By Nesrine Malik
11 Apr 2019
As the Sudanese army announced the overthrow of president Omar al-Bashir after almost 30 years in power, it could look to the untrained eye as if his fall has only been weeks or months in the making. The most recent protests began last December as economic conditions worsened, culminating in an almost week-long sit-in outside the army headquarters. But resistance to his regime dates back to the very day he seized power in a military coup in 1989. Since then, successive waves of dissent have all been brutally quashed by him and his coterie of Islamists and mercenaries.
First they came for the civil servants, liquidating labour unions and throwing dissenters in jail without trial to be tortured and broken. The pogrom of middle-class professionals unaligned with the government was so intense in those early days that for a brief period it became a regular occurrence that entire families fled the country at short notice. Every few weeks I would go to school and another face in the class was gone, their desk empty, without warning or a goodbye.
Then they came for the religious minorities, persecuting Christians so severely under what was in the first years of the regime a hardline application of sharia law that Sudan’s Coptic community, part of the country’s fabric for centuries, all but disappeared and their churches were shuttered.
Then they turned to exploiting ethnic and tribal conflict to consolidate power, with bloody ethnically targeted wars in Darfur and other parts of the country earning Bashir an ICC indictment for war crimes and genocide and making Sudan’s name synonymous with ethnic cleansing.
Bashir himself presided over a government that changed shape many times. It started as a hardline Islamic party-engineered coup under the leadership of the late Hassan al-Turabi, with Bashir as a military puppet and face of the regime. During the Turabi years, the government’s religious political adventurism recklessly turned Sudan into a playground for the region’s fragmented terrorist groups. It hosted Osama bin Laden, at one point allegedly selling the majority of arable land into his control. Those wild west years landed Sudan on a US state sponsors of terror list, and brought the punishment of economic sanctions, locking the Sudanese people in with the all-powerful regime, as it went through yet another metamorphosis - hardline Islamist leaders were ousted, and Bashir began to build a security state.
That is when Bashir’s tenure seemed certain to continue indefinitely. His fatal mistake was to fail to keep the economy steady as his people were oppressed. There was nothing in it for anyone any more by the time people took to the streets in December, unable to even withdraw basic salaries from banks or secure bread as inflation skyrocketed and subsidies were lifted. There are no more second acts and there is no more shapeshifting that will work for Omar al-Bashir. And despite years of an international human rights industry bearing down on him, in the end it was the Sudanese people who ousted him, armed with nothing but 30 years of anger.
Nesrine Malik is a Guardian columnist