Shortly after midnight on Thursday a column of tanks drove slowly down one of the main boulevards of Khartoum. Although residents of Sudan‘s capital of Khartoum awoke hours later to what seemed like another normal day, something significant had taken place during the wee hours. Amid a flurry of conflicting reports and wild rumors, information minister Ahmed Belal Osman announced Thursday that 13 suspects — among them senior officials — had been arrested for plotting against the state. “The government has decided to abort this plot just before the zero hour as a preventive measure to avoid entering the country into chaos,” Osman said.
The news of a coup attempt would have come as little surprise to countless Sudan watchers, who for months have watched storm clouds gather around the regime of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Facing armed resistance from restive ethnic groups in all corners of the country, as well as unrest on city streets from a population resentful of the state’s repressive tendencies, the regime has shown signs of losing it’s grip on power. The regime’s problems are exacerbated by delays in the flow of oil from South Sudan, sinking the Sudanese pound to an all time low. As economic woes deepen, many observers suspect that Bashir, subject of a war-crime indictment at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, will face an internal power struggle that he may not survive.
Although discontent has been simmering within the regime for some time, the catalyst for the latest plot appears to have been a disagreement during a conference held last week for the Islamic Movement — an organisation supposedly created to guide the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). Some ministers and religious leaders had hoped to use the conference to push for reforms in the NCP, but were thwarted by Bashir’s allies. Several delegates walked out of the congress even before it ended.
“This is a clear sign that something was brewing, says Dr. Alhajj Hamad, a Khartoum based analyst. “These people wanted the congress to reform the government but instead the Islamic Movement ended up being under al-Bashir’s control. Infuriated by the lack reform to come out of the meeting, many believe that the senior political figures and islamists currently in detention were discussing how to change the status quo.”
“I don’t think they were anywhere near plotting a coup, one Western diplomat told TIME. “[But]there was definitely an alliance being formed, and this spooked the government.”
Salal Gosh, the former intelligence chief, who is currently in detention did not even attend the conference. After Gosh voiced a desire to rule the country, Bashir removed him from his post in April 2011. Since then, rumours have since circulated he planned to do something about it. In a sign that the government may be readying to punish Gosh, his parliamentary impunity was lifted on Friday.
Those detained overnight on Thursday were not only obvious foes of Bashir. Senior military official, Mohammed Ibrahim, considered a hero by the Islamist youth for his military operations and leadership against several of the ethnic rebel groups and South Sudan, has also been held. Sources in Khartoum say the state has also arrested over 40 members of the the islamist youth group Al-Sae’hoon which was created earlier this year to push for reforms. Many of it’s members fought under Ibrahim against the south as jihadists and up till recently has voiced undeterred support of the regime. In recent months, though, the group and other Islamists have voiced discontent with Bashir ally Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein’s tenure as defence minister. They blame him for concessions made to South Sudan, territory lost to rebel groups and airstrike attacks by Israel on weapon storage facilities.
Despite initial claims that opposition groups had incited a coup attempt, there is clearly a power struggle underway within the regime. While several of the detainees have already been released, indicating that some were just taken in to aid the investigation, others could be held for a while. Dr. Amgad Fareid Eltayeb argues, though, that most Sudanese are indifferent to the regime’s infighting. “These are all bad guys fighting for power and wealth, Eltayeb, spokesman for opposition group Sudan Change Now (SCN) told TIME. “Not one of them cares about the Sudanese people With the oil agreement seemingly about to break down, tensions mounting on the border over a recent airstrike by Khartoum, and internal power struggles developing, the regime’s ability to survive will be increasingly tested. “The state is crumbing and every regime in its final days shows similar trends,” says Hamad. “It is now merely just the usual process of self destruction.”