Is the end nigh for Al-Bashir?
Writers and intellectuals in Sudan are speaking out, saying that none of the country's deep problems can be solved if Al-Bashir and his regime remain in power, writes Asmaa El-Husseini
Demonstrations in Sudan are entering their fourth week despite attempts by the regime to downplay their significance, with President Omar Al-Bashir now describing protesters as "street people".
In an address to a gathering of Sufis, Al-Bashir said that the next constitution would be "Islamic" and a model for neighbouring states where Islamist power is on the rise.
But the prevalent problems in Sudan right now are not about the constitution, but rather harsh living conditions, finding food, medicine, milk, transportation costs and other basic needs. The majority of Sudanese are enduring great hardship in obtaining these basics and their hunger, thirst, sickness and suffering are amplified in regions of displacement, refugees and open-ended wars across Sudan. In fact, Doctors Without Borders warned that eight children die every day at a refugee camp in the Blue Nile state in southern Sudan.
Although the government disregards the protests, they have greatly affected Sudan in all respects. Change has now become a goal and banner not only for youth and the masses participating in near-daily protests and demonstration across Sudan, or for opposition parties that recently agreed to overthrow the regime and find a democratic alternative, or for armed groups that want to overthrow the regime by force, but also for large sectors of society who are demanding change while others are calling for Al-Bashir's ouster. The issue is being debated in serious discussions and writings among many Sudanese.
Leading Sudanese journalist Talha Jibril wrote: "Mr President, you must step down for the sake of this country and its people. In these fraught and uncertain times in a country whose people have come out to clearly demand the overthrow of the regime, I find it my duty to send this open letter to you. A letter from a citizen.
"I do not believe our country can be more isolated than it is now. We are besieged by sanctions, and some foreign visitors are clearly avoiding meeting with you because of the International Criminal Court issue.
"The problems you were complaining about 23 years ago are much worse, and I will mention a few. On the day of the coup, you said that political parties failed to achieve 'peace', but do you believe 'peace' has been achieved during your tenure? There was only one war, but now we have several war zones and counting.
"You talked about 'freedom and democracy' but you subjected the country to cruel totalitarian rule which killed, tortured and displaced the people. It dismissed thousands of people from their jobs for the sake of 'the public good', which no one knows anything about. Families have starved and the dignity of men was trampled; emancipated women were humiliated. You have seized freedoms, prevented gatherings, shut down and confiscated newspapers, imprisoned people for speaking their minds. Anything else was an exception.
"Pilfering public funds has become a 'phenomenon' and 'policy'. Billions of dollars were smuggled overseas, and we know that those who believe that money is everything will do anything to obtain it. What is shocking is that many people are doing this now, while the masses are starving.
We know that hunger is only a symptom of your policy of starving people.
"Services have deteriorated which caused international institutions to rank us third among failed states in the world. Conditions have dropped to unprecedented levels, whereby a sick person carries his own bed to hospital and students take their chairs with them to school. Unemployment is rampant and has reached astronomical levels.
"There are no longer any production projects that employ even a small number of the youth; employment or promotion has become exclusive to relatives and cronies. Everyone is seeking a way out, and some of our youth have even gone to Israel."
Jibril continued: "Those who are protesting on Sudan's streets today are not foreign agents but the sons of this great nation. Theirs is a just cause and they are burdened by your policies that have almost crushed them; they are the sons of this nation who resent the widespread poverty across our nation; the youth whose hopes have been dashed in all aspects; and those who begrudge the growing social chasm.
"Public protests cannot be dispersed by using excessive force or recruiting militias, or by electric shocks or the delusions of a man about the pomp of his authority, or by using coarse language. The situation has become explosive.
"What we don't want is for the incumbent regime not to understand and respond, and instead attempt to exercise absolute power with arrogance and with limited comprehension that makes it blind to the moment at hand. What is clearly needed now is not to push further this nation that is approaching the precipice, as we saw in other countries in the region. What is needed now is a decision by you to step down; I clearly state, step aside.
"We fear that if we miss this opportunity for a reasonable and acceptable settlement, similar to what happened after the October revolution when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces resigned power voluntarily, much suffering awaits us. There are even some around you are saying there is a misinterpretation of enlightening moments in history as well as bad faith, which is both intolerant and foolish.
"If you go down that path, you will put the country in a serious dilemma. I reiterate and highlight that the demand and way out is abdication, otherwise there will be much grief and sorrow. We don't want any more of this since we have already endured much of it under your reign.
"The winds of change are gaining momentum in our country with the force of a tornado, and thus leaving power is what needs to be done. Mr President, the country cannot be abridged into one man or his command; our people have a rich heritage of confronting this approach."
Amal Fayez Al-Kordofani, a Sudanese researcher, went further and said that Al-Bashir's departure is a national requisite. Al-Kordofani added that there are three key reasons why the departure of Al-Bashir and his entire regime is a national obligation and not just a demand, or a political luxury or rooted in personal outrage. She said that whether protests continue or not, Al-Bashir and his entire regime are on their way out, and it is only a matter of time.
"What we should ask now," she continued, "is what form the inevitable end will take; will Al-Bashir understand this and step down voluntarily after he disbands the National Congress and rely on the army and call for an all-inclusive conference. Or will it be an excuse for his corrupted inner circle to grant him everything and embellish wrongdoing in his eyes until it propels him onto this scene. Three problems remain, whether Al-Bashir and his regime remain or depart:
first, the economic siege. Many of the public do not know what happened to the national economy as a result of economic siege imposed on us after we gave refuge to Bin Laden, Carlos, Hamas and other activities hostile to international norms in general and the US specifically. This siege is a stumbling block for trade especially, banking transactions, spare parts and raw materials, etc. Some who were affiliated with the regime benefited from the government's persistent attempts to circumvent the siege, which flung the doors wide open to corruption. The siege also resulted in considerable problems in international funding and serious and real investments that address three priority goals: job creation through training and replacement; providing hard currency; developing resources and propelling the economy forward.
If Al-Bashir and his regime remain in power, lifting the sanctions against Sudan would be almost impossible not only because the regime is completely rejected by the world community, but also the regime itself has not learnt from its mistakes. Ironically, it is in fact repeating the identical mistakes again or entrenching existing ones. The latest adjective used to describe protests was 'foreign agents' which enforces the racist concepts that the regime should have taken the lead in countering in order to achieve social peace rather than monopolise racist prejudices to spread fear about the coming alternative. The siege will never be resolved while Al-Bashir's regime remains in power.
"Second, the issue of Darfur. The Darfur problem is closely linked to the regime. The Arab groups that the regime relied on for proxy wars learnt the lesson well and realised that they were sold out, and therefore now they generally are taking a neutral position although they did not publicly declare this. The regime intensified the problem of Darfur through weak solutions and confused policy, including agitating racial prejudices or even tribal and provincial appeasements or a war that is not based on military strategy, and other policies that are well known to everyone. This results in international criminal proceedings, a political siege of Al-Bashir, division of the African bloc about dealing with Al-Bashir until the US's recent decision to cut off aid to any country that hosts Al-Bashir. The left African states -- who mostly receive US aid -- in an awkward situation, choosing between their own interests and Al-Bashir's interests, and it's easy to guess what they chose.
"In the end, a resolution of the Darfur problem will not be accomplished unless Al-Bashir and his entire regime leave power.
"Third, being added to the terrorism list. This probably had the worst direct effect on the people and not just Al-Bashir's regime because a terrorist crime is closely linked to money laundering. Despite the government's persistent attempts to remove itself from the terrorism list, it has failed because it has entirely lost the confidence of the world community and the US.
"The government did not understand that the terrorism list is based on perception and that political reform is the way to restore confidence in the government, and not just government cooperation with US intelligence against Al-Qaeda or others. Thus, all the mistakes of the government, whether in Darfur, on human rights, corruption or lack of transparency resulted in procrastination or completely dismissing the notion of removing the government from the list of terrorism sponsors.
"There are many other problems, such as corruption, cronyism, unemployment, inflation, weak purchasing power of the currency, along with astronomical price hikes, lawlessness in Darfur, South Kordofan, Blue Nile and the army's inability to defend [the country] against attacks from hostile countries, and regions occupied by bordering states, etc. One could have been patient about these issues if they were subsidiary problems, but they too have become linked to whether the regime remains in power or leaves, which means that the country's problems will remain as long as Al-Bashir is in power.
"The broken record about Islamic Sharia has lost its power in arousing or attracting the masses because it has become apparently clear that what worked in the past is no longer viable today after an increasing awareness of the people. This awareness is a result of stressful and onerous conditions for the simple citizen."
Al-Kordofani believes that Bashir is on his way out. "I believe the best option for Al-Bashir is to strike a realistic bargain with political forces whereby he hands over power peacefully in return for a promise by political forces not to hand him over to a foreign country or prosecute him at home or compromise his assets or family. I believe that we could accept such a deal where everyone wins if we overcome notions of revenge for the sake of national interests."
So would Al-Bashir's resignation be the solution, as some in Sudan are propagating, or are matters more complicated than that? Is it something that could be accepted and implemented easily by Al-Bashir and his ruling party? And can a formula or realistic settlement or satisfactory process be reached for his departure? What would the alternative be, the army or his ruling party, or what opposition parties and armed movements are counting on?