Sudan: Can a coup give way to democracy?
The world “can rejoice at the fall of Omar al-Bashir,” said Le Monde (France) in an editorial. The Sudanese dictator took power in a military coup in June 1989 and fittingly was ousted by another military coup last week. Bashir, 75, is a nasty bit of work, a tyrant who gave shelter to Osama bin Laden in the 1990s and freely slaughtered his own people. He fought a bloody civil war against separatists in what is now South Sudan and in the 2000s sent Sudanese Arab Janjaweed death squads to massacre and rape black Sudanese in the western region of Darfur. That campaign led the International Criminal Court to charge him with genocide. But what finally brought down Bashir were the austerity policies he imposed late last year, when his regime tripled the price of bread. Hundreds of thousands of mostly young protesters took to the streets to demand his ouster, and when the announcement came that Bashir had been deposed, the people cheered. But will they get true democracy from a military coup? Much work must be done to ensure a political transition “that is not a mere extension of the Bashir regime without Bashir.”
There have already been encouraging signs, said Zine Cherfaoui in El Watan (Algeria). Bashir was initially replaced by the hated former defense minister, Awad Ibn Auf, who served as liaison between the regime in Khartoum and the Janjaweed in Darfur. But protesters decried his appointment, and Auf was forced out after just 24 hours. He has since been succeeded by “new strongman” Abdel Fattah Burhan, a general who hasn’t previously held any position of note. So far, he’s said all the right things. He lifted the nighttime curfew, released the hundreds of demonstrators who were arrested during the weeks of protest, and promised to “eliminate the roots” of the Bashir regime. Most important, Burhan has pledged to turn over power to a civilian government. His new military council says its temporary rule is “not a coup.”
Oh, yes it is, said Adam Arroudj in Le Figaro (France). Some analysts have likened Bashir’s removal to the recent change of power in Algeria, where longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned after weeks of protests. But in Algeria, a civilian took over as interim leader—senate leader Abdelkader Bensalah—and he was named by the legislature, not the military. In fact, the substitute leaders in both Sudan and Algeria are members of their countries’ old guard, said Marwan Bishara in Qatar’s AlJazeera.com. But that doesn’t mean the counter-revolution has won. Pro-democracy activists in Sudan and Algeria have learned from the failed revolutions in Egypt (still a dictatorship) and Libya (ruled by warring militias) that it is crucial “to get the military on their side and on their terms.” Now comes the “slow, tedious, and deliberate process of organization, negotiation, and reconciliation.” Rushing into elections right away will privilege the old order “and fracture the newly formed groups driving the revolution.” Democracy is possible, but it will take time. ■