A month after he lost part of his country to a new nation, Sudanese President Omar Bashir is facing multiple challenges that could destabilize his regime, Western officials and analysts say.
Lt. Gen. Bashir, whom many in Sudan blame for the secession of the south, is under growing pressure from security forces and Islamist hard-liners within his National Congress Party. Sudan also is expected to be hit by a financial crisis after it gives up critical oil revenue to the new nation of South Sudan.
Within the Bashir regime, there is also growing resentment over the absence of a significant improvement in relations with the United States since southern independence.
South Sudan became an independent nation on July 9.
Sudan remains on a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and faces crippling sanctions.
“In the [National Congress Party], the hard-liners are in the ascendant, and the military is getting stronger. Bashir is in a difficult position,” said a Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Luka Biong Deng, a former minister in the national unity government in Khartoum, told a congressional committee last week that the “leadership of the [National Congress Party] is not only getting weaker and without focus but it is more divided with more radical elements and [the] army directing the affairs of the state.”
Gen. Bashir also is likely to face extreme difficulties in making any concessions to South Sudan on the disputed Abyei region, an oil-rich area that straddles the north-south border and is claimed by both sides.
The fate of Abyei is among a host of post-independence issues that Sudan and South Sudan are struggling to resolve.
Gen. Bashir came to power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989. He has since fragmented Sudan’s security services to diminish the threat to his regime.
Jon Temin, director of the Sudan program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said recent developments have created a lot of uncertainty and speculation in Khartoum.
“It seems clear that power dynamics within the government are shifting, but that is a fairly common occurrence for Sudan,” he said.
“What is uncommon is the combination of simultaneous domestic pressures faced by the government: political blowback for allowing the south to secede; economic pressure that results from southern secession and other factors; and the ongoing fighting in Southern Kordofan state and Darfur.”
Gen. Bashir has been indicted by The Hague-based International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes in Darfur. He denies the charges.
Western officials and analysts say the growing clout of the Islamist hard-liners is partly responsible for the aggressive response from the regime to developments in Southern Kordofan, situated north of the border with South Sudan.
Sudan Armed Forces are fighting units of the southern-affiliated Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) that have refused to give up their arms and return to the south after independence.
The rebels, who are fighting for regime change in Sudan, have joined forces with the Darfur-based Justice and Equality Movement.
International organizations say Sudan’s army has massacred civilians in the Nuba Mountains in Southern Kordofan. A satellite monitoring group recently revealed the presence of mass graves in the state.
Sudanese officials deny the allegations and claim the dispute is an internal matter.
John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group, dismissed Sudan’s position.
“It is not an internal matter when a government slaughters its own citizens. It is not an internal matter when the government starves its own citizens,” he said.
“At some point, the international community is not going to continue to dangle carrots in front of a genocidal regime. At some point, it will start to use sticks.”
As insecurity grips large swaths of the country, a financial crisis is expected to hit the north after Sudan and South Sudan reach a deal of sharing oil revenue.
A majority of the oil fields are in South Sudan, but the pipelines that carry the oil to the Port of Sudan are in the north.
E.J. Hogendoorn, Horn of Africa project director at the International Crisis Group, said the fiscal crunch that Khartoum will face once an agreement on oil revenue sharing is reached is likely to increase discontent within the National Congress Party.
If Gen. Bashir’s regime falls, it is not clear what would take its place.
“The likely option would be chaos rather than a smooth transfer of power,” said Mr. Hogendoorn.
Some regime officials also are growing more resentful of the United States and say Sudan got nothing for its agreement to allow the south to secede.
The Obama administration has offered a road map to the Bashir government that links lifting sanctions and removing Sudan from the terrorism list to peace in Darfur and full implementation of a 2005 peace accord that ended two decades of north-south civil war respectively. The road map also includes a referendum on the fate on Abyei.
“We are still offering that road map once the [peace treaty] obligations are fulfilled,” said Barrie Walkley, the top U.S. diplomat in South Sudan.
A Darfur peace document was signed in Doha, Qatar, between the Sudanese government and one of the rebel groups, the Liberation and Justice Movement, last month.
Emad Altohamy, a top Sudanese diplomat in Washington, insisted that his government has met all its obligations and blames the south for blocking the Abyei referendum in January.
“We have fulfilled all conditions laid down by the U.S. in a very satisfactory way,” he said in an interview.
“The question should be directed to the U.S. When will they lift sanctions and remove Sudan from the list of sponsors of terrorism?”