The then Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, in Nyala, South Darfur state in 2017, was overthrown and convicted of corruption – Copyright AFP/Juan Carlos Cisneros Archive
Before going to war with each other, rival Sudanese generals stood out under the regime of deposed strongman Omar al-Bashir. This week that old guard has reappeared.
Wanted by the International Criminal Court, Bashir’s former adviser Ahmed Harun announced via Sudanese media on Tuesday that he and other former former regime officials had escaped from Kober prison in Khartoum, where they had been held since the ouster. of Bashir after the pro-democracy protests in 2019.
The fight pits army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against fellow 2021 coup leader and former lawmaker Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Since his coup, civilian political leaders have warned of “the return of the old regime,” after several high-ranking Bashir-era officials found roles in Burhan’s administration.
For the Freedom and Change Forces (FFC), the main civilian bloc ousted from power by Burhan and Daglo, Harun’s revival was proof that “the deposed regime and its dissolved party are, through their assets in the forces armed, behind the ongoing war.”
But Magdi el-Gizouli of the Rift Valley Institute said that while the freedom of Bashir’s inner circle could affect the “ideological propaganda” battle, “it is not a significant development in terms of warfare.”
Sudan specialist Jonas Horner told AFP that Bashir’s cronies are in a position to “contribute thought and perhaps mobilize key sections” of the Islamist factions that have played an integral role in Bashir’s rule since his very beginning. coup in 1989.
“But I don’t think in the current circumstances they are viable or eligible to take or resume positions in government,” Horner added.
– Charges for crimes against humanity –
The two warring generals who have been fighting since April 15 rose to power under Bashir.
Burhan, Sudan’s de facto leader since the 2021 coup, rose through the ranks under the longtime autocrat.
He was a top general during the Darfur war, which since 2003 has left some 300,000 dead and millions displaced.
Burhan’s coup leader-turned-rival, General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, commonly known as Hemeti, leads the RSF, which grew out of the Janjaweed militia that Bashir unleashed against non-Arab ethnic minorities in Darfur.
Harun, a former minister of state for humanitarian affairs and also a former governor of South Kordofan, is implicated in atrocities in Darfur.
The Hague-based ICC has wanted him since 2007 on 20 counts of crimes against humanity and 22 counts of war crimes, including the charge of recruiting, arming and financing the Janjaweed.
Like much of Bashir’s inner circle, Harun was held, along with Bashir himself, convicted of corruption, in Kober prison until this week.
He entered the fray in the latest conflict on Tuesday night, posting a recorded television speech to say that he and other top Bashir officials were out of jail and “have now taken the responsibility for our protection into our own hands” in another place.
According to the army, Bashir and a handful of other prisoners had been transferred since before the fighting broke out on April 15 to a military hospital “due to health conditions”, where they remain “in the custody of the judicial police”.
Daglo’s RSF, keen to exploit the news as a propaganda coup against the army, said in a statement on Wednesday that the war was “a cover” to “get the leaders of the ousted regime out of prison.”
Eager to divert attention from his past as a Janjaweed commander in Darfur, Daglo now casts himself as Sudan’s savior, fighting “radical Islamists” who want to keep Sudan “away from democracy.”
Burhan calls him a “criminal”.
– ‘Strange wild card’ –
According to Horner, the old regime officials have already won a victory by escaping from prison.
But “they are much more likely to want to keep their heads down, because they are very polarized” both within Sudan, “and certainly in the international community.”
World leaders have been open to negotiations with both Burhan and Daglo, but siding with the long-sanctioned Bashir regime would be a liability.
Careful to avoid claiming that the army had secured his release, Harun intentionally put distance between the army and the escaping officers.
“In fact, there probably isn’t one,” Horner said.
As for Bashir, Alan Boswell of the International Crisis Group think tank said that if he “appeared again as a political actor, I think he could be a very rare wild card.”
“If you had to choose a side on this, it would seem like you would choose the military… but you might as well be on your own side,” Boswell added.