The Right Time for a Coup in Sudan?

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Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman speaks during a press conference in the capital Khartoum on 22 November 2012 (Photo: AFP - Ebrahim Hamid)

By: Jaafar al-Sirr

Published Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Sudanese government has arrested the alleged plotters of Thursday’s attempted coup, including several high-level officials. Al-Akhbar examines the reasons behind the coup and why the timing might’ve seemed perfect.

Khartoum – Regardless of how Thursday night’s events are described – “subversive plot” or perhaps “military coup” – the goal remains one and the same: change.

The Sudanese authorities described Thursday as a mere “subversive plot,” but many observers believe that this is the habit of military juntas, which see any attempt to dislodge them from power as sabotage aimed at destabilizing the entire country.

Yet Thursday is best described as an internal coup attempt, particularly if one were to take a closer look at the names of the alleged plotters, disclosed by the government itself.

Among those arrested include former head of National Security and Intelligence Services (NSIS) Lt. Gen. Salah Abdallah, also known as “Gosh”; Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim Abdul-Jalil, also known as “Wad Ibrahim”; and Maj. Gen. Adel al-Tayeb from military intelligence – in addition to several civilians that the authorities declined to name.

While an alliance of opposition parties denied any connection with the coup attempt, reports leaked to the media confirmed that a number of Islamist figures and prominent leaders in the ruling party were questioned as part of the ongoing investigation. Among those interrogated was Ghazi Salah al-Din, head of the National Congress Party (NCP) bloc in parliament, as well as a group of former Islamist fighters – calling itself al-Saihun, or the travelers in Arabic – who fought in the civil war against the South.

Recently, the Sudanese Islamist Movement (SIM) – a quasi-official organization meant to guide the NCP – held a general conference. It is widely believed that pursuant to the decisions made at the end of the conference, SIM reactivated its jihadi sleeper cells.

These cells believe that the ruling clique has become too distracted by power, moving away from the principles of the Islamist movement, particularly with respect to the South. Indeed, these cells believe that the latter must be dealt with exclusively in the context of jihad.

It is worth mentioning here that six of the groups that make up SIM have declared their strong opposition to the decisions made by the conference, and stressed that they would continue to call for reform and fighting corruption within the organization.

Information Minister and government spokesperson Ahmed Belal Osman said that the investigations were continuing and may reveal new names in the coming days. But a source who spoke to Al-Akhbar said that the group behind the plot had been under surveillance for a long time.

The source said, “What drew attention to former spy chief Gosh was that he had moved 25 members of his family to the United States before Eid al-Adha, each time citing different reasons.” Gosh is known to be close to the US government, ever since taking office at the NSIS up until 2009, and is alleged to be Washington’s man in Sudan.

The same source claimed that other members of the NSIS with different ranks were also involved, adding that the plot was a major one linked to foreign parties. He added, “Israel is one of the most important participants in the coup attempt.”

According to the source, the Sudanese government now believes that the targeting of the Yarmouk munitions factory was part of a bigger scheme to instigate a state of discontent in the Sudanese street over the failed defense policies of the government.

The source also asserted that the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) – known as the Kauda Alliance – and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party in South Sudan, were also involved in the plot, and claimed that there were contacts between the SPLM and its internal branch in north Sudan taking place via the latter’s commander in Heglig, before the Sudanese army took control of the region.

He also contended that there was another important issue that may justify a coup at this particular time: The current “salvation” government has stated repeatedly that its only justification for overthrowing the democratically elected government 23 years ago was saving the country from the deterioration in the economy and living conditions.

Nevertheless, the source said, the current situation is one of total and unprecedented collapse in the economy and living conditions, with the value of the Sudanese pound falling to record lows.

Many observers agree that there is a great deal of frustration among the Sudanese public. They argue that this is the result of successive shocks that the state of Sudan was subjected to, beginning with the secession of the South, then the severe economic crisis and deteriorating security.

Although some question the authenticity of the information disclosed by the government to the public concerning the coup attempt, there is near unanimity that what happened was the result of a conflict of interest groups within the ruling party.

In this regard, it is understood that Gosh and Wad Ibrahim were brought together by their shared infuriation with the military situation in the country, but particularly by their explicit opposition to the policies of Defense Minister Abdul-Rahim Mohammad Hussein.

Perhaps the above represented the common ground for joint action towards toppling the present government, even if this meant staging a military coup, after which Gosh and Wad Ibrahim would have each received their share of power.

It seemed that the parties that orchestrated the attempted coup had chosen their zero hour very carefully. This is the only thing that seems logical to security expert Hassan Bayoumi, who spoke to Al-Akhbar, raising many questions that he said the government must address.

Bayoumi censured the government for the blackout it has imposed on the details of the coup attempt, which he thought was illogical because it left “the door wide open for further speculation and rumors.” The security expert went on to say that the coup attempt will adversely affect the future of the Sudanese economy.

Notable suspects

Lt. Gen. Salah Gosh, one of the most notable suspects detained for his alleged involvement in the failed coup, served as the NSIS director until 2009. Gosh was removed from his post because of suspicions that he was seeking to overthrow the ruling regime in collaboration with Western powers, before being appointed as national security advisor to the president, a post he retained for three years.

Gosh was relieved of his post again after disputes emerged between him and the vice president of the NCP Nafie Ali Nafie, when the latter played down the importance of the dialogue launched by Gosh’s office with the Sudanese opposition parties.

Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim Abdul-Jalil, the other notable detainee, was the Sudanese military attaché in Nairobi, and was later put in charge of the president’s security.

Jalil also served 12 years in southern Sudan during the war, and is known to be one of the so-called Mujahidin who fought against the South.

Regarding Ghazi Salah al-Deen, he is known to be a close advisor to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who entrusted him with a number of key issues, including Darfur, before he removed him from this position. Recently, there were reports that Salah al-Deen refused to nominate himself to become the next Secretary General of SIM, a post he deemed to have now become of no value.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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