Sudan could face a counter coup if military rulers and the opposition do not reach agreement on handover of power to civilians, leading opposition figure and former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi said.
Mahdi, Sudan’s last democratically elected premier, said hardliners in ousted president Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) and its allies in the army would exploit the uncertainty to seize power.
“For them to attempt a counter coup is most probable. All the time they are conspiring,” Mahdi (83) said in an interview with Reuters in Khartoum.
“The whole group is well versed in conspiracy. The conspiratorial mind is ingrained in them.”
Mahdi, who studied at Britain’s Oxford University, was overthrown in a bloodless coup by Bashir in 1989.
Bashir fell after weeks of mass demonstrations and the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, the main protest organiser, called for a million-strong march to press for civilian rule.
Mahdi predicted Sudan’s generals would relinquish power if the current stalemate was broken.
“I think their intentions are good,” he said of the senior army officers who overthrew Bashir, three decades after he seized power and then formed the TMC.
“They are not interested in a military government,” he said, an outcome which the African Union said would be unacceptable.
The spokesman for Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) said it would retain “sovereign authority only” while civilians held the post of prime minister and headed government ministries.
On Wednesday, the opposition and the TMC agreed to form a committee to resolve disagreements, amid tensions over how long it would take to move to civilian government in Sudan, where widespread impoverishment has been entrenched by systemic financial mismanagement, corruption and cronyism.
The generals offered some concessions, sacking some officials, announcing the arrest of others, including two of Bashir’s brothers and ordering steps to curb fraud.
But they insist, while willing to accept a civilian transitional government, ultimate authority will remain in their hands until elections are held up to two years from now.
Mahdi’s moderate Islamic Umma party is engaged in negotiations. Asked if he was interested in ruling Sudan now, Mahdi said: “I will not take part in government until and unless we have elections.”
He reflected on the turbulent history of Sudan under Bashir including multiple armed rebellions, economic crises and allegations of war crimes in Darfur. Mahdi recalled he said was the day the Islamist Bashir began leading Sudan to failure.
“I was praying at home. Dawn prayers. And they surrounded my house,” he said of the 1989 coup which took him by surprise. “I think they wanted to kill me. To capture me and pretend I tried to escape or resisted.”
After Mahdi was initially jailed, he said he was taken to what he described as a ghost house. Three men confronted him.
“You can save yourself if you record here democracy has failed,” he quoted them as saying. “They wanted me to give legitimacy to their coup.”
He refused. “They took me to an execution cell.” For the next two years he was jailed and under house arrest.
Mahdi met with intelligence chief Salah Gosh and acting NCP chairman Ahmed Haroun on April 10, the day before Bashir was ousted, after they asked to see him.
The men threatened force to disperse a protester sit-in outside the Defence Ministry, he said. Mahdi told them he would join the sit-in to protect protesters.
“At this point Haroun said, ‘You will not find them because they will be crushed,’” said Mahdi.
Reuters could not independently verify this account. Gosh could not be reached for comment, while Haroun was arrested and jailed after Bashir’s removal.
Bashir now languishes in the same, high-security Kobar prison he sent Mahdi to 30 years ago and where the veteran autocrat held thousands of political detainees. “Kobar is a collection of who’s who in Sudanese politics,” said Mahdi.