Salah Abdallah Gosh: Sudan’s Next Figurehead in the Making

After four months of popular protests in Sudan and President al-Bashir having been forced to step down, regional and international allies are preparing for a post-Bashir Sudan by grooming a “reliable” successor to replace him. Former high-ranking government official, Salah Abdallah Gosh, seems to tick all the right boxes.
Salah Abdallah Gosh Sudan’s Next Figurehead in the Making

The rising costs of bread and fuel and severe cash shortages triggered a series of mass protests throughout Sudan in late December 2018. These rallies developed into sustained mass demonstrations calling for an end to President Omar al-Bashir’s three-decade rule.

Al-Bashir’s security forces responded with violence and arbitrary detention to protests that started in the city of Atbara on December 19, 2018, after a government decision to remove subsidies on wheat and electricity.

Al-Bashir’s security forces responded with violence and arbitrary detention to protests that started in the city of Atbara on December 19, 2018, after a government decision to remove subsidies on wheat and electricity. They used live ammunition, batons, rubber bullets, and tear gas, especially after demonstrations escalated in several cities and towns across the Northeast African country.

The army seems to have intervenedSalah Abdallah Gosh to protect the protesters, and then on April 11, the protesters got their wish: the army forced the country’s autocratic president to step down. On April 13, Gosh resigned as the director of National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). His resignation came one day after Defense Minister Awad Ibn Auf unexpectedly stepped down as Sudan’s interim leader. He served only one day in the position. Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdelrahman, the new head of the military transitional council, accepted Gosh’s resignation.

As the country now struggles to install a transitional government, behind the scenes, regional powers and Western allies have been preparing long-time government official Salah Abdallah Gosh to be the country’s next leader.

The Backstory of Sudan’s Next Potential Leader

Salah Abdallah, also known as Salah Gosh, or simply Gosh, has been Sudan’s director of National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) since 2000. Born in the city of Nuri, 450 kilometers north of the capital, Khartoum, Gosh is a member of the influential Shaigiyah tribe. Now 62, he has been a part of  Sudan’s intelligence services since the 1980s.

Gosh graduated from the University of Khartoum, where he was an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood. His first experience in gathering intelligence was during his university years when he established an information bureau that provided the Brotherhood leadership with information on the political views of fellow university students.

Following Omar al-Bashir’s 1989 coup against the government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, Gosh joined al-Bashir’s government as director of operations in the new regime’s security services. This position allowed him access to confidential information about several militant Islamist groups throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including al-Qaeda.

Al-Bashir dismissed him from this position in 1995, following an international and domestic backlash in response to the Sudanese president’s failed assassination attempt on Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Al-Bashir dismissed him from this position in 1995, following an international and domestic backlash in response to the Sudanese president’s failed assassination attempt on Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Gosh was then appointed the director of the Yarmouk Military Industrial Complex in Sudan’s capital. He eventually returned to the security services as head of internal security, and then as the director of NISS, after the internal and external security services were merged into one body in the early 2000s.

Gosh held this position from 2004 to 2009 and then served as presidential security adviser until his “dismissal” in 2011. The career intelligence official was arrested for his “presidential ambition,” after being accused of masterminding a coup against al-Bashir. Seven months later, Gosh received a presidential pardon and stayed away from the political arena for several years.  

Almost a decade after al-Bashir fired him, however, Gosh was reinstated as Sudan’s head of NISS in February 2018, a move that puzzled analysts, politicians, and the Sudanese people alike. This move, as well as a major cabinet reshuffle in May 2018, took place against the backdrop of the deterioration of the national currency, a hike in the prices of major commodities, and a worsening economic crisis that has led to angry rallies across the country.

Observers were concerned that al-Bashir’s decision to reappoint Gosh as head of NISS indicated his desire to suppress dissent using any means necessary. Known as “the architect” of the bloody genocide in Darfur in 2003, which caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of more than two million others, Gosh has a dark human rights track record. With NISS agents consistently using violence to break up the recent rallies, Gosh’s reappointment as security head was not arbitrary.

The International and Regional Forces at Play

The political arena in Sudan is much more complicated than it might seem at first blush. During months of unprecedented mass protests threatening the ruling elite, a murky power struggle has been taking place behind closed doors. This struggle seems to be fueled by regional powers and Western allies, namely the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, and the U.S., who are determined to preserve their political and economic interests in the country.

To accelerate covert plans by Israel and Gulf State allies to install Gosh as Sudan’s next president, Gosh recently held secret negotiations with the head of Israeli national intelligence, Yossi Cohen. The two intelligence heads allegedly met on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in mid-February, according to an exclusive report published by The Middle East Eye.

The senior Sudanese military source interviewed claimed that the meeting had been arranged by Egyptian mediators with the implicit support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who consider Gosh “their man” in Sudan. A month later, Sudan’s NISS denied that there had been any secret talks between Gosh and the Mossad, describing the exclusive report as “bare of truth” and lacking “professionalism and objectivity.”

The consensus among the regional powers invested in Sudan seems to be that Gosh is the “perfect fit” to replace al-Bashir.

The consensus among the regional powers invested in Sudan seems to be that Gosh is the “perfect fit” to replace al-Bashir. The CIA has also identified Gosh as its preferred successor to al-Bashir, since Sudan is likely to become a U.S. ally under his leadership, according to a report published by African Intelligence in February.

Gosh’s strong reputation in Washington is owed in part to his cooperation with the CIA in the “War on Terror” against al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamist groups in Somalia, Libya, and Egypt during the 2000s. Gosh allegedly gained the U.S.’s trust during a secret visit to Washington in 2005, where he gave U.S. officials files containing valuable information about the activities of a number of Islamist groups in the MENA.

Ultimately, the region continues to be an arena for proxy conflicts between regional and international powers, which are expected to remain involved as long as they have economic interests and political influence to protect.

Gosh is but one of al-Bashir’s potential replacements but for now the most plausible. It is also very possible that other rival regional and international powers are grooming their own leaders for the post-Bashir Sudan. Gosh’s recent resignation, after a 30-year-rule, might signal his desire to run for a position in the country’s new civilian government. Who will become the country’s next puppet leader and who will be holding the strings, absent democratic institutions and popular elections, remains an open question.