Full Name: Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir
Current Position: President of the Republic of Sudan. Field Marshall (Head of) the Sudan Armed Forces.
Salutation: Your Excellency
Date of Birth: 1 Jan. 1944
Born: Hoshe Bannaga, River Nile State, Sudan.
Family: Married to Fatima Khalid and, second wife, Widad Babiker Omer. No children. Uncle al-Tayyib Mustafa, is the editor of the al-Intibaha newspaper.
Education: Graduated as an officer from the Sudan Military College, Khartoum, 1966.
Career: Joined the Sudanese Armed Forces, 1960; Military attaché, UAE, 1975-79; Garrison Commander, Khartoum, 1979-81; Commander of the armoured parachute brigade, Khartoum, 1981-87; Commander of the 8th Brigade, 1988; Minister of Defence, 1989-93; President of Sudan, 1993 to date.
President HE Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, Office of the President, People’s Palace, PO Box 281, Khartoum, Sudan
(Sources: ST, Africa Confidential)
Like many of the guardians of the ‘Salvation’ regime, its president Field Marshal Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir is a man of humble origins. He was born in 1944 in Hoshe Bannaga, a village near the northern town of Shendi, as the son of a hallab, or milker of cows. He hails from the Bideriyya Dahmashiyya section of the Ja’alin, one of the northern ethnic groups from which a large number of senior regime politicians hail.
He received his primary and intermediary schooling at Shendi, before completing his studies at the Khartoum Government Secondary School, working at an auto repair shop in Khartoum to help pay his fees. It is believed that it was during his final years of school education that al-Bashir first entered into the Islamic Movement, after encouragement from a number of relatives who were also members. Omar al-Bashir also met his future vice-president, Ali Osman Taha, for the first time at this secondary school.
Before his involvement in the 1989 coup, al-Bashir had embarked upon a military career of some pedigree. After graduating from the Sudanese military college in 1967, he obtained MAs in military science in both Malaysia and Sudan. He also fought not just in the two Sudanese civil wars but against Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. However, al-Bashir began at the same time to engage in secret political activity.
In 1977, following its reconciliation with Jafa’ar Nimeiri and the May Regime (1969-1985), the Islamic Movement pursued a conscious strategy of infiltrating the armed forces. Al-Bashir managed, in spite of at times attracting the close attentions of Jafa’ar Nimeiri’s State Security Organization, became one of the leaders of the Islamist cell within the Sudan Armed Forces.
After Nimeiri’s ouster in 1985, there were rumours in the international press that al-Bashir was planning a coup for the benefit of Hassan al-Turabi’s National Islamic Front, as a result of which a sympathetic general posted him to Muglad in the region of south Kordofan so as to keep him out of the limelight. It was here that al-Bashir implemented Sadiq al-Mahdi’s policy of arming ethnic militias against the SPLA rebels with an alacrity not displayed by other officers. In 1988 he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier, and he continued to play an active role in the field.
In fact, al-Bashir was on active combat duty against the southern rebels in Mayom, Unity State until only one week before his famous coup of 1989. The Islamic Movement had recently chosen al-Bashir to be head of its military wing, considering him more malleable than his predecessor Osman Ahmad Hassan, who had stated that if he were to lead a coup his first loyalty would be to the military.
In the spring of 1989 he met with his old schoolmate Ali Osman Taha and planned the downfall of Sudan’s third democracy. However, given al-Bashir’s presence in the south, other Islamist officers such as Ibrahim Shams al-Din, Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Hussein and Zubayr Muhammad Salih played a more significant role in instigating the actual takeover.
Soon after seizing power, al-Bashir addressed the crowds in Khartoum, stating ‘I vow here to purge from our ranks the renegades, the hirelings, enemies of the people and enemies of the armed forces...Anyone who betrays the nation does not deserved the honour of living’. Al-Bashir kept his word, eviscerating the public sector, the professionals, the police force and the army by purging them of perceived secularists, or ‘sectarians’ linked to the opposition parties.
Bashir ruled as the head of a Revolutionary Command Council until 1993, when this body dissolved itself and appointed al-Bashir President. Al-Bashir was then ‘elected’ to this same position in 1996 during polls that were boycotted by all the major opposition parties. Nevertheless, he was not regarded as the dominant figure in Sudanese politics at this stage.
SPLIT WITH TURABI
In 1998 al-Turabi mockingly remarked of al-Bashir: ‘Omer now represents Sudan’s contemporary history, but he will not do so a hundred years hence, just as he did not have anything to do with it twenty years ago’. Al-Bashir appeared – perhaps somewhat elusively – as a mere puppet of the NIF at this stage, with al-Turabi reportedly annulling his decisions on a regular basis.
However, al-Bashir increasingly began to develop his own support base by appealing to pragmatists within the army and Islamic movement who were startled by the radicalism of Turabist ideology, which was beginning to turn the country into a pariah state. The power struggle intensified when al-Turabi attempted to use his position as speaker of parliament to trim al-Bashir’s authority as president, and culminated on 12 December 1999 when al-Bashir dissolved the national assembly, removed al-Turabi as speaker and declared a state of emergency.
Al-Bashir ruled for another year by emergency decree, before further sham elections in 2000 saw him anointed president once more. In 2005 he received a deal of credit after his government successfully signed a peace deal with the south, but his personal role in the peace deal was relatively minor. This was indicated by the fact that it was Ali Osman Taha, not al-Bashir, who acted as a signatory to the accord alongside John Garang.
Al-Bashir’s own views towards the south are perhaps indicated by the uncompromising stance taken by his uncle, al-Tayyib Mustafa, the editor of al-Intibaha, who actively campaigned for the secession of the south on the essentially racist pretext that southerners diluted the Arab and Muslim character of Sudan.
Whilst al-Bashir’s government briefly closed down al-Intibaha as a sop to the south in the lead up to the 2011 referendum on secession, one wonders how different al-Bashir’s views really are to those of his uncle. In December 2010, he declared ‘If the south secedes, we will change the constitution and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity...shari’a and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language’.
BASHIR AND THE ICC
Al-Bashir was dragged decisively into the international limelight in 2008 when the ICC Chief prosecutor, Louis Moreno-Ocampo, alleged that he was the mastermind behind an attempt to perpetrate a genocide against the three main ‘African’ ethnic groups in Darfur, the Zaghawa, Fur and Masalit. On 4 March 2009 a pre-trial chamber comprising three international judges issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, indicting him on five counts of crimes against humanity (murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape), and two counts of war crimes (pillaging and intentionally directing attacks against civilians).
This initial ruling established that there was sufficient evidence did not exist to indict al-Bashir for genocide, but the chamber, after criticisms from an appeal judge, reversed its initial decision on this count. Thus on 12 July 2010 they issued a second warrant which also indicted al-Bashir on three counts of genocide, stating that he had ‘acted with specific intent to destroy in part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups’.
In the wake of the indictments al-Bashir has nevertheless been able to travel to Kenya, Djibouti, China, Nigeria, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, Chad, Saudi Arabia, in spite of the fact that a number of these states are members of the ICC. However, a visit to Addis Ababa reportedly saw al-Bashir and his entourage enter a ‘severe panic’ caused by the proximity of a US plane and a delay by the airport authorities in bringing up the boarding ladder. He has cancelled trips to Malaysia, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Central African Republic out of fear that these countries might enact the arrest warrant.
Whilst in some respects the arrest warrant has actively increased public support for al-Bashir in northern Sudan, it may have led factions within the regime to perceive him as a liability. Recently released Wikileaks cables reveal that vice president Ali Osman Taha and former intelligence chief Salah Gosh were considering removing al-Bashir in a ‘palace coup’ in 2009. Taha and Gosh both hail from the Shaigiyya ethnic group, which has prompted some sources to suggest that there may now be an ethnically determined rift emerging within the NCP between Taha and Gosh and Bashir and his fellow Ja’alin such as Nafie Ali Nafie. However, Taha seems to have been unable to prevent al-Bashir removing Gosh later in 2009.
Al-Bashir has two wives, one of them the widow of his fellow coup-plotter Ibrahim Shams al-Din. He is a stringent advocate of polygamy, and has declared that Sudanese men should take more wives to help increase the population of the country. Ironically, he himself remains childless. This, and the fact that the president has promised to stand down after the completion of his current term raises possibility that Sudan will soon be ruled by a man not named al-Bashir.
There is of course no guarantee al-Bashir will keep to his commitment, which recalls the numerous unfulfilled promises to relinquish power made by his military predecessor Jafa’ar Nimeiri (1969-1985). Al-Bashir, whilst he shares Nimeiri’s ruthlessness, lacks his erratic and personalistic tendencies. This is perhaps why he has now survived longer than any other post-colonial Sudanese head of state.
The conflicts in Sudan since 1989 have served a calculated purpose for al-Bashir’s National Congress Party to justify publicly their continuing stranglehold on power. Al-Bashir’s decision to allow Taha to act as northern signatory to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with South Sudan was probably not an act of modesty, and more likely reflects the fact that war is the principal source of his legitimacy.
Nevertheless, it is true that the economic benefits that followed Sudan’s rise as an oil exporter in 1999 may have increased al-Bashir’s popularity amongst the northern urban populations at the riverain core who have benefited most from this boom. It remains to be seen whether they will continue to support al-Bashir in the wake of secession and the loss of oil revenue it has entailed.
Other Profiles of Omar Hassan al-Bashir
ICC & Bashir
Al Jazeera English | Sudan and South Sudan on the brink of war | 24 April 2012
Al Jazeera English | Al Bashir rules out talks with South Sudan | 23 April 2012
Al Jazeera English | Sudanese forces ’liberate Heglig town’ | 20 April 2012
Al Jazeera English | UN: South Sudan’s action in Heglig is illegal | 19 April 2012
Al Jazeera English | Bashir calls South Sudan leaders ’insects’ | 19 April 2012
BBC Hard Talk | July 2011
The Guardian | Omar al-Bashir talks to the Guardian | 20 April 2011
Reviled in the west, the Sudanese president gives his first interview to a western news organisation since he was charged with genocide in Darfur. He tells Simon Tisdall why he refuses to surrender to the international criminal court
Al Jazeera English | Al-Bashir gathers supporters in Darfur | 18 March 2009
Al Jazeera English | Frost Over the World - President Omar al-Bashir | 20 June 2008
Al Jazeera English | Talk to Jazeera - Omar Hassan Al Bashir - 09 Nov 2007
Omar Hassan Al Bashir, President of Sudan, talks exclusively to Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall Salem.
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