Sudan on April 11: Bashir Falls, Legacy Endures

Sudanese from other provinces arrive in Khartoum by train to join the popular celebrations following the fall of the Bashir regime (EPA)
Sudanese from other provinces arrive in Khartoum by train to join the popular celebrations following the fall of the Bashir regime (EPA)
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Sudan on April 11: Bashir Falls, Legacy Endures

Sudanese from other provinces arrive in Khartoum by train to join the popular celebrations following the fall of the Bashir regime (EPA)
Sudanese from other provinces arrive in Khartoum by train to join the popular celebrations following the fall of the Bashir regime (EPA)

In the early hours of April 11, 2019, Sudanese woke up to rumors that the army was siding with protesters demanding the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir.

This led to Bashir’s removal, ending his Islamist-backed regime, which had ruled for three decades. Soon, millions gathered at protest sites across the country, hoping for real change.

Behind the scenes, reports suggested that Bashir was deceived by his own security chief, who warned him about crushing the protests but then turned against him.

When Bashir woke up, he found his guards replaced and was told by a senior officer that his own security committee had decided to remove him, as he had lost control of the country.

A high-ranking military leader, second-in-command of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), told Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview on March 4, 2021, that due to the escalating revolution, military leaders decided to oust Bashir.

They tasked the then head of intelligence, Salah Abdallah (Gosh), to deliver the message. Initially reluctant, Gosh eventually complied, fearing imprisonment.

Around noon, jubilant protesters realized that Bashir’s regime had collapsed. Tears of joy flowed as they celebrated what they saw as a triumph.

However, their joy was short-lived as Bashir’s deputy, Awad Ibn Auf, appeared on state TV announcing the regime’s removal and the suspension of the constitution.

In a brief address, Ibn Auf declared a two-year transitional period under military control, imposed a three-month state of emergency, enforced a curfew, shut down airspace and borders, and formed a Transitional Military Council dominated by Islamist officers.

Rebel leaders outside the army headquarters immediately rejected Ibn Auf’s moves, seeing them as an attempt to stifle their revolution and revive the Islamist regime.

They chanted “fall again,” seeing Bashir's ousting as the first blow and Ibn Auf’s removal as the second.

Despite being appointed head of the Transitional Military Council, Ibn Auf resigned the next day due to lack of support from the rebels and the revolution’s leaders. His rule became one of Sudan’s shortest, second only to Hashim al-Atta, who ruled for just three days.

Media reports say Ibn Auf called RSF Commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) and told him he was stepping down as president, as long as he wasn’t replaced by the well-known Islamist officer Kamal Abdel Maarouf.

Instead, he suggested General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who was serving as the army’s Inspector General. So, Burhan, relatively unknown, became the head of the Transitional Military Council and the state.

He chose Hemedti as his deputy. Burhan said he convinced Hemedti to join him despite Hemedti’s earlier refusal to take on a leadership role.

Bashir’s removal came as a surprise, but reports circulating two months earlier suggested that leaders within the ruling party and the political arm had secret plans to oust him.

These plans were said to be carried out by the “Security Committee,” which included Islamist officers in the army and intelligence, along with the leader of the RSF.

At the time, Reuters reported that Gosh, the head of the intelligence agency, visited political prisoners, including party leaders, asking for their support in a plan for a new political system and finding a graceful exit for Bashir, with the help of a regional state.

Gosh then announced that Bashir would step down from the presidency of the National Congress Party and would not seek re-election in 2020. However, Bashir later downplayed Gosh’s statements in a televised speech.

The National Congress Party and the Islamic Movement planned to remove Bashir while still holding power through the Security Committee. Gosh was quoted as saying that “Bashir is finished.” However, the protesters’ demands for civilian rule disrupted the Islamists’ plans.

This led to the gradual removal of some top figures from the Security Committee. The military had to negotiate with civilian protest leaders to share power, resulting in a power-sharing agreement (5+5).

Relations between civilian and military factions became strained after an attempted coup by Islamist officers on September 21, 2021. Civilians accused the military of involvement, but military leaders denied it, dismissing the accusation as hypocritical.

Abdalla Hamdok, then Deputy Chairman of the Sovereignty Council, refused to negotiate with civilians, worsening the divide between the two groups.

Amid mounting tensions, Islamist groups saw an opportunity to regain influence after lying low for months. They organized protests, initially ignored by the military but possibly supported by security forces.

These protests brought the Islamists back into the spotlight. However, divisions emerged within the alliance supporting civilian rule after the Juba Peace Agreement, leading to a split between those backing the government and those siding with the military.

The latter staged a protest demanding the removal of the civilian government.

On October 25, 2021, military leaders led a coup, seizing power and arresting Prime Minister Hamdok and others. They declared a state of emergency, dissolved the government, and faced resistance met with force, resulting in civilian deaths.

Despite the ousting of Bashir’s regime five years ago, its influence persists, with Islamists still holding sway and suspected of instigating the coup and fueling the war that erupted in April 2023. While Bashir may have fallen, his legacy remains.



Syrians in Lebanon Fear Unprecedented Restrictions, Deportations 

A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
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Syrians in Lebanon Fear Unprecedented Restrictions, Deportations 

A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)

The soldiers came before daybreak, singling out the Syrian men without residence permits from the tattered camp in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. As toddlers wailed around them, Mona, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon for a decade, watched Lebanese troops shuffle her brother onto a truck headed for the Syrian border.

Thirteen years since Syria's conflict broke out, Lebanon remains home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world: roughly 1.5 million Syrians - half of whom are refugees formally registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR - in a country of approximately 4 million Lebanese.

They are among some five million Syrian refugees who spilled out of Syria into neighboring countries, while millions more are displaced within Syria. Donor countries in Brussels this week pledged fewer funds in Syria aid than last year.

With Lebanon struggling to cope with an economic meltdown that has crushed livelihoods and most public services, its chronically underfunded security forces and typically divided politicians now agree on one thing: Syrians must be sent home.

Employers have been urged to stop hiring Syrians for menial jobs. Municipalities have issued new curfews and have even evicted Syrian tenants, two humanitarian sources told Reuters. At least one township in northern Lebanon has shuttered an informal camp, sending Syrians scattering, the sources said.

Lebanese security forces issued a new directive this month shrinking the number of categories through which Syrians can apply for residency - frightening many who would no longer qualify for legal status and now face possible deportation.

Lebanon has organized voluntary returns for Syrians, through which 300 travelled home in May. But more than 400 have also been summarily deported by the Lebanese army, two humanitarian sources told Reuters, caught in camp raids or at checkpoints set up to identify Syrians without legal residency.

They are automatically driven across the border, refugees and humanitarian workers say, fueling concerns about rights violations, forced military conscription or arbitrary detention.

Mona, who asked to change her name in fear of Lebanese authorities, said her brother was told to register with Syria's army reserves upon his entry. Fearing a similar fate, the rest of the camp's men no longer venture out.

"None of the men can pick up their kids from school, or go to the market to get things for the house. They can't go to any government institutions, or hospital, or court," Mona said.

She must now care for her brother's children, who were not deported, through an informal job she has at a nearby factory. She works at night to evade checkpoints along her commute.

A sign that reads "The return of the displaced is a right and a duty", is placed along a highway in Jounieh, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)

'WRONG & NOT SUSTAINABLE'

Lebanon has deported refugees in the past, and political parties have long insisted parts of Syria are safe enough for large-scale refugee returns.

But in April, the killing of a local Lebanese party official blamed on Syrians touched off a concentrated campaign of anti-refugee sentiment.

Hate speech flourished online, with more than 50% of the online conversation about refugees in Lebanon focused on deporting them and another 20% referring to Syrians as an "existential threat," said Lebanese research firm InflueAnswers.

The tensions have extended to international institutions. Lebanon's foreign minister has pressured UNHCR's representative to rescind a request to halt the new restrictions and lawmakers slammed a one billion euro aid package from the European Union as a "bribe" to keep hosting refugees.

"This money that the EU is sending to the Syrians, let them send it to Syria," said Roy Hadchiti, a media representative for the Free Patriotic Movement, speaking at an anti-refugee rally organized by the conservative Christian party.

He, like a growing number of Lebanese, complained that Syrian refugees received more aid than desperate Lebanese. "Go see them in the camps - they have solar panels, while Lebanese can't even afford a private generator subscription," he said.

The UN still considers Syria unsafe for large-scale returns and said rising anti-refugee rhetoric is alarming.

"I am very concerned because it can result in... forced returns, which are both wrong and not sustainable," UNHCR head Filippo Grandi told Reuters.

"I understand the frustrations in host countries - but please don't fuel it further."

Zeina, a Syrian refugee who also asked her name be changed, said her husband's deportation last month left her with no work or legal status in an increasingly hostile Lebanese town.

Returning has its own dangers: her children were born in Lebanon and do not have Syrian ID cards, and her home in Homs province remains in ruins since a 2012 government strike that forced her to flee.

"Even now, when I think of those days, and I think of my parents or anyone else going back, they can't. The house is flattened. What kind of return is that?" she said.