Political Players in Sudan
Omar Hassan al-Bashir: Firm political control established through policies of repression provided the president with the flexibility he needed to achieve a peace agreement with southern rebel SPLM. Although he won the first multiparty presidential election in more than two decades in April 2010, the decision of major opposition parties, including the SPLM, to boycott the contest denied Bashir the clear democratic mandate he sought. His indictment on genocide and war crimes charges by the ICC is a potential Achilles heel for the president, and to the extent that it poses an obstacle to resolving the conflict in Darfur only adds to doubts about the prospects for keeping the peace process on track.
National Consensus Forces: The NCF is an umbrella group of nearly two dozen northern opposition parties led by Farooq Abu Issa, a former foreign minister. The alliance boycotted the April 2010 elections, and continues to apply pressure on Bashir’s regime to establish a more inclusive political system. The NCF has rejected the president’s offer to form a broad coalition government on the basis of Arab nationalism, and Issa, a key figure in the October 1964 revolution against the military government of Gen. Ibrahim Abboud, has called for a popular uprising to remove the NCP from power. The group provides an organization framework for channeling the growing discontent among the inhabitants of Khartoum into an anti-government movement.
Revolutionary Forces Front: In early 2011, the JEM, a western Darfuri rebel organization, formed an alliance with the Federal Alliance of Eastern Sudan, a splinter faction of the largely defunct rebel Eastern Front, with the aim of forcing regime change in Khartoum. In November, the JEM announced the formation of the RFF, which united the JEM with the Darfuri SLM factions headed by Abdel Wahid al-Nur and Minni Manawi, and the SPLM-N, a rebel group that has emerged in the disputed Blue Nile territory. The emergence of the RFF creates a risk of generalized civil war across the shrunken (and less financially endowed) state of Sudan, which would greatly increase the country’s susceptibility to an Arab Spring-like uprising in the capital, organized by the NCF.
Sadiq al-Mahdi: The leader of the Umma Party, Mahdi has long been among the most prominent northern opponents of Bashir’s regime. He is reportedly in negotiations with the president to engineer a peaceful transition to democratic rule that will include Bashir’s safe departure from power. His efforts are unlikely to bear fruit, and Mahdi’s willingness to engage in talks with Bashir could lead to the marginalization of the Umma Party in a post-NCP political system.
Military: The officers and troops in the Sudanese military forces are sharply divided along ideological lines. Nevertheless, the military remains capable of forming a government if civilian authorities falter. In any case, elements of the armed forces are almost certain to play a decisive role in the toppling of Bashir’s regime, and will seek to influence the course of any transition to democratic civilian rule.
International Community: Sanctions imposed by the US and other western nations will limit Bashir’s ability to address the economic problems arising from Sudan’s loss of control over southern oil reserves, and Sudan’s successful transition away from dependence on oil wealth will depend on the willingness of foreign donors to bear a substantial share of the cost of maintaining economic stability as the process unfolds.