Protesters worry there is nothing credible to replace the old guard
THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Sudanese demonstrators gather near the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum [Ahmed Mustafa/AFP]
Sudanese demonstrators in Khartoum after Omar al-Bashir was forced from power. It is incumbent on those who have displaced Mr Bashir to stabilise the economy promptly © AFP
Now comes the hard part. It took four months of extraordinary protests by mostly young Sudanese to topple the geriatric regime of Omar al-Bashir. There is understandable euphoria on the streets of Khartoum. The experience of countries that went through the Arab spring, from Egypt to Syria and from Libya to Yemen, however, suggests that severe dangers lie ahead.
For the 30 years that Mr Bashir held office, the Sudanese state has been geared to one thing: keeping him and his cronies in power. Everything was sublimated to that aim. Elections were rigged and the opposition cowed. War was waged in Darfur. A huge chunk of national expenditure went on the defence forces, leaving other public services woefully neglected. Yet the military apparatus was also deliberately divided to ensure it was never strong enough to mount a coup. With the Bashir edifice crumbling, the concern is there is nothing credible or coherent enough to replace it.
|Sudanese protesters keep up demand for a civilian-led transition to democracy on Sunday [Ahmed Mustafa/ AFP]|
The first job is to dismantle the Bashir security state. It must be handled in such a way that does not catalyse mutiny or armed infighting. Thankfully, there has been little violence since the fall of Mr Bashir on Thursday. This may prove to be a temporary lull.
The military council running Sudan is anything but stable. Barely 24 hours after Lieutenant General Awad Ibn Ouf announced the coup, he, too, was gone, replaced by hitherto a less prominent general, Abdel-Fattah Burhan. Perhaps more significant, Salah Abdallah Gosh, the feared head of the intelligence services, was replaced. Protesters have taken understandable glee in such developments, joking that Lt Gen Ibn Ouf left office before his Wikipedia page could be updated. They are glad to see the back of Mr Gosh, closely associated as he was with the worst excesses of the regime. Yet the Sudanese Professionals Association, which led the protests, is right to be cautious. There have been suggestions that the military is conducting an elaborate piece of political theatre to give the appearance of wholesale change, while actually maintaining its grip on power.
Assuming its sincerity, the military council’s main task is two-fold. First, it has to negotiate with an amorphous opposition a credible form of interim government. It has made a first step by meeting with representatives of demonstrators. It has yielded to some of their demands, including promising a transition to democracy. It foresees that process taking two years at most. Slightly counterintuitively, some members of the opposition want to double that time, saying it will take four years to organise coherent political groupings after years in the wilderness. That looks too long a limbo period, the danger being that chaos could beat democracy to the punch.
The second challenge is economic. Ultimately, it was the dire state of the economy — badly run, squeezed by sanctions and deprived of South Sudanese oil revenue — that caused the Bashir regime to tumble. Protests that began four months ago were triggered by a sharp rise in the price of bread.
The military men in charge will be hoping that they can persuade the US to drop sanctions. They will also want the international community to dig deep, although the cogs of international diplomacy are unlikely to move fast enough to provide immediate relief. That makes it incumbent on those who have displaced Mr Bashir to stabilise the economy promptly and to improve the lot of those driven by desperation to topple the old regime. If the people now in charge cannot improve the economy quickly enough, they could be next to fall.