giant steps on the long road to dismantle Mr Al Bashir’s regime. However, the decrees triggered renewed calls for quick action to bring to justice the former president’s top lieutenants and stalwarts of his ruling party.

“The challenges ahead are even greater now. Dissolving the National Congress party could prompt Islamists to close ranks, especially in view of the control they have of much of the economy,” said Amani El Taweel, a top Sudan expert at Egypt’s Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Industries.

“However, the banking sector may be able to foil any attempt by the Islamists to take revenge or negatively impact the market.”

Mr Al Bashir was removed from power after months of deadly street protests initially ignited by a steep rise in the price of basic goods, including bread and fuel, last December. The military removed Mr Al Bashir on April 11. After months of tortuous negotiations, the ruling generals and leaders of the pro-democracy movement behind the protests reached a power-sharing agreement in August. The deal stipulated a transitional period of a little more than three years before elections are held.

Critics of Mr Al Bashir, who is in jail while on trial on corruption charges, contend that the former leader has worked tirelessly during his years in power to place loyalists in key jobs in the government, civil service, the military, police and security agencies. Membership of the ruling party had become a springboard for many to illegally amass wealth through tax evasion, hoarding, manipulating market prices or circumventing export regulations to maximize profits.

The ruling party also controlled trade unions, student associations, security agencies and created its own armed militias which activists have blamed for some of the worst violence against protesters in the anti-Al Bashir demonstrations.

“The decree was late in coming, but thank God it’s finally here,” said prominent activist Sulaima Shareef. “The National Congress Party was not a political party per se. It was a criminal band that committed atrocities against the Sudanese people. Still, I don’t want revenge to be exacted against them, I would like everything to go according to the law.”

In office since September, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a career economist, has been replacing loyalists of Mr Al Bashir in top and mid-level jobs in government departments, state institutions and security agencies. Thursday’s move, however, was by far the most significant yet.

However, analysts warn, what lays ahead might be a great deal more difficult.

“The revolution becomes meaningless if the task of dismantling the regime is not prosecuted to the end, said Hany Raslan, another prominent Sudan expert at the Al Ahram centre.

“Al Bashir’s loyalists have organisational expertise and they have money, but they are only bound to each other by mutual interests and that may not be enough to wage a counterrevolution or create a new regime.”

Mr Raslan held out the possibility that the Islamists, in their quest to return to power, could engineer ruinous tribal conflicts or stoke rebellions in the west and south of the Afro-Arab nation.

Ending those conflicts are widely viewed as a must if the country’s morbid economy is to recover, since security spending has been eating a large chunk of Sudan’s limited resources.

“They can also obstruct, manufacture shortages, defame the government and, most dangerously, scheme a military coup,” said Mr Raslan, who points out that many of the armed forces officers from the rank of Lt-colonel and higher are linked to Sudan’s Islamist movement.

El Taweel believes that attracting foreign investments and financial aid from Gulf Arab allies could counterbalance or even neutralise the economic power of Al Bashir’s Islamists.

”If the government secures those, then dealing with domestic challenges will be so much easier.”

Updated: December 2, 2019 05:34 PM

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