Thursday 22 November 2012 saw the arrest of 14 people by the Sudanese government suspected of planning a ‘subversive attempt’ to overthrow the government. The alleged attempt was ‘pre-emptively foiled at the zero hour’ by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). Among those arrested were high-ranking military and security officers. One of the two more eminent is Major-General Salah Abdullah Mohammed (better known as ‘Salah Gosh’), the head of the NISS from 2002 to August 2009. His immunity as a representative of the Merowe constituency was lifted on 23 November 2012, after his being stripped of all his titles in the National Congress Party (NCP). The other, Brigadier-General Mohamed Ibrahim Abdel-Galil (better known as ‘Wad Ibrahim’), headed President Omar al-Bashir’s presidential security for seven years and served for twelve years in the then southern Sudan during the civil war. He participated in the retake of Heglig along with Major-General Abdel-Ma’Rouf and enjoys tremendous popularity among Islamists.
President al-Bashir often denounces his indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed against the people of Darfur as a Western plot, fomented by Western actors and Israel, which accuses Sudan of secretly supplying Iranian arms to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. While the coup attempt is not linked to this, one might find possible causes of the attempted coup internally. First, President al-Bashir’s government currently faces a deepening economic crisis and an unprecedented collapse in living conditions, with the value of the Sudanese pound falling to record lows. This situation is further exacerbated by delays in the flow of oil from South Sudan.
Second, there has been wrangling within the Sudanese military. Salah Gosh and Wad Ibrahim both seem to oppose Defence Minister Abdul-Rahim Mohammad Hussein. They blame him for the lowering of morale, poor preparedness and dismal performance of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF). They also hold him accountable for military setbacks in Darfur, concessions made to South Sudan, territory lost in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), and for the failure to respond to the airstrikes carried out by Israeli aircraft inside Sudan. Moreover, the Minister of Defence forcibly retired the Head of Military Intelligence and other senior officers and has been involved in a serious disagreement with the Commander of the Armoured Corps.
Third, according to reliable sources there was a very public dispute in the media in April 2011 between Salah Gosh and the deputy chairman of the NCP and presidential adviser, Nafie Ali Nafie. This happened when Nafie underplayed the importance of the dialogue conducted by Salah Gosh with Sudanese opposition parties under the umbrella of the Presidential Security Advisory (PSA), chaired by Salah Gosh. Nafie, himself head of the security services until 1995, has considerable influence with President al-Bashir. This puts him in opposition to Salah Gosh, who many observers believe is allied with Taha, a long-serving political figure widely recognised to be positioning himself in anticipation of President al-Bashir’s term ending. Salah Gosh and Taha are members of the Shayqiyya tribe, while President al-Bashir and Nafie belong to the Jaali tribe.
Fourth, President al-Bashir’s government has for some time been facing pockets of Islamist opposition within the NCP and military. This power struggle is between loyalists and dissidents. The attempted coup is the clearest indication to date of a growing power struggle among high-profile insiders that has been hibernating for several years. Observers claim that President al-Bashir is attempting to resolve this power struggle by means of a purge of popular and influential dissidents in the military and the NISS.
Also significant is the question of the veracity of the attempted coup. Some observers are asking whether there was a coup at all and question the motives behind the arrest of a handful of prominent former senior officers and some active officers. Some have even suggested that the attempted coup was ‘cooked up’ for propaganda reasons, mainly to divert attention from the possibility of worse economic times ahead. The next few weeks may begin to shed some light on the ever-changing politics of the two Sudans.
Compiled by Ms Lucie Boucher from the Conflict Prevention and Risk
Analysis division of the ISS Addis Ababa