Political Profiles: Omar al-Bashir


Following the military arrest and government overthrow of Omar Al-Bashir over a month ago, it is important to reflect over the course of his presidency and the irony of how he ended his rule the very same way he began it.

Rise to Power

In 1960, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir enrolled in a military academy in Egypt, kickstarting his military career which soon turned into a 30-year long presidency of Sudan. Quickly rising in military ranks, he soon became a colonel in the Sundanese army. Frustrated with the democratic government, Bashir, together with the National Islamic Front (NIF) staged a bloodless military coup in 1989. Supported by his ally Hasan al-Turabi, he first became chairman of the Revolutionary Command Centre for National Salvation (RCC) which he later dissolved in order to appoint himself president in 1996. He also banned political parties and introduced Islamic law in Sudan, contributing to the polarisation of the country and attitudes of the Arab-African Sudanese people.

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The accusations by the International Criminal Court (ICC)

Bashir has been charged with two arrest warrants that were issued against him in 2009 and 2010 but were suspended in 2014 due to a lack of action by the UN Security Council.

The ICC had charged Bashir with:

  • Crimes against humanity, which include:
    • Murder
    • Forcible transfer (ethnic cleansing)
    • Rape
    • Torture
  • War crimes:
    • Attack on civilians in Darfur
  • Genocide:
    • Killing or harming ethnic group members of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribe
    • Imposing conditions of life calculated to bring physical deterioration

Political Life: Presidency and conflict

During his presidency, Bashir lifted the ban on parties but continued to win every presidential election, with elections being criticised globally for not following international standards and internally as being corrupt. After winning the elections in 2000 with 90% of the votes, he dismissed cabinet and declared a state of emergency that was extended indefinitely. In the latest election in 2015, Bashir received criticism for not providing a conducive environment for credible elections, with parties voicing their protest through a boycott.

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Conflict in Darfur began in 2003, where Bashir was accused of discrimination against the region and its non-Arab population. The UN described the conflict as a ‘human catastrophe’ with estimated deaths ranging from 200,000 to 400,000 and 2.7 million displaced persons emerging from the conflict. Bashir was criticised for ethnic cleansing and siding with Arab tribes in Darfur. In 2008, the president finally agreed to a UN and African Union peacekeeping mission to quell the conflict.

Simultaneously, the heated civil war between South Sudan and Sudan which began in 1983 had come to a standstill with the peace deal in 2005. In response to the deal, Bashir stated that they “did not sign it after [they]had been broken. [They] sang it while [they]were at the peak of victories”. In 2011, South Sudan became the youngest nation in the world, following its referendum to split from Sudan. With their newly gained independence, the South Sudanese government acquired 3/4 of Sudan’s oil resource and many natural resources. This led to Sudan being plunged into inflation at a rate of 72% while also being subjected to shortages from the US sanctions.

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End of Rule

As the economic and living situation deteriorated in Sudan, corruption rose in the government, with the embezzling of $9 billion in oil revenue. Additionally, dissatisfaction from the public rose from Bahsir’s inability to find a solution or make constitutional reforms. The tipping point was in December 2018 with the tripling of bread prices, resulting in protests against the price rise but soon morphed into demonstrations against the government and the demand for Bashir’s resignation. Tired of the corruption and repression, protestors took to the streets for four months, faced with ammunition and tear gas attacks by the government while Bashir refused to step down.

In early 2019, Bashir declared a state of emergency and dissolved the government, reshuffled cabinet, and banned unauthorised demonstrations to quell the protests. However, these actions proved pointless. Demonstrators marched to the military headquarters in the capital and remained while parts of the military began defending them. Omar al-Bashir was arrested and ousted on April 11th, his government overthrown by the military, ending his rule with the way he began it.

In summary, Sudanese analyst Alex de Waal states that Bashir’s “longevity in office was down to the fact that powerful rivals in the ruling National Congress Party distrusted each other more than they did Mr Bashir”.

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