Omar Hassan al-Bashir Is Removed as Sudan’s President
GULU, Uganda — President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the authoritarian leader of Sudan wanted on genocide charges in connection with atrocities in Darfur, has been ousted by his nation’s military after nearly four months of mass protests shattered his grip on the country.
The nation’s defense minister, Lt. Gen. Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, announced on Thursday that Mr. al-Bashir had been taken into custody, the government had been dissolved and the Constitution had been suspended. He said there would be a two-year transition period, with the military in charge, and announced a 10 p.m. curfew.
Mr. al-Bashir, 75, who ruled Sudan longer than any other leader since the country gained independence in 1956, has long been regarded as a pariah in the West.
Before the announcement, protesters demanding Mr. al-Bashir’s ouster had gathered outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum, the capital. They addressed a chant to the president: “You’ve been dancing for 30 years. Today it’s our turn to dance.”
“He has been such a burden for us,” said one protester, Eltahir Abdelrahman, who at age 25 has lived his entire life under Mr. al-Bashir’s rule. “We can’t wait to build the new Sudan with freedom, justice and peace.”
But protesters’ jubilation was tempered by a wary uncertainty about what would happen after Mr. al-Bashir was toppled, and there were anxieties that Sudan might descend into instability, with rivals vying for power.
There was no statement about the membership or structure of the transitional government, which a senior official said was still being debated privately by leaders of the military and security services.
“We’re also nervous because we don’t know who is replacing” Mr. al-Bashir, said Mr. Abdelrahman, a doctor who spoke by telephone from outside the army headquarters. “If he’s from the same system, we’ll continue protesting.”
Sara Abdelgalil, a spokeswoman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has been organizing the protests, said the defense minister’s announcement fell far short of satisfying the demonstrators.
“What has been just stated is for us a coup, and it is not acceptable,” she said. “They are recycling the faces, and this will return us to where we have been.”
She said the demonstrations would continue “until there is a complete step down of the whole regime.”
“We insist on a civil government,” she added, “and we don’t support any coup.”
On Thursday, there was no sign of that kind of break with the past.
The United States has previously accused General Auf, a former diplomat and head of Sudan’s military intelligence, of playing a significant role in violence and atrocities committed in Darfur.
“It’s basically Bashir’s henchmen taking over,” said Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert at Tufts University. “It stops a civil war among Sudan’s rivalrous military oligarchs, but it won’t satisfy the demands for democracy.”
General Auf said that Mr. al-Bashir was in “a safe place” after his arrest. Several leading Islamists with the ruling National Congress Party, which was viewed as a potential political rival to the military, have also been taken into custody.
Mr. al-Bashir came to power in 1989 as a little-known general during an Islamist and military-backed coup. In the following years, he purged Islamists and insiders from his party, and demonstrated a knack for political survival.
He tightened his control by building up an array of competing security forces and militias, as well as the regular army. Sudan analysts have warned that those forces are likely to begin tussling for dominance once the longtime ruler is out of the picture.
For much of the last 30 years, Mr. al-Bashir waged war across the south and west of his country. His regime bombed civilians in the Nuba Mountains with warplanes and, according to the International Criminal Court, presided over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the western region of Darfur.
Mr. al-Bashir himself is under indictment before the international court accused of playing “an essential role” in atrocities in Darfur, overseeing forces that killed, raped and terrorized hundreds of thousands of civilians. Before his ouster, he was the only active leader of a nation to be wanted by the court.
The country ultimately divided in 2011, when South Sudan gained independence.
Mr. al-Bashir also sent thousands of Sudanese soldiers to fight elsewhere, including in the civil war in Yemen, and it is not clear whether a new government will call them home.
But in the end, the wars and atrocities did not topple Mr. al-Bashir. Instead he was brought down by mass protests set off by the price of bread.
Protests began in December over rising food costs but quickly expanded to a broad challenge to Mr. al-Bashir’s hold on power. In recent days, rival factions within the security services have battled each other, raising fears of a complete breakdown in order as armed military groups fight for control.
A striking photo of one protester standing on a car and wearing a white thoub — a long robe — and gold earrings as she urged on a crowd this week was widely shared online and called an iconic image of the demonstrations.
Protests over Mr. al-Bashir’s rule had surfaced — and been crushed — before, and for months his security forces tried to contain the latest uprising through arrests, interrogations and gunfire.
But the demonstrations gained strength in early April when huge crowds began to gather outside army headquarters. Instead of dispersing the crowd, Sudanese soldiers permitted the protesters to stay and soon began to block — and in a few cases fire upon — other security and intelligence forces seeking to crack down.
To the protesters, that rift between government forces suggested that Mr. al-Bashir’s support within the army was slipping — though the military, which has been accused of many rights abuses, is not seen as a unifying force.
But the division also highlighted how a number of armed groups and factions have grown in power under Mr. al-Bashir’s long rule — and their potential to be a destabilizing force in Sudan.
“The monopoly of gun power has been fragmented for many years in this government,” said Magdi el-Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute, a think tank based in Kenya.
Mr. el-Gizouli, who is from Sudan, said that fragmentation now poses an urgent question: “What to do with all these armed men in the country and what will you turn them into?”
In recent days, the numbers of demonstrators swelled far beyond those of previous crowds, marking a new stage in the protests, organizers said. Their mood ranged from delight at the display of people power to fear that the authorities would soon crack down.
The events in Sudan have raised fears of a wider regional instability. South Sudan and Libya, Sudan’s neighbor to the northwest, are themselves gripped by armed conflict, and the leader of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, stepped down as president this month after weeks of street protests.
Washington has listed Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, although the country does cooperate with the United States on some counterterrorism efforts, the State Department said in a 2017 report. The designation dates from the 1990s, when American officials determined that Sudan had harbored militants intent on attacking several sites in New York. For a time, Osama bin Laden lived in Sudan.
Andrew Natsios, a former United States special envoy to Sudan, said he believed that Mr. al-Bashir might have ceded power earlier, but feared that it would mean facing trial before the international court.
At one point years ago, Mr. Natsios said, Mr. al-Bashir “went so far as to collect dossiers on two dozen African leaders who committed atrocities and sent them to those leaders” in an effort to get those countries to withdraw from the court and weaken its reach.
In recent years, Mr. al-Bashir had taken some steps to try to repair his standing — and that of his country — in the international order. The United States removed some economic sanctions against Sudan and had even come to view him as a counterterrorism partner in some respects.
European countries were hopeful that Sudan’s security forces could stem the flow of Africans trying to cross the Mediterranean.
Under international pressure, Mr. al-Bashir agreed to South Sudan’s independence after decades of civil war. But because much of the country’s oil is in the south, the separation took a major toll on the Sudan’s economy.
Protesters from Khartoum or the city of Omdurman, just across the Nile from the capital, listed corruption as their top grievance.
“They Sudanese people, they are unable to stand the corruption of this corrupt regime,” a teaching assistant at the University of Khartoum who asked only to be identified by her first initial, S, said on Tuesday.
“I say that if 100 percent of the state’s budget was allocated to the army to secure the country then that is still not enough,” Mr. al-Bashir said in a 2015 speech calling for Sudan to develop its own arms industry.
But at bakeries people sometimes stand in line for hours for bread. Patients awaiting medical procedures are often told by doctors to bring their own sterile gauze and sutures, for the hospital may not supply any. Inflation that has whittled down salaries over the years.
But for many people, the demonstrations have been a moment of exultation over a break with the past, not anxiety over the future.
“I’ve never felt so hopeful as I have during these protests,” Sheraz Ibrahim, a 30-year old human rights advocate, said in an interview.
She said that as a woman in Sudan, she had sometimes felt unsafe walking down the street and was careful about what she wore to avoid harassment. In Sudan, after all, some police officers consider it a crime for women to wear trousers.
Yet she noted, “I felt secure during these protests, even though I did not know the people all around me.”