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Sudan Feature: Explaining Last Month's Coup Attempt...And What's Next (Elmahdi)

President Omar al-BashirYesterday reports circulated that at least seven army officers had been arrested for plotting a coup against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The head of the plot was named as Colonel Al-Tayeb Al-Sayed.

Al-Sayed reportedly warned that unless there are changes in the "leadership" to fix Sudan's problems, then "everyday they will find a coup as there are tens behind us who will try that".

Sudanese activist Yousif Elmahdi writes for Muftah about last month's coup attempt:

On November 22, 2012, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) announced that it had successfully foiled a coup, and arrested several high-ranking army officers accused of plotting the takeover. Former NISS head, Salah Gosh, was also arrested.

The governing National Congress Party (NCP) has been known to concoct charges of sabotage and assassination to justify the arrest and neutralization of political opponents. However, since all the detained individuals are prominent Islamists and members of the ruling regime, the logic behind these recent events is not as clear-cut.

Most theories center around a power struggle for succession triggered by Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir’s ailing health. This past August, in Doha, the President had a benign tumor removed from his throat. A second operation was carried out in Saudi Arabia in November, fueling rumors the tumor may in fact be malignant.

According to one theory, key civilian elements in the regime ordered the arrests as a preemptive measure to weaken would-be military successors, such as Brigadier General Mohamed Ibrahim Abdel-Galil (“Wad Ibrahim”), who is popular within both the army and the Islamic Movement (IM).

Others believe that allegations about coup members planning acts of sabotage and assassinations were fabricated, but that the coup itself --- in planning rather than implementation --- was real.

This philosophy is inherent in the writings of “Al-Sae’ohoon”, a group of former “Mujahideen” that have recently become more vocal and present themselves as NCP reformists. There are strong links between Al-Sae’ohoon’s official statement about the coup and an article written by prominent London-based Sudanese Islamist Abdelwahab Al-Affendi, titled, "The army sides with the people (in advance)".

Both Al-Sae’ohoon and Al-Affendi suggest that the takeover would have been widely supported and within the army officers’ rights to save the nation by overthrowing the failing regime. Salah Gosh, a polarizing individual hated and mistrusted by many Sudanese, was arrested, they claim, in order to tarnish the officers’ reputations and turn the NCP and public opinion against them.


Tensions within the ruling clique had been brewing for some time, and have escalated considerably since the secession of South Sudan.  The Islamist dominated army has been dismayed by a series of military setbacks, most notably in the border oilfield area of Heglig. Following a brief conflict with South Sudan, the government was much maligned for its acceptance of an African Union resolution, which was perceived by several government hardliners as biased toward South Sudan.

Increasingly close relations between Iran and Sudan have been another source of contention. Foreign Minister, Ali Karti, has been vociferously critical of this relationship. Sudan’s growing relations with the Islamic Republic likely motivated an October air strike on the Yarmouk arms factory, widely believed to have been orchestrated by Israel. Karti has also publically warned against the impact of budding relations with Iran on Sudan’s strategic ties with the Gulf.

Internal government dissension has been building over corruption, nepotism and generally undemocratic behavior among the NCP leadership. The 8th General Conference of the Islamic Movement, held on November 16-17, 2012 and attended by an estimated 4000 Sudanese Islamists and 150 foreign visitors, fueled additional resentment.

Many hoped the conference would be an opportunity for internal reform. A number of participants called for the election of members unaffiliated with the government to lead the IM and NCP in order to loosen the regime’s hold on the IM. Instead, through several electoral and constitutional amendments, the government’s hold over the organization was further deepened at the conference. 

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