Sudanese protesters salute a military armoured vehicle at a demonstration in front of the army headquarters in Khartoum, as some ranks appear to be tiling towards the rallies. By – (AFP)
Support within Sudan for embattled President Omar al-Bashir seems be waning as some ranks in the army, a major pillar of his three decades in power, appear to be tilting towards the demonstrators, analysts say.
Thousands of protesters have been camping outside the military complex housing Bashir’s official residence in Khartoum since Saturday, braving tear gas and deadly gun shots from security services in defiance of a state of emergency banning all such demonstrations.
But the Sudanese army, which has steered clear of intervening in the clashes since the start of the anti-government protests in December, has so far stood on the sidelines.
On Tuesday, demonstrators were seen hoisting soldiers on their shoulders and dancing and chanting with them. While others joyfully saluted soldiers in armoured vehicles, keeping a protective eye on the crowds.
“This is an obvious endorsement that is better understood as a co-optation of the protest movement,” said Magdi El Gizouli, an analyst with Rift Valley Institute.
“The events of April 6 and 7 have rehabilitated the moral standing of the army and affirmed its political weight.”
Demonstrators carrying banners calling on Bashir to step down have been urging the military — a well-respected institution in the country — to protect them and back their demands for the president to resign.
On Monday, civil groups spearheading the protest movement including the Alliance for Freedom and Change called on the military to hold talks on forming a transitional government.
And on Tuesday, the police openly ordered its forces not to intervene against the protestors, voicing hopes that a way can be found for “a peaceful transition” of power.
Possible army takeover
The army’s implicit permission for the protests to continue in front of a sensitive military site lays bare the discontent within army ranks at Bashir’s rule, analysts say.
“The army has always been the key to the ultimate success for the uprising — and there have been many signs of disaffection within the army — at least among the ranks of brigadier general and the lower,” said Eric Reeves, a senior fellow at Harvard University.
“Lower ranks resent being made to kill fellow Sudanese,” he added.
Powerful bodies backing Bashir including the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have led the deadly crackdown on protesters since December. But the army has not intervened.
The sustained protest movement has so far posed the biggest threat to Bashir’s 30-year rule, but has not yet persuaded the 75-year-old — one of the longest ruling presidents in Africa — to give up the reins of power.
“The protest movement, while it did make considerable advances, has lacked a central strategy beyond agitation,” said Gizouli.
Indirectly, those groups leading the protest movement have in effect called on the army to “play the role of midwife, resolve the immediate crisis and depose Bashir and deliver power to the people,” he added.
“It’s now an open question on how long the army will be loyal to Bashir,” said Murithi Mutiga of the International Crisis Group.
“Given the conflicting signals coming from the army top brass, Bashir might have to manage the transition now rather than later.”
He came under further pressure Tuesday when the United States, Britain and Norway issued a joint statement through their embassies in Khartoum, calling on the Sudanese authorities to deliver a “credible” plan now for a peaceful transition of power.
But it remains unclear whether any such transition would usher in an era of another military ruler, or a civilian government especially if the protest movement fails to produce a viable alternative to Bashir.
Gizouli believes Bashir, a brigade commander who led a bloodless coup against the democratically elected government in 1989, could just be replaced by another military ruler with popular support.
Others argue that there is higher likelihood that a civilian government may be installed after Bashir.
The protests were initially triggered by a decision to triple the price of bread, in a country already grappling with soaring fuel prices and an acute foreign currency shortage.
“No one wants to ‘own’ the economic catastrophe that has befallen Sudan,” said Reeves.
“The current regime can’t distance itself from it and the army doesn’t want to inherit the catastrophe.”
The economy was especially hit after the 2011 secession of South Sudan, which holds three-quarters of former Sudan’s oil wells.
“At least a civilian government brought to power by the army would be given some leeway by the overwhelming majority of Sudanese,” Reeves added.