Analysis-Under military’s watch, Sudan’s former ruling party making a comeback

Since Sudan’s military staged a coup six months ago many former allies of toppled autocrat Omar al-Bashir have been allowed to rejoin the civil service while others have been freed from jail in an apparent push to form a government and reassure donors.

The rehabilitation of the Islamist National Congress Party (NCP), which ruled Sudan under Bashir before he was ousted by a popular uprising in 2019, comes amid a worsening economic crisis and ongoing street protests demanding a return to civilian rule.

At a news conference on Monday, members of several Islamist factions, including the NCP, inaugurated a “Broad Islamist Current” to signal their formal return to politics.

Meanwhile, officials heading up a taskforce appointed to dismantle Bashir’s system of wealth and patronage have been imprisoned.

The developments echo counter-revolutionary trends across the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.

Pro-democracy groups that helped overthrow Bashir but were forced out of a power-sharing arrangement by the coup fear a return of the autocratic rule they have struggled to consign to history.

Important regional powers including Egypt and Gulf states have sought to roll back the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood internationally and might be uneasy at the revival of Sudanese Islamist networks. But they may still see Sudan’s military as their best ally in a fragile and strategically located country.

“Sudan has an existential crisis,” said Amani al-Taweel of the Egyptian state-controlled Al Ahram Center think-tank. “Everyone is concerned because of the threat to the Red Sea, the Sahel, and Sudan’s ability to become a centre for terrorism.”

Domestically, Islamists remain discredited by their dominant role under Bashir, so the move to rehabilitate them could prove unpopular.

But diplomats and analysts see the military’s outreach as a step to assemble a civilian political base in an attempt to build a case for badly-needed foreign financial support suspended after the coup.

Western states and international lenders have said a credible civilian government is a prerequisite for restarting financial support, but the military has yet to name a prime minister.

On April 15, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who led the coup, hinted at softening Sudan’s state of emergency and other steps demanded by Western countries and Sudanese political parties.

But pro-democracy groups accused Burhan of insincerity, noting arrests of protesters the same day.

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