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Why Sudan’s coup may not change much about how the country is run

The Sudanese military has ousted Omar al-Bashir after 30 years of rule, declaring a two-year transitional government before elections are held. But a military regime won't satisfy the demonstrators demanding a civilian government. Nick Schifrin talks to McGill University professor Khalid Medani about whether the coup represents only an "internal rift" that won't introduce meaningful change.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    We return to the coup in Sudan, ending the 30-year rule of Omar al-Bashir.

    Sudan lies at the crossroads of sub-Saharan Africa, Northern Africa and the Middle East. Its fate will have implications for international migration, counterterrorism and regional stability.

    As Nick Schifrin reports now, protesters helped to end one reign of oppression, but they fear another could be on the way.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    At the end of the largest peaceful demonstrations in a generation, at the end of 30 years of authoritarian rule, there was jubilation in the streets for the protesters who helped depose a despot.

    They held aloft a young soldier who sided with them against the regime. They pulled down Omar al-Bashir's face from ubiquitous posters. And they didn't care if they were sitting in traffic, as long as they could declare V for victory. They expressed hope that today marked a new beginning.

  • Maha Hussein (through translator):

    We have been under his rule for 30 years and feel this step came too late, but what is important is that everyone is happy now.

  • Hind Mohamed Aly (through translator):

    Everyone will now work for a better, united Sudan.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Since 1989, 75-year-old Omar al-Bashir forcibly united Sudan by waging wars while wearing a smile. In Southern Sudan and Darfur, his militias scorched earth and massacred his enemies. Hundreds of thousands died, and suffered from famine.

    He was indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. And in the 1990s, he hosted Osama bin Laden. He led thanks to military support, but today the military removed him and promised a two-year transition government, administered by the military, and declared by Defense Minister Awad Mohamed Ibn Auf.

  • Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf (through translator):

    We announce a complete cease-fire, and the release of all prisoners immediately, providing an atmosphere for a peaceful transition of power, building political parties, holding free and fair elections by the end of the transitional period, and introducing a permanent constitution.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But for the hundreds of thousands who protested a regime and its military, that wasn't good enough. Immediately after the announcement, protesters surrounded an army general's vehicle and demanded a transition to democracy. They called Defense Minister Ibn Auf a regime crony. The U.S. still has sanctions against him.

  • Muawia Shaddad:

    It was a massive disappointment. People shouted in anger. We do not accept this, because they haven't done anything, no change, no real change.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Muawia Shaddad is a University of Khartoum professor and member of the Civil Society Alliances Forces that helped lead the protests. He says the demonstrations will continue until their demands are all met.

  • Muawia Shaddad:

    We need full democracy, with all the principles and pillars of good governance. We want a representation of the people. We want to survive from the economic collapse. We also would like to ensure human rights for all, and also this should be done by a governing structure that is truly civilian.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The demonstrations began in December as protests against increased food prices, but they quickly became political. They took over intersections and overpasses, chanting the people want to build a new Sudan day and night.

    They drafted a nationalist message, and demanded the man who himself took power in a military takeover finally cede power. Bashir has survived prior protests, but these were different. They peaked in Khartoum, the traditional base of his power. Protesters included opposition figures, working class, and the elite, including the children of regime members.

    And the majority were women. In an extremely patriarchal society, women helped lead the movement, and 22-year-old Alaa Salah became its icon. She wore the uniform of working Sudanese women with touches of tradition. And where previous protests died out, female protesters provided staying power, especially as dozens of protesters were killed.

    Today, they are vowing to keep protesting. They say they may have won today's battle, but they are fighting a war that is far from over.

    And tonight in Sudan, protesters remain in the streets, in defiance of a curfew that began at 10:00 a.m. local.

    For more, we turn to Khalid Medani, associate professor and chair of the African Studies Department at McGill University in Montreal.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    The military is talking about a two-year transition. Protesters say that's not enough. Are we on the road for continuing protests and a continuation of a regime, just without Bashir?

  • Khalid Medani:

    Absolutely, I think there's no question we're on the way to continuing protests.

    I think this is essentially an internal coup, replacing one military leader, you know, with another. And, of course, it's been very clear with respect to the position of the opposition that this is unacceptable.

    Their demand is very straightforward, very clear, and that is a transition to a civilian government that is overseen perhaps by the military, basically just as a kind of caretaker, but composed of a number of different technocrats and representatives of the different opposition groups, in addition to representatives of those who have taken to the streets over these four months.

    So, the protests, as you probably have been looking at in terms of the news, will continue and will be sustained by the opposition. They have come out with statements, very strong statements today, saying that they will not tolerate this kind of continuation of the military regime.

    And they don't find the military transitional council legitimate, because their demand is not only to get rid of Bashir, which has been successful, of course, but also to really dismantle the regime.

    And, of course, the acting head of state at the moment, the former — or the defense minister, is really just another member or personnel of that of that regime.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So is the fear that the problems will persist? We're talking about now a divide between the military, the intelligence services, and the militias. We're talking about the economic crisis that sparked these protests.

    I mean, will today solve any of those problems at all?

  • Khalid Medani:

    No, absolutely not.

    I mean, that is really the central question, that is, that the economic crisis is so deep. You have an inflation rate of over 60 percent. You have, of course, a great deal of unemployment. Basically, the economy is really under bankruptcy, which is really problematic.

    So the economic crisis cannot be resolved through military means. And the reason that this internal coup has happened, and the reason that Bashir has been ousted, basically is because of divisions within the military itself, in particular divisions and differences between the top brass of the military, including Awad Ibn Auf, who currently, of course, is the head of government, and middle- and lower-ranking soldiers who have taken the side, essentially, with the protesters.

    And that really is the catalyst for why Bashir was ousted by his former loyalist and defense minister. And so the internal rift is the reason for this internal coup, but this is by no means going to solve the deep economic crisis and the grievances that have really propelled these protests, which, of course, are unprecedented in Sudan's history, since they are not only the largest protests across the country, across social groups, but also they're very sustained over four months.

    So they're basically the longest protests that we have seen in the history of Sudan. And the protests will, in fact, continue. Protesters at the moment are saying that they're going to continue their sit-ins in the hundreds of thousands until the real kind of regime falls, or a new transition to civilian government occurs.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Let's just quickly try to get through U.S. actions and interests here.

    Over the last few years with Sudan, the U.S. has been normalizing relations. In 2017, the U.S. lifted sanctions. Today, the State Department released a statement calling for a — quote — "speedy transition to a civilian-led government."

    Will the protesters consider that statement supportive of their demands?

  • Khalid Medani:

    Absolutely.

    I think that the statement that came out on April 9 that was released by the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom, the troika, was very positive with respect on the part of the protesters in terms of the support for a transition to democracy and rule of law.

    That is really important. It's very clear that the United States is sending signals that it's very, very interested in a democratic transition. So it's indirectly — of course, indirectly supporting the protesters.

    Of course, what the protesters and the opposition, led by the Sudanese professional associations, would like is increasing pressure by the United States and other Western allies towards the Bashir — to this present regime, in order to speed up the democratic process.

    What they're demanding very specifically at the moment is to negotiate with segments of the military to immediately have a civilian government or interim government that is manned by civilians to oversee a four-year transition period to multiparty democracy.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Professor Khalid Medani, we will have to leave it there. Thank you so much.

  • Khalid Medani:

    OK. You're welcome. Thank you.

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