Bashir, Omar al- (1944–)

views updated

Bashir, Omar al-

Omar (also Umar) Hasan al-Bashir has ruled Sudan longer than any previous leader in the nation's modern history. He has dominated Sudanese history and politics since 1989 when he overthrew the civilian rule of Sadiq al-Mahdi. With hasan al-turabi, he implemented an Islamist agenda and elements of shari'a law (Muslim law) that many secularists and Southern Sudanese rejected. His career has been marked by civil war in both Southern Sudan and Darfur, including power struggles with both Turabi (a prominent Sunni Muslim and oftime ally) and John Garang (the late leader of Southern Sudan).


Al-Bashir was born on 1 January 1944 in Hosh Bannaga, a small village in northern Sudan near the town of Shendi. Reared in a poor family, he belonged to the Khatmiyya Sufi religious sect, attended Ahlia Middle School in Shendi for his middle school education, and completed his secondary school education in Khartoum. In the early years of his career, he claimed that he did not belong to a religious party but was simply a pious Muslim and a good officer in the military.

In 1960 he joined the armed forces, where he trained as a pilot. He graduated from the Sudan Military Academy in 1966 and earned two master's degrees in military science from the Sudanese College of Commanders. He studied counterinsurgency in Malaysia as well. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli War he served along the Suez Canal as second in command of a Sudanese paratrooper unit attached to Egyptian forces. It was during this phase of his military career that he began to be thought of as an officer with distinct political ambitions.

Al-Bashir was a military attaché to the United Arab Emirates from 1975 to 1979. He served as a garrison commander from 1979 to 1981, a senior battlefield commander in southern Kordofan, and the head of the armored parachute brigade in Khartoum from 1981 to 1987. In 1988 he was given command of the 8th Brigade in Southern Sudan and was based in Unity State, where the main oil fields of Sudan are located. He was a military liaison there with a major southern Sudanese antigovernment armed force. These contacts were used in expanding the role of militias in the civil war. Up to this point, as a mid-level military figure, he was not well known within nor outside of Sudan.


Name: Omar (Umar) al-Bashir

Birth: 1944, Hosh Bannaga, Northern State, Sudan

Nationality: Sudanese

Education: Graduated from Sudan Military Academy, 1966; M.A. (military science), Sudanese College of Commanders


  • 1960: Joined Sudanese armed forces and finished secondary education in Khartoum
  • 1966: Graduated from Sudan Military Academy
  • 1973: Fought in 1973 Arab-Israeli War
  • 1975–79: Military attaché in United Arab Emirates
  • 1981–87: Commanded armored parachute brigade in Khartoum
  • 1988: Appointed to a command in the Southern Sudan
  • 1989: Led coup to overthrow Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi and proclaimed head of Revolutionary Command Council (RCC)
  • 1993: Declared president of Sudan
  • 1996: Elections held and Bashir elected with 75.7 percent of vote
  • 1999: President; Bashir and Turabi set up National Congress Party
  • 2000: Reelected with 86.5 percent of vote
  • 2003: Conflict in Darfur begins
  • 2005: Comprehensive Peace Agreement with Southern Sudan signed

National Figure

On 30 June 1989, al-Bashir, at that time a colonel, led the coup that overthrew the government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi. He created the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation as the central executive force in Sudan, proclaiming himself its chairman. He also declared himself a general. All political parties were banned and many government and military officers were arrested. Al-Bashir insisted that the new government was nonsectarian and nonpartisan, but he nonetheless abolished the constitution, National Assembly, and trade unions and closed down many private newspapers. It is clear that a major reason for the coup was to prevent the signing of a peace treaty with Garang's Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). Al-Bashir opposed the plan, which would have allowed secular law instead of the shari'a (Islamic law) in South Sudan. Later in 1989 fresh talks with the SPLM collapsed, in particular over issues with shari'a and emergency laws. Al-Bashir periodically promised a return to civilian government.

In 1990 al-Bashir, increasingly influenced by the radical Islam of al-Turabi, reorganized the government, trying to expand the influence of the Islamists. An attempted coup soon after resulted in the execution of many suspect officers; later attempted coups against his government were similarly crushed. Al-Bashir engineered the passage of the Criminal Act (passed in 1991), implementing shari'a in all provinces except the South. A National Transitional Assembly was created in 1992, which led to the Revolutionary Command Council being dissolved in 1993 and the appointment of al-Bashir as president. Al-Bashir received 75.7 percent of the votes in the elections that were held in 1996. In 1998 some limited reforms were introduced that allowed, conditionally, the formation of political parties and some steps toward democracy. Al-Bashir was re-elected in 2000 with an even larger majority but with a major boycott by the opposition.


Al-Bashir, the third major military ruler of Sudan, has advanced the Islamist's agenda further than any of his predecessors. He believed that a military solution was possible to the "Southern Problem"—the antigovernment insurrections in southern Sudan—and found that even after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 with the SPLM that center periphery tensions spread from the South to Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, and the East.


Opposition to al-Bashir's government has grown both domestically and internationally. He attempted, especially after the 11 September 2001 attacks, to turn away from al-Turabi's advice and moderate his position toward the United States and Europe and toward the opposition in Southern Sudan and the rest of the periphery. International pressure assisted in obtaining the CPA with Southern Sudan in 2005, but the conflict in Darfur and tensions elsewhere in Sudan increased. Rapidly growing oil revenues and close ties to China, the major importer of Sudanese oil, seem to continue to provide substantial support for al-Bashir's regime.

Al-Bashir and his regime have received considerable criticism for the Darfur crisis, which the U.S. government labeled a genocide in September 2004. Parade magazine has thrice listed him as "the world's worst dictator," most recently in 2007.


Al-Bashir's legacy is controversial. The conflict in Darfur remains; lasting peace with Southern Sudan is fragile.


Burr, J. Millard, and Robert O. Collins. Requiem for the Sudan: War, Drought, and Disaster Relief on the Nile. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.

Holt, P. M., and M. W. Daly. The History of the Sudan: From the Coming of Islam to the Present Day. London: Pearson Education, 2000.

Lesch, Ann Mosely. Sudan: Contested National Identities. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Sidahmed, Abdel Salam, and Alsir Sidahmed. Sudan. London: Routledge, 2005.

"Who Is the World's Worst Dictator?" Parade (2007). Available from

                                           Peter Garretson