Wednesday 25 March 2020

An assassination attempt in Khartoum

An edited version of this piece was published on Middle East Eye.

Sudan’s interim prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was pictured a short while after the jumbled attempt on his life on 9 March with a beaming smile on his face behind his desk in Khartoum. The photographer made sure to capture the television screen in his office in the same frame with news of the assassination attempt from an Arabic television channel. In his trademark uplift style Hamdok issued a statement saying “What happened will not stop the march of change and will only be an additional splash in the high wave of the revolution.” 
The government spokesman, Faisal Mohamed Salih, immediately labelled the attempt a “terrorist attack”. Two days later, on 11 March, Salih announced the arrest of several suspects including foreigners and confirmed the arrival of a team of US security experts who will join the investigation effort. He willingly adopted the narrative of the US war on terror saying: “The government has requested the help of the [Federal Bureau of Investigation] FBI due to its experience and the modern technologies it has, especially as Sudan is a country that has no experience in dealing with this kind of incidents,” adding that “international anti-terrorism treaties obligate states to make use of various experiences to address these issues”.
Salih drew attention to events back in February 2020 when the Sudanese police announced the arrest of members of a “terrorist cell” headed by an Egyptian national who allegedly confessed ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The authorities claimed that members of the cell who carried forged Syrian passports had received training in explosives and were plotting a series of assassinations targeting Sudanese officials tasked with dismantling institutions of the deposed regime of former president Bashir. Interestingly, the lot of Egyptian Muslim Brothers who had sought shelter in Sudan following the July 2013 coup d'├ętat under Bashir’s rule was not particularly better. They were equally traded for favours from the Egyptian dictator
Bashir’s regime had laboured strenuously to shed off its earlier record of Islamist adventures, foremost the 1995 botched attempt on the life of deceased Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, and relocate itself in the terrain of US subservience. It happily advanced cooperation with US intelligence in the aftermath of the September 11 but the reputation of Sudan’s security cabal made open normalisation of ties an expensive political choice domestically for successive US administrations. Nevertheless cooperation did continue and the CIA was pleased with the performance of its Sudanese clients under Bashir right up to the end of his rule. 
Sudan’s new rulers are evidently keen to prove their worth in the US security architecture for the immediate purpose of slipping off the US state sponsors of terrorism list and the strategic choice of alignment with their powerful Arab Gulf patrons, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in the regional political order. Sudan’s Abd al-Fattah al-Burhan stated as much when arguing his case for normalisation of ties with the Israeli occupation after his surprise meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda’s Entebbe early February. The meeting was allegedly arranged by Abu Dhabi with the involvement of Riyadh and Cairo. 
The facts of the attempt on Prime Minister Hamdok’s life remain murky. A bomb planted in a parked car exploded as his convey passed by in the Kober district of Khartoum North, and a volley of bullets was heard. Accounts vary however, some claim a projectile was fired against the convoy from a high building. The political consequences if not benefits of the attempt unfolded in quick succession. On the same day, Egypt’s security chief, Abbas Kamel, was received by Sudan’s calm and composed military rulers and held separate meetings with the head of state Abd al-Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia. A few days later, Daglo flew to Egypt despite a flight ban in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, for meetings with Egyptian officials including President al-Sisi, partially to smooth out a loud disagreement regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD); Sudan had opted out of an Arab League resolution supporting Cairo’s position in the dispute with Addis Ababa drawing official Egyptian disdain
Domestically, the assassination attempt drew the civilians of the tenuous transitional authority closer to their military allies. A joint meeting of the cabinet, the sovereignty council and the leadership organ of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), resolved to establish a new internal security organ separate from the General Intelligence Service (GIS), with the mandate of tracking, monitoring and pre-empting the actions of members of terrorist organisations or any organisation with objectives opposed to the [2019] revolution. 
The generous formulation is borrowed directly from the dictionary of repression and I assume would come to haunt the very women and men who toppled Bashir the dictator. Indeed, Sudan’s new rulers have struggled to counter or absorb the independent and multiple organisational forms of Sudan’s protest movement, foremost the ubiquitous resistance committees. The new security organ, with designs likely to be fashioned following Egyptian example, will probably serve the dual function of appropriation and repression through incorporation of willing recruits into the new security apparatus and the subjugation of others who defy the will of the state. Meanwhile Prime Minister Hamdok, it must be said, risks deterioration into the mantle of Adly Mansour, the perfect placeholder. 
 
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.