By Khalid Abdelaziz and Nafisa Eltahir
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Since Sudan’s military staged a coup six months ago, many former allies of ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir have been allowed to join the civil service while others were released from prison in an apparent push to form a government and reassure donors.
The rehabilitation of the Islamist National Congress Party (NCP), which ruled Sudan under Bashir before it was ousted in a popular uprising in 2019, comes amid a deepening economic crisis and street protests in course requiring a return to civilian rule.
At a press conference on Monday, members of several Islamist factions, including the NCP, inaugurated a “broad Islamist current” to signal their formal return to politics.
Meanwhile, officials leading a task force appointed to dismantle Bashir’s wealth and patronage system have been jailed.
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The developments echo counterrevolutionary trends across the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.
Pro-democracy groups that helped topple Bashir but were forced out of a power-sharing deal by the coup fear a return to the autocratic rule they have struggled to relegate to history.
Important regional powers, including Egypt and the Gulf states, have sought to roll back the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood internationally and may be worried about the revival of Sudanese Islamist networks. But they can still consider the Sudanese army as their best ally in a fragile and strategically located country.
“Sudan is going through an existential crisis,” said Amani al-Taweel of Egypt’s state-controlled Al Ahram Center think tank. “Everyone is worried about the threat to the Red Sea, the Sahel and Sudan’s ability to become a center of terrorism.”
Domestically, the Islamists remain discredited by their dominant role under Bashir, so the move to rehabilitate them could prove unpopular.
But diplomats and analysts see the military’s outreach as a step to assembling a civilian political base to build a case for badly needed foreign financial support, suspended after the coup.
Western states and international lenders have said a credible civilian government is a prerequisite for restarting financial support, but the military has yet to appoint a prime minister.
On April 15, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who led the coup, hinted at an easing of the state of emergency in Sudan and other measures demanded by Western countries and parties. Sudanese politicians.
But pro-democracy groups have accused Burhan of insincerity, noting arrests of protesters the same day.
After Bashir seized power in a military coup in 1989, Sudan became a hub of political Islam, although radical Islamist influence receded as he sought to mend international relations.
The Muslim Brotherhood-linked NCP remained in power through the civil war and economic decline until its overthrow.
Protesters, who have continued to hold anti-military rallies during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, suspect Islamists of trying to team up with the military to regain power.
“The coup and its supporters now unite in an unholy alliance…to return our country to tyranny and corruption, misery and suffering,” Omer Eldigair said this month. leader of the pro-democracy Sudanese Congress Party.
The return of Islamists alongside former rebels and other pro-military factions could stoke political tensions and has already contributed to bureaucratic paralysis, said Suliman Baldo, director of the Sudan Transparency and Policy Tracker.
A senior NCP official did not respond to requests for comment.
A senior official source denied any alliance with the Islamists, saying the military was seeking a “broad national consensus” excluding the NCP.
Burhan said on April 15 that some reinstatements would be reviewed and the leaders of the task force that ordered the dismissal and confiscation of NCP-related assets could be released.
But the unofficial rehabilitation of the NCP seems to have accelerated.
In recent months, a special court has fired dozens of bureaucrats from the central bank, judiciary, public prosecutor’s office, prime minister’s office, foreign ministry and state media, among others.
Foreign Ministry sources say some returning diplomats have been assigned to overseas missions, while the civilian-appointed head of the state broadcaster was replaced last week.
In March, around 1,000 accounts frozen by the task force were unfrozen, only to be re-frozen two weeks later under central bank orders seen by Reuters.
NCP leader Ibrahim Ghandour, acquitted of crimes against the state and released from prison earlier this month, repeated military leaders’ description of the October 25 coup as a “corrective” measure.
“What we are looking forward to now is agreeing on a civilian system and government for the transition period that will lead us to free and fair elections,” Ghandour told Al Jazeera, raising concerns. opponents’ concerns that NCP members and their allies are considering the upcoming polls. year.
Ghandour could not be reached for comment.
Although the NCP was banned in 2019 after the fall of Bashir, opponents have expressed fear that the Islamists will soon be back in influential positions in the state apparatus and may run for office. in another form.
Nasredeen Abdulbari, who was justice minister in the transitional government before the coup, said the army had been ambivalent towards Islamists and had done little to root them out of the security services.
“They wanted us (the transitional government) to do the same thing – everyone to stay in their place and go from there, and for us it was impossible because you can’t build a new state if you don’t dismantle the state. old regime,” he added. told Reuters.
Bashir remains in custody, although footage of him walking around a hospital where he was transferred on the grounds that he was too ill for prison has sparked anger on social media.
(; edited by Mark Heinrich)
Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.