Sudan’s transitional government headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan saw off an armed uprising last month which helped strengthen confidence in the government. The events are worthy of a second look now that Burhan announced, following a historic meeting in Kampala, that Sudan and Israel would normalize their relations. At present only three other Arab League members – Israel, Jordan and Eritrea have such a relationship with Israel.
Many believe the revolt whose gunfire lit-up the night sky was more than a mutiny and was in fact a coup attempt.
If true, it is worth pointing out that Sudan is no stranger to coup attempts. During the rule of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir he saw off more than his fare share. Al-Bashir knew a thing or two about coups. In 1989 a coup, launched by Gordon College students and military officers in Khartoum with the support of Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups, was bloodless. The deposed dictator was permitted to fly to Egypt with his family, aides and heirlooms by Omar Al Bashir who would rule until being toppled in another coup following weeks of protests in Sudan last year. Al Bashir is currently under trial and there are some who would like to see him executed but, Sudan famously doesn’t execute former leaders. They depose them.
The January mutiny appears to have emerged from the elite Operations Corps of the General Intelligence Service, Sudan’s umbrella organization for intelligence agencies. Under former President Bashir, the Operations Corps was armed with heavy weapons, armored fighting vehicles, and helicopters. It was a sort of a palace guard within a palace guard. Such arrangements are not unusual in Arab states where the military and security forces are more often then not positioned against domestic rather than foreign foes.
Under al-Bashir Sudan’s security services and defense forces included multiple forces with overlapping jurisdictions. Many of these forces were staffed with officers loyal to the National Congress Party – the former party of al-Bashir which was formally disbanded last year. (For those really interested in the background behind Sudan’s politics this paper is highly recommended).
At the party’s final national congress in 2017, Bashir put forward a firm vision for the future and even called for reunification with the south but, he would be gone just two years later.
Sudan’s transitional government blamed the uprising on Salah Gosh, who was twice former head of the intelligence services and is believed to be in hiding. Gosh resigned his post two days after al-Bashir stepped down from power. NISS agents loyal to Gosh have supposedly helped him avoid an arrest attempt and he is believed to be in Egypt. Meanwhile his beloved NISS was renamed the Directorate of General Intelligence Service last year.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced this summer that the State department had placed Gosh under sanctions which bars him and his family from travelling to America. Gosh now finds himself in the position of being a pariah vis-a-vie the United States. It was once far different; in 2005 Gosh traveled to the United States to assit the American intelligence community
The defeat of the mutiny and the signing of a preliminary peace deal with Sudanese political groups gave Burhan and those loyal to him the confidence to push for diplomatic breakthroughs on the international stage.
With his flank secure for the moment, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the sovereign council, has moved quickly this past week as he met with Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pledge a future normalization of ties. It is unclear if either leader has the authority to make such a historic agreement. Sudan’s communist movement, long one of the strongest in the region, was quick to criticize the deal as were some in Burhan’s own government.
“I think Sudan needed a meeting like this, it is time for Khartoum to deal directly with [Israel] like other countries in the region,” said Mekki El Mograbi a former Sudanese diplomat who is not involved with the current Sudanese government,”This is better than to have other countries broker deals on Sudan’s behalf. It is not an issue to speed up or to slow down the process of normalization but the issue to start talks directly.”