General Ibrahim Abboud and his junta proceeded with Abdalla Khalil’s plan for US aid and negotiated with Nasser’s Egypt monetary compensation for the drowning of Sudan’s Wadi Halfa under the lake of the Aswan High Dam. Thanks to these inflows, Sudan registered a net transfer payments surplus of 22.5 million Sudanese pounds in the period 1959-62. The junta ramped up cotton production by suppression of labour and horizontal expansion of the Gezira Scheme – the Managil South-Western extension inaugurated in 1962 – pushing up Sudan’s exports from 44.7 million Sudanese pounds in the crisis year of 1958 to 68 million Sudanese pounds in 1959, 64 million Sudanese pounds in 1960, 61.3 million Sudanese pounds in 1961 and 79.7 million Sudanese pounds in 1962.
What we observe, then, is that the military has consistently intervened to override factional disputes within the ruling bloc, as well as to protect their interests during periods of budgetary squeeze and popular radicalization. Characteristic of these moments are increased exploitation at home paired with extroverted foreign policy geared toward the short-term management of budgetary troubles.
General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan might well have considered Abboud’s precedent. In his remarks on October 25 announcing his centralization of authority, he mentioned that he had offered the transitional prime minister Abdalla Hamdok the opportunity to work together with him and facilitate a smoother consolidation of power. He was, however, acutely aware of another commander in chief’s coup in Sudan’s modern history, the April 6, 1985 palace coup of General Abd Al-Rahman Siwar Al-Dahab that deposed General Nimeiri and mentioned the precedent as a model to pursue “democratization.” Siwar Al-Dahab was Nimeiri’s defense minister. He stepped in to oust the 16-year long (1969-85) dictator at the height of the March/April popular uprising against the regime and announced a new dispensation as chairman of a transitional military council. Siwar Al-Dahab oversaw a brief one-year transitional period and eventually handed over power to the elected government of prime minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi.
During this brief transition, the military council of Siwar al-Dahab made sure to stall the radical demands of the popular uprising, including the quest for a negotiated settlement to the civil war in southern Sudan, rejection of the austerity measures imposed by Nimeiri’s regime, dissolution of Nimeiri’s security apparatus, and prosecution of the regime’s stalwarts. Siwar Al-Dahab entered the history books as a benevolent army officer who sided with the will of the people. But he managed to shield the leaders of the National Islamic Front (NIF), who were in alliance with Nimeiri against the wrath of the March/April uprising. Siwar Al-Dahab went on to become chairman of the Islamic Call Organisation, a humanitarian and proselytization arm of the NIF in 1987 and played an important role in facilitating the 30 June 1989 NIF-orchestrated coup that brought Omar Al-Bashir to power.
Coups as Counterrevolutionary Restorations
Siwar Al-Dahab’s 1985 coup granted the military veto power over the decision making processes of the transitional period and placed considerable breaks on the popular momentum ignited by the March/April uprising. A similar scenario played out in 2019. The military leadership pushed Omar Al-Bashir aside on April 11, 2019 under pressure from the protest movement with the aim of securing veto power over the post-Bashir dispensation. Al-Burhan’s 25 October coup is the realization of the partially stalled 11 April 2019 coup carried out by the leaders of the military-militia-security complex that evolved under Al-Bashir’s rule. It took two years of cohabitation between the military and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) alliance to clarify its form. The interlude was the army’s defensive posture toward the broad revolutionary movement of 2018-19 until it was in a position to go on the offensive. In that sense, Al-Burhan’s October 25 coup qualifies as a restoration.
The interlude was nevertheless beneficial from the perspective of the ruling bloc. Speaking on the day of the coup, October 25, General Al-Burhan praised the person of prime minister Hamdok and expressed appreciation for the achievements of their partnership. Al-Burhan named the “economic reforms” carried out by Hamdok’s cabinet, a harsh austerity package prescribed by the International Monetary Fund that included the abolition of fuel subsidies, the severe downscaling of subsidies for wheat, electricity, and medicines, the abolition of multiple exchange rates for the US dollar, and the floating of the Sudanese currency.
Moreover, Hamdok’s cabinet managed to normalize relations with the US. Washington struck Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and lifted long-term sanctions in return for Sudan’s reorientation of foreign policy towards alignment with the US-sponsored regimes in the Middle East. The military took the lead in the elemental component of this pact when Al-Burhan met with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February 2020, initiating the normalization of relations between Khartoum and Tel Aviv that culminated in Sudan’s signing of the US-sponsored Abraham Accords in January 2021. In return, the US provided Sudan with urgently needed financial aid, a debt relief package under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, and wheat supplies to feed the bread-hungry cities.