Sudan walks tightrope between competing power bases.

Author:Collins, Tom
Position:Cover story

Sudan's former strongman, Omar al-Bashir, was overthrown last April, but supporters of the old regime still wield much power and influence. Tom Collins examines the challenges facing the transitional government as it seeks to bridge the divides in society and lead the country towards democratic elections

On the day in mid-December that Omar al-Bashir, was sentenced to two years in detention for corruption, thousands of people took to the streets of Khartoum to voice their support for the former ironfisted president. Despite Bashir's record of laying waste to the economy, waging a brutal war in the Darfur region and overseeing corruption and repression throughout Sudan, they chanted "just fall". The slogan the crowds had chanted against Bashir in last year's revolution was now directed against the man entrusted with setting the country on a new course, prime minister Abdalla Hamdok.

Appointed in August by the country's supreme authority, the Sovereign Council, Hamdok has broad popular support based on the alliance of civil society activists that propelled the revolution. However, his government faces challenges from groups that profited from and supported the former dictator. The power and wealth of these groups, which include members of the military, the security forces and Islamists, is being challenged by the government and its stakeholders, leading to conflict.

The Islamist regime--which once harboured Osama bin Laden, a move that led to Sudan being designated by the US as a state sponsor of terror--has left many Sudanese longing for a less religious and authoritarian government.

"I think political Islam is finished in Sudan," says Sedgi Kabalo, a prominent left-wing economist who spent almost three months in prison for his communist affiliations. "The Islamists still have some power but they cannot use it. The only way for them to retake power is through another dictatorship. Through democracy they are finished."

Hamdok cracked down on the Islamists in late November by dissolving the former ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and arresting Ali El Haj, chairman of the Popular Congress Party, for his role in the 1989 coup that brought Bashir to power.

However, according to Sudan's former foreign minister and NCP chairman Ibrahim Ghandour the old regime is not yet out of the picture. "It is very clear that this government is trying to put Islam on the back foot and I can say very clearly that this is not possible at this point in Sudan,"...

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