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News Analysis

Sudan May Be the Next Syria

Tue, December 11, 2012

Ryan Mauro

The Sudanese dictatorship of Omar Bashir claims it thwarted a coup on November 22 by arresting 13 people, including the former intelligence chief and military officials. This is a sign of deep worry on his part, despite the veracity of the accusations. If you look at the governments swept away by the Arab Spring so far, each one has been a dictatorship. Bashir knows he might be next in line to go, but the West shouldn’t jump for joy just yet.

Even though Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges and allows Iranian rockets to transit Sudan for delivery to Hamas, for some of his most powerful opponents, he just isn’t Islamist enough. After Bashir permitted South Sudan to secede, he tried to appease his Islamist adversaries by promising to transform Sudan into a full-blown Sharia state with Arabic as the official language and Sharia as the main source of legislation.

The most high-profile opposition figure is Hasan al-Turabi, a former Bashir ally and long-time Muslim Brotherhood ideologue with a history of fiery anti-Americanism. In the early 1990s, he was known as the bridge builder of terrorists and their state sponsors as he sought to erect a grand anti-Western alliance in the Muslim world. He is still mad at Bashir for kicking out those he calls “refugees,” referring to Islamists like Osama Bin Laden that came to Sudan as a place of refuge.

Today, al-Turabi leads the Popular Congress Party. His Islamist supporters are loyal, well-organized and have quick reactions. Whenever he is arrested, protests immediately break out. Bashir is trying to pull the rug from under him. His regime put together an Islamic Movement conference for Islamists that did not include him.

The thwarted coup shows that senior elements of the military have switched sides, or that Bashir is detecting dissent that is so worrisome that he had to take action. Police officers earn less than $68 per month, so Bashir can only rely upon soldiers and militiamen to keep him in power. The military is stretched and exhausted. It is clashing with South Sudan and fighting in South Kordofan, the Blue Nile and Darfur. Bashir also vows to overthrow the government of South Sudan.

There have been bursts of protests in Sudan since the Arab Spring began, but they reached a new plateau this summer. On June 18, the regime announced it was cutting fuel subsidies, resulting in a 50% rise in cost and higher food prices. That’s not something a country with a 46.5% poverty rate and 30.4% inflation rate can handle.

About 10,000 people protested in the capital of Khartoum in the first ten days. Bashir threatened to deploy “real mujahideen” to stamp them out. The protests lasted for six weeks straight, ending with over 2,000 arrests. Many detainees were/are kept in inhumane conditions and tortured.

The squashing of the protests should not be mistaken for an end to the budding Arab Spring. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, a rebel group, applauded the “qualitative shift” that marked a turning point because the demonstrations represented all segments of society. Even some elements of Bashir’s National Congress Party have turned against him.

The momentum sparked by the protests caused the opposition to coalesce more. The debate over the role of Sharia law in government was temporarily put aside, and on July 7, eight groups signed the Democratic Alternative Charter that will guide a transitional phase after Bashir falls. During this time, a constitutional conference will be held to set the stage for free elections. An alliance of four rebel groups based in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur called the Sudan Revolutionary Front endorsed the uprising three days later.

The danger is that al-Turabi appears to be the most visible face of the opposition, and the Islamists seem to be the most organized. Encouragingly, 15 civil society groups of a secular democratic orientation came together on July 1 to establish the Civil and Youth Movement Front for Change.

Faith McDonnell, director of the Church Alliance for a New Sudan, says there are secular-democratic elements within the opposition, and they provide reason to believe that Sudan would turn out better than Egypt did once the dictator falls.

“We have a lot more reason to believe that we will see true democracy (secular, not Sharia) and religious freedom for all, emerge in Sudan because almost 90 percent of the population is compromised of marginalized, black, African people groups …We even have seen an exciting and very brave movement for freedom and democracy along young Arab Sudanese in the Khartoum area,” McDonnell said.

It is worth noting that Sudan is where Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, an Islamic reformist, preached against Sharia Law and for what could be described as reverse abrogation. The doctrine of abrogation holds that Islamic commands from Mohammed’s more violent time in Medina replace the commands from the more peaceful time in Mecca. Taha preached that Muslims should re-interpret Islam in favor of Mohammed’s time in Mecca.

Though his following was small, the regime that ruled Sudan in 1985 was disturbed enough to label him an apostate and execute him. The execution brought more awareness to Taha’s message, and thousands protested his murder.

All attention is on Syria right now, but it doesn’t take long for Middle Eastern countries to erupt in today’s environment. Like in Syria, Sudan is governed by an Iranian ally that supports Hamas, but is more secular than the Muslim Brotherhood. Bashir, like Assad, is a madman that is perfectly content with carrying out heinous crimes on a mass scale to remain in power. And the Sudanese rebels, like the Syrian rebels, are prepared to fight.

In many ways, Syria could be a preview for what’s about to happen in Sudan.

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.