Sudan's Dictator Facing Opposition at Home

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After 18 years in power, Omar al-Bashir is dealing with new challenges in Khartoum.

Bashir march16 p.jpg

Bashir in Juba, now the capital of South Sudan / Wikimedia

Even as Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir escalates his rhetoric against the United States and mobilizes paramilitary forces against insurgencies within Sudan, opposition parties in Khartoum are calling for him to step down. While the opposition seems too weak and fragmented to pose a serious threat to al-Bashir for now, its statements are a reminder that al-Bashir must watch his back.

On March 3, al-Bashir urged the Sudanese to mobilize for war and to deploy the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces against multiple insurgencies. In a ceremony, the PDF pledged its undying loyalty to al-Bashir and ascribed the insurgencies to American imperialism, international Zionism, and resurgent colonialism.

In response, on March 5, the opposition Umma Party, the Communist Party, and the Popular Congress Party (PCP) said that al-Bashir's mobilization call was issued not in the interest of the Sudanese people but rather for the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). The three parties called for the Sudanese people not to respond to al-Bashir and for the president to step down from office. The political secretary for the PCP called for a transitional government. He called on the Sudanese people to overthrow the NCP. The leader of the Umma party accused the NCP of making war against its own citizens in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, an approach, she said, that earlier resulted in the secession of South Sudan. A spokesman for the Communist Party called on the Sudanese people to reject "the policy of war."

Strong stuff in a country where the the regime shows itself capable of exceptional brutality in Darfur and in the contested border regions in the South. Yet, al-Bashir apparently calculates that it is not in his best interests to initiate all-out repression against his opposition. Or, perhaps he does not feel himself strong enough to be able to do so.

This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.

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John Campbell, a former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, is a Senior Fellow for Africa policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Pretoria during the end of apartheid. He blogs at Africa in Transition.

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