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Sudan's Omar al-Bashir Arrested Amid Popular Protests After 30 Years in Power, What Next for Troubled Nation?

As Sudan’s months-long protest movement celebrates a momentous victory following the ouster of 30-year-ruler Omar al-Bashir, the beleaguered Northeast African nation’s future has been thrown into uncertainty.

According to The Associated Press, thousands of Sudanese demonstrators marched toward the national capital of Khartoum on Thursday, celebrating the end of three decades of rule by the authoritarian Bashir.

Cheers, singing, dancing and other forms of celebration characterized the demonstrations following the announcement that the autocrat had been forced to step down by two senior military officials. Appearing in military uniform, the country's defense minister confirmed the news on state television, while the former leader reportedly remains under "heavy guard" at the presidential residence.

Citing the son of Sudan’s main opposition leader, Reuters reported that Bashir had been placed under house arrest, along with members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Bashir’s ruling Congress Party grew out of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Sudanese strongman came to power in 1989, heading a coalition of the military and Islamist hardliners.

Sudan Sudanese soldiers stand guard on armored military vehicles as demonstrators continue their protest against the regime near the army headquarters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, on April 11. AFP/Getty Images

Sudan’s intelligence and security services also announced the release of all political prisoners across the nation, the country’s state news agency SUNA reported.

Behind the outpouring of jubilation and relief, the scene appears to be set for a possible standoff between the military and the protesters, who had briefly appeared to join forces against Bashir. The autocrat’s days in power were numbered when, in recent days, the army intervened to protect demonstrators from police and paramilitaries loyal to Bashir.

Sudan’s main protest group said it would reject any attempts at military rule or a reincarnation of the old regime. "We will only accept a transitional civilian government composed of the forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change," Omar Saleh Sennar, a senior member of the Sudanese Professionals' Association (SPA) said, referring to a declaration laying out the group’s demands for change.

The nation is now expecting a further announcement from the military that has said an “important statement” would be forthcoming.

Two high placed officials in the military and the government told the AP that the army was now in talks to form a transitional government but did not elaborate on what form that government might take. It remains unclear whether demands for a civilian government would be met or whether a ruling military council would be formed.  

As demonstration organizers called on protesters to remain at thousands-strong sit-ins in the capital, the military has been deployed to secure key sites. Armored vehicles have taken positions on bridges over the Nile River and around the headquarters of the military. There were also unconfirmed reports that the airport has been closed.

Ahmed Soliman, Research Fellow in the Africa Programme at Chatham House, told Newsweek it was of critical importance as to "whether the army would seek to monopolize power, and replace one military leadership with another, or whether power will be shared with and transferred to a transitional civilian government.

"There is also potential for increased violence and fragmentation if demands for a genuine transition towards an inclusive transitional civilian government are not met and the armed forces chose a contentious interim leader.

"The forces for change, including the SPA, as well as main opposition political groups such as the Sudan Call alliance, the National Consensus Forces, and civil society organizations, have formed a council and have proposed to govern the country for four years, to bring about peace and accountability, followed by general elections.

"This alliance has become a coherent political force in the country but still needs time to establish transitional plans, including outlining its political leadership structure and solutions for the economic crisis,” Soliman added,

This article has been updated to include comment from Ahmed Soliman, Research Fellow in the Africa Programme at Chatham House.    

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