Skip to main content

Sudan unveils new cabinet as appeals court orders opposition leader's release from jail

New ministers are scheduled to be sworn in on Thursday
Protesters during anti-government demonstration in Omdurman on 10 March (AFP)

Sudan's new prime minister announced the formation of a 20-member cabinet as the government seeks to calm months of protests against President Omar al-Bashir's rule.

Unveiled on Wednesday, Mohamed Tahir Eila's cabinet will be tasked with solving an economic crisis that triggered anti-government rallies across the country and led to widespread calls for Bashir to resign.

The cabinet's 18 ministers are expected to be sworn in on Thursday.

The new government is the third to be formed in less than two years, with Bashir sacking two previous administrations for failing to revive Sudan's economy.

The protests erupted on 19 December after a government decision to triple the price of bread, but they have since expanded into a wider call for Bashir to step down.

The president dissolved his most recent cabinet along with all provincial governments on 22 February, when he imposed a nationwide state of emergency in an attempt to quell the demonstrations.

Why are Sudanese protesting against their government?

+ Show - Hide

Hundreds of people have been taking to the streets of a series of towns and cities in Sudan since 19 December 2018 to protest a government decision to remove subsidies on wheat and electricity.

Sudan's economy has been struggling over the past decade with inflation spiking to around 70 percent over the past year alone.

This has caused the price of bread to double, cash shortages and salaries left unpaid. The austerity measures adopted by the government are part of larger economic reforms proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The mobilisation on the ground against the price hikes - organised by a group known as the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) - found almost immediate resonance among opposition leaders, youth and women movements and rapidly turned into a larger show of discontent with 75-year-old President Omar al-Bashir. 

Protesters have been reportedly chanting "freedom, peace, justice” and “revolution is the people’s choice” as they march through the streets of the capital, Khartoum.

Sudan's armed forces have responded to protesters with tear gas and at times, live ammunition, mowing down at least 30 people, according to government figures.

Human Rights Watch, the international rights watchdog, says the death toll is closer to 51.

The protests have energised the Sudanese diaspora culminating in the biggest ever challenge to Bashir's rule since he took over the country in 1989.

Eila, who was sworn in as prime minister on 24 February, said his new government, which retains several ministers from the previous cabinet, aims to tackle the country's economic crisis, AFP reported.

Changes included the ministers of petroleum, finance and the interior, Sudan's state-run SUNA news agency was cited by Reuters as saying.

"We recognise the main issues, the issues of bread and oil, that need to be solved," Eila told reporters as he announced the names of his ministers, AFP said.

"The economic issues need to be solved immediately as it impacts inflation and our currency rate," Eila said.

Opposition protests and arrests

The prime minister's announcement coincided with a Sudanese appeals court's order on Wednesday to release Mariam al-Mahdi, deputy chief of the country's main opposition National Umma Party, AFP also reported.

An emergency court on Sunday had sentenced al-Mahdi to one week in jail after security agents arrested her at an anti-government protest.

"The appeals court freed Mariam and she is now at home," her sister Rabah told AFP.

Al-Mahdi's detention comes amid a wave of arrests of anti-government protesters, many of whom have been sentenced in special courts set up after Bashir's state of emergency decree.

On 9 March, nine women protesters were sentenced to 20 lashes each, a day after a presidential decree to mark International Women's Day ordered the release of 150 women protesters from prison.

Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch has said that at least 51 people, including medics and children, have died.

Sudan's parliament approves and cuts state of emergency in face of protests
Read More »

Although the bread price rise triggered the protests, anger had mounted across the country for years over soaring inflation and an acute shortage of foreign currency.

For his part, Bashir has blamed the protests on outside forces seeking to sow discontent in Sudan. He has repeatedly urged citizens to seek political change through the ballot box, not on the streets.

Protesters have continued to hold rallies, however, in defiance of the president, with anti-government demonstrations still taking place in parts of the capital Khartoum and its sister city, Omdurman.

Faced with ongoing protests, the Sudanese authorities earlier this week reduced the duration of the countrywide state of emergency from one year to six months.