In the latest round of conflict that began on 15 April 2023, civil war looms as the security actors who benefited from Bashir’s downfall battle for supremacy.
I have studied Sudanese politics for 15 years, and this latest round of conflict is the worst in the country’s recent history. And the legacy of Bashir’s rule is central to this calamity.
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Bashir bent government institutions to serve his regime. He chose conflict over compromise in dealing with politically marginalised groups in Darfur, in Sudan’s west, and in the south. He used force to hold on to power. This fuelled his support of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which was used to check regional rebels and the army.
Bashir’s legacy has continued to play out today. His former allies have mobilised to block the transition to civilian rule. This had been promised to the Sudanese people under a framework agreement signed in December 2022 by the military and a coalition of civilian actors.
In my view, Burhan’s fear of civilian attempts to rein in military privileges led him to preserve key elements of the Bashir system. This is playing a divisive role in the current conflict.
The ideology of Islamism
Part of Bashir’s legacy has to do with Islamist politics. It’s this legacy that Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti and who heads the paramilitary force, sought to exploit to his favour when he labelled Burhan a “radical Islamist”.
This characterisation was designed to appeal to Western powers. But it’s inaccurate. To understand why, one has to understand the ideological trajectory of the Bashir regime.
When Bashir staged the coup in 1989, he was acting as a representative of a cell in a military carefully cultivated by the National Islamic Front. The political party co-ordinated the coup with Bashir.
The National Islamic Front was led by Hasan al-Turabi, who had run Sudan’s Islamic Movement since the 1960s. He had grown frustrated at his failure to introduce his version of Muslim law (Sharia), through parliamentary means.
Soon after the coup, Bashir and Turabi initiated a process of tamkeen (empowerment). This policy, the legacy of which still remains, enabled them to give adherents of Islamism and security bosses willing to ally with them control over almost every part of public life in Sudan.
Formally, Bashir installed an independent, technocratic government. In practice, however, power lay with a military-Islamist coalition that ran the country behind the scenes.
Throughout the 1990s, Bashir set about ruthlessly purging Sudan’s independent civil society organisations and political parties. By the end of the decade, he’d fallen out with Turabi.
He ejected Turabi from the government in 1999 and co-opted selected representatives of the opposition into his regime in the decades that followed. Bashir maintained the military-Islamist coalition as the basis of his National Congress Party. This kept the edifice built through tamkeen in place