Sudan’s powerful intelligence chief stepped down on Saturday, two days after the president was ousted, as huge crowds of demonstrators remained encamped outside the country’s military headquarters.
Those demonstrators, who in the past week have numbered in the hundreds of thousands, have proved the most potent force for democratic change to sweep through Sudan in more than three decades. In response to their demands over the past week, Sudan’s armed forces deposed President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the autocrat who had ruled the country since 1989.
That was midday Thursday. But the junta that took power and announced that it intended to rule for the next two years quickly discovered that the demonstrators weren’t going home.
By Friday night, the general who appeared to be in charge of the junta announced that he was stepping down. The move was seen as intended to assuage the demonstrators, who viewed him as not very different from the ousted president — a point their protest chant made clear: “We do not replace a thief with a thief.”
And Saturday, the state news agency announced the resignation of the intelligence chief, Salah Abdallah Gosh, a notorious and feared figure in Sudan’s security establishment who was widely considered the second-most powerful figure after Mr. al-Bashir.
In a sense, Mr. Gosh’s departure was another victory for the protesters, many of whom have been calling for his agency, the National Intelligence and Security Service, to be dismantled. But it was not clear whether the protesters’ anger at the intelligence service had led to Mr. Gosh’s resignation, or whether rival security chiefs and military generals in Sudan’s fractured security establishment had ousted him in a power struggle.
While the military council that is now ruling the country has pledged to eventually hand over power to an as-yet-unformed civilian government, many protesters fear that Sudan’s security establishment will try to thwart their calls for a quick transition to democracy.
Still, the departure of Mr. Gosh seems, at minimum, a symbolic victory for protesters eager to dispense with the old regime. The military council also announced Saturday that it was lifting a curfew imposed after Mr. al-Bashir’s ouster, although it had been largely ignored by the demonstrators.
After a wave of anti-government protests started in December, eventually swelling into the movement that toppled Mr. al-Bashir, it was Mr. Gosh’s officers who were at the forefront of the crackdown that tried to protect the regime.
Medical groups say that dozens of protesters were killed at the hands of security officials including those from the intelligence service.
Torture had been commonplace at detention centers run by the intelligence service, human rights groups say, and Mr. Gosh was among the architects of the Darfur counterinsurgency campaign in the 2000s in which at least 300,000 people were killed.
In the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, the intelligence service was most feared for what became known as “ghost houses,” off-site prisons and torture centers into which people disappeared, sometimes for months.
A 2010 Amnesty International report about the intelligence service included accounts from victims of torture. One doctor who had written an article critical of the Sudanese government said that he was arrested by officers who beat him with an electrical cable and threatened to arrest his mother and rape her.
Then they “turned me onto my back on the floor and injected a green fluid into my genitals using a syringe,” the doctor recounted, according to the report.
Other methods of torture described in the Amnesty International report included electric shocks, “throwing detainees into deep holes with their hands and legs tied,” and forcing women to drink water until they lost consciousness.
“Salah Gosh was the main criminal in the regime,” Nahid Gabralla, a Sudanese human rights activist, said in a phone interview on Saturday. But Ms. Gabralla did not view his resignation as much of a victory for the protesters. The senior security officials in Mr. al-Bashir’s government, for the most part, remained.
“The regime is still in control,” she said.
Ms. Gabralla also said there was no indication that Mr. Gosh would be held accountable for the intelligence service’s brutality and abuses.
“He is being given a chance to escape justice,” she said.
His abrupt departure, less than 24 hours after the interim military chief stepped down, bolstered speculation that a power struggle was underway inside the clique of powerful security chiefs who once pledged loyalty to Mr. al-Bashir.
Over his 30-year rule, Mr. al-Bashir spread power among a range of military commanders, paramilitary outfits and ethnic factions, often using them to carry out campaigns like the notorious counterinsurgency in Darfur and southern Sudan.
When the protests swelled in recent weeks, Sudan experts had warned of a destabilizing battle for supremacy between the commanders of those groups should Mr. al-Bashir be removed.
One significant figure is Lt. Gen. Mohammed Hamdan, widely known as Hemeti, who commands the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group that evolved from the Janjaweed militia that operated in Darfur.
Mr. Gosh led the intelligence service for much of the 2000s, during which time he cooperated closely with the C.I.A. in hunting Al Qaeda members.
After the International Criminal Court indicted Mr. Bashir on war crimes in Darfur in 2009, Sudanese news reports quoted Mr. Gosh as calling for the “amputation of the hands and the slitting of the throats of any person who dares bad-mouth al-Bashir” or who supported the court’s case.
But the two men fell out in 2012, when Mr. Gosh was detained over accusations he had spread rumors about Mr. al-Bashir’s health and had plotted to overthrow him. Mr. Gosh was released without charge a year later.
Last year, he was reinstated as head of the intelligence services, months after the United States lifted sanctions against Khartoum — at a time when intelligence ties between the two countries were again warming.
And on Saturday, it was far from clear that Mr. Gosh was out for good.
A Sudan expert, Alex de Waal, said it was possible that Mr. Gosh voluntarily resigned to avoid association with a troubled regime struggling to gain legitimacy and having difficulty controlling internal factions.
“He’s resigned, but not out of power,” Mr. de Waal said. “Gosh’s influence doesn’t necessarily come from his position.”
News credit : Nytimes