Dr. Ayman Shabana*

 

          On 28 November 2019, the transitional government in Sudan adopted three laws to dismantle the former national salvation regime and remove it from power, relax public freedoms, and achieve justice. This provoked widespread controversy; while supporters of the move saw it as an essential part of the transitional and political process and of building a new State, opponents believed that other challenges should take priority. Opponents have also called for caution, warning that the laws could lead to clashes between the transitional government and counterrevolutionary forces, which would have repercussions on the stability and the future of the country.

Content of the dismantlement laws

          The laws provide for the establishment of the “Salvation Regime Dismantlement Committee” within the Council of Ministers. The Chair will be a member of the Sovereignty Council, and the Vice-Chair will be a representative from the Council of Ministers. The ministers of justice, defence, and health will also sit on the committee, alongside five other members selected by the Prime Minister, a representative of the intelligence services, and a representative of the Central Bank of Sudan. The committee will oversee the dissolution of the National Congress Party, through which the salvation regime ruled the country. The committee will also be responsible for seizing the party's assets for the benefit of the Government, and for dismantling all fronts and affiliates associated with the party or with any person or entity in a position of power thanks to the party. The laws also contain provisions prohibiting leading members of the salvation regime from participating in politics for at least 10 years after the laws’ adoption.

          The Commission for the Reconstruction of the Legal and Justice System Act was also published, and the 1996 Basic Law annulled. It was the Basic Law, which set out rules for public behavior at events, markets, and other places, that most Sudanese citizens felt was oppressive, as it was applied harshly and selectively and was associated with practices that harmed the national image and restricted women’s behavior in particular.

Steps for dismantling a regime

          The laws were published to complement previous efforts to dismantle the former regime, including the arrest of various leaders such as the Secretary-General of the National Training Council, the Commissioner-General of the Social Security Investment Authority, the Commissioner-General of the Humanitarian Aid Commission, the Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Director of the National Centre for Curriculum and Educational Research, the Minister of Social Security and Development, and the Head of Irrigation at the Ministry of Water Resources, Irrigation, and Electricity. The authorities have also launched judicial proceedings against individuals involved in the 1989 coup on charges of corruption and human rights violations, and have arrested numerous leaders and leading figures from the Islamic movement, in particular Ali al-Haj, Secretary-General of the Popular Congress Party.

          In parallel, 24 organizations have had their licenses revoked, and their assets and accounts in Sudan and abroad have been frozen, including those of the Sanad Charity Foundation run by the wife of the former President, Omar al-Bashir. The Special Operations Authority of the National Intelligence and Security Service, which was in charge of military combat assignments, has also been liquidated, and more than 60 officers employed by the Service have been retired, including the Deputy Director, General Awad al-Karim al-Qurashi. As part of a restructuring operation, the Service’s functions have been limited to information gathering only. 

Legal rationale and political motivations

          The authorities have defended the new laws, stating that they are legitimate and are consistent with the provisions of the transitional constitution, and noting that they were issued by the authority in charge of legislation at that time, namely the Sovereignty Council and the Council of Ministers. The authorities have also highlighted the political rationale behind the laws, in particular claiming that progress cannot be made during the transitional phase if the government is still relying on officials appointed by the salvation regime and the Muslim Brotherhood. They have also highlighted the need to hold such individuals accountable for their mistakes and to combat impunity.

          Furthermore, the authorities have stated that, in order for Sudan to be removed from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, leading figures in the religious extremist movement need to be removed from public office, as they are responsible for dragging the country into dangerous ground with their support for terrorist organizations and their sabotage operations in neighboring countries. Some people have drawn a link between timing of the publication of the new laws and the Prime Minister's visit to the USA aimed at, among other things, securing the removal of Sudan from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, ending the imposed Western isolation, obtaining weapons and economic aid, and attracting foreign investment.

Reactions

          Some groups have approved of the recent measures, in particular the Sudan Revolutionary Front, which has called for additional steps to be taken, in particular the prosecution of President Bashir and his aides by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which, for them, is a firm “red line”. The Sudanese Professionals Association also welcomed the dismantling of the salvation regime and the judicial proceedings launched against corrupt individuals involved in the Gezira Scheme, the River Transport sale, and the Heathrow Line sale, among other things. They also welcomed the freeze on the activities of certain non-governmental organizations, claiming that they served as fronts through which the defunct regime embezzled public funds, stole State land, and laundered money, and that they may also have been used to fund the regime's militias and shadow battalions.

          The Sudanese public have also taken to the streets to express their joy at the dissolution of the former regime. In particular, thousands of individuals who had been arrested or dismissed arbitrarily by the former regime celebrated the announcement of the formation of a committee to provide them with restitution, either by restoring them to their jobs or compensating them financially.

          Some have criticized the dismantlement of the regime, however. Ibrahim Ghandour, head of the National Congress Party, has demanded that ministers from the Forces of Freedom and Change alliance be pardoned, and that a new technocratic government be formed under the leadership of Abdalla Hamdok. Ghandour has said that the demands for the judicial prosecution of individuals involved in the 1989 coup come from the desire to seek revenge, settle scores, eliminate political power-sharing, and re-empower the current government. He has dismissed the demands as politically naive, saying that they will lead to failure.

          Likewise, Ghazi Salahuddin, head of the Reform Now party and formerly one of the leading figures of the salvation regime, has stated that the judicial proceedings launched against the leaders of the coup are part of the historical conflict between Islamists and leftists in Sudan. In his view, the trials violate well-established legal principles, most importantly the principles of goodwill and equality. He has compared the trials to the Mediaeval Inquisition in Europe, calling them a disgrace to the December 2018 revolution and claiming that they were launched at that time only to please revolutionaries and reassure them that the aims of the revolution were being achieved, while distracting from other areas in which the transitional government has failed.

          Some have also criticized the closure of charitable organizations, arguing that their assets were frozen pursuant to sovereign legislation with no evidence having been found that they were involved in subversive activities or were receiving illicit funds from abroad. There are also fears that this will have a negative impact on the most vulnerable social groups that benefited from the activities run those organizations, particularly as the transitional government has not yet provided appropriate alternatives.

          Doubts have been raised as to whether the transitional government will manage to dismantle the former regime without a hitch, owing to its inability to replace many of the leading figures who have been excluded from politics. Disorder also reigns on the domestic scene, a prime example being the dispute about whether to send Bashir to stand trial before the International Criminal Court, and the timing of the adoption of the dismantlement laws, which coincided with the constitutional court’s ruling that some leaders of the former regime must be released unless wanted on other charges, including Nafie Ali Nafie and Al-Haj Ata al-Manan. Questions have also been raised regarding the dismissal of the former deputy head of the intelligence service and his replacement by General Ahmed Ibrahim Mufaddal, despite the fact that Mufaddal formerly served as director of the Foreign Intelligence Authority within the National Intelligence and Security Service and as governor of South Kordofan during the Bashir era.

          Amid this controversy, the National Congress Party and the Popular Congress Party have threatened to escalate their actions. As part of the popular initiative to secure the release of prisoners, a demonstration was held in front of the headquarters of the public prosecution to demand the release of leaders held in Kober Prison and to call for an end to the state of emergency which allowed the Government to arrest them. Protesters stated that, unless all those held were released, as there were no legal grounds for holding them for more than 200 days, protests would be held in front of the Republican Palace and the intelligence service headquarters.

Possible consequences of implementing the dismantlement laws

          Enforcing the dismantlement laws will not be easy, as members of the deep State are found in all government institutions. Both the public and the political parties are divided about whether to prioritize the new laws, and there are fears that lengthy trials will require significant time, efforts, and resources. There is pressure to make progress on many of the charges brought against the leaders of the former regime, and accusations have been expanded to encompass other figures who participated in the 1989 coup but later defected and joined other parties such as the Popular Congress and Reform Now.

          The experiences of neighboring countries that have witnessed their own revolutions show that the early and artificial implementation of measures to isolate political groups and ensure that members of previous regimes are held accountable, as a way of purging the system and implementing the principles of the revolution, will not produce the desired results; rather, in those countries they paved the way for a growth in counterrevolutionary activities, terrorism, widespread chaos, and external interference. This is currently the case in Libya, where revolutionaries toppled former President Gaddafi in 2011 but have so far failed to rebuild the State. The dismantlement of the former regime is likely to lead to one of two scenarios:

  1. Protests wind down, as do the armed groups calling for the urgent trial of members of the previous regime. The decisions taken as part of the dismantlement process meet most of their aspirations, the greatest of which is the demand that former President Bashir and his aides be handed over to the International Criminal Court. This helps ensure stability during the transition period.
  2. The counterrevolutionary movement grows, as its supporters fear for the wealth and positions that they obtained under the previous regime. This leads to more counterrevolutionary activities, including demonstrations and efforts to sabotage dismantlement operations and the transitional process, such as the “green million march” held on 14 December 2019 with the support of pro-Bashir forces.

          It is therefore likely that not all the measures to dismantle the former regime will be implemented, except for the dissolution of the National Congress Party and its associated organizations. Whether the leaders are taken to trial and the embezzled funds recovered will depend on the capacity of the transitional government, particularly as the costs will outweigh the benefits. The authorities may therefore choose to delay the trials in favor of more pressing issues, such as forming the Legislative Council, achieving comprehensive peace, drafting the constitution, holding general elections, reforming the economy, and securing Sudan’s removal from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

* Director of the Institute of African Studies and Research, Cairo University.

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