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Trouble ahead for Bashir?

April 2, 2009

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has orchestrated a defiant response to international efforts to arrest him for war crimes in Darfur but this is seen as hiding vulnerabilities that could signal trouble ahead.

Bashir has been travelling in the region in defiance of the arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. His travels demonstrate the court’s inability to arrest him and have won support from Arab countries and at home. He has also closed down aid groups accused of helping the court and addressed a string of nationalistic rallies.

But all this has done nothing to resolve major issues that could eventually loosen his hold on power.

These include the conflict in Darfur, Sudan’s sinking economy, fears over the fragile peace deal between north and south Sudan, and worsening relations with the United States and United Nations.

The most immediate challenge could come from Darfur. The rebel Justice and Equality Movement attacked Khartoum last year and has threatened to arrest Bashir if nobody else hands him over to the court.

The economy is another area of weakness. While oil prices boomed, the government could eaily pay supporters, civil servants, soldiers and militias. But the collapse in the oil price has emptied the state’s coffers.

It is unclear which, if any, of Sudan’s political forces could stand up to Bashir. Opposition parties have become weker in the two decades since Bashir seized power.

The south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement — in a coalition government with Bashir’s National Congress Party since a 2005 peace deal that ended two decades of north-south civil
war — has so far stood by its political partner.

But that could change if Bashir shows signs of backing down on any parts of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, most importantly the referendum on southern independence that was promised
for 2011.

Some Western diplomats and political analysts believe that a challenge from within Bashir’s own party is possible.

Potential plotters could be spurred on if the U.N. Security Council imposes more sanctions over Sudan’s refusal to deal with the ICC or its expulsions of aid agencies.

Expulsion of the agencies mean Bashir now owns the aid problem and will be held respsonsible for further humanitarian disasters.

So far, there have been few signals from abroad to encourage internal plotters. U.S. President Barack Obama has yet to give details on how he will deal with Bashir’s regime.

Bashir is strong in the short term, the opposition concedes. But could there be long-term problems brewing?

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