It was the man named by President Omar al-Bashir as his deputy just six weeks ago who broke the news to the Sudanese people of the longtime ruler’s removal.
Dressed in army fatigues, General Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf declared on Thursday that the 75-year-old had been overthrown and arrested following months of nationwide protests against his three-decade rule.
In his address on state TV, Ibn Auf also said a military council would run the country for two years and announced the suspension of the constitution and the introduction of a month-long overnight curfew.
The statement by Ibn Auf, who is also Sudan‘s defence minister, was rejected by the demonstrators, who said the military takeover did not represent the democratic outcome they had been seeking.
Protesters vowed to keep taking to the streets, defying a military-imposed curfew just as Ibn Auf was sworn in as chief of Sudan’s new ruling council.
A career soldier, Ibn Auf has long been a senior figure in Sudan’s military establishment. He has previously served as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and was head of military intelligence and security during the bloody conflict in the Darfur region, which began in 2003.
The war claimed more than 300,000 lives, according to the United Nations.
In 2009, the International Criminal Court in 2009 indicted al-Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, while Ibn Auf himself was sanctioned by the United States for supporting and managing militias accused of carrying out genocide in the conflict.
The US Treasury Department in 2007 blocked Ibn Auf’s assets, along with two other Sudanese officials, for their role in “fomenting violence and human rights abuses in Darfur.”
Following his retirement from the army in 2010, as part of an institutional shake-up, Ibn Auf took a diplomatic role at the ministry of foreign affairs.
He spent time in diplomatic posts in Egypt and Oman, before returning to the heart of the Khartoum political establishment in 2015, when he was appointed by al-Bashir as defence minister.
In early February, following months of massive, nationwide street demonstrations against al-Bashir’s government, Ibn Auf adopted a sympathetic tone towards those on the streets, noting the young people involved in the protests had “reasonable ambition”.
On February 23, as protests continued across Sudan, al-Bashir declared a state of emergency, dissolving the country’s central and state governments and appointing a series of military figures as state governors. As part of the wider measures, Ibn Auf was appointed a first vice president, while also retaining his defence portfolio.
Within hours of Ibn Auf’s address to the nation, protesters denounced the military’s move as a “regime coup” and repeated their demand for a civilian council to head the transition.
“Change will not happen with Bashir’s entire regime hoodwinking Sudanese civilians through a military coup,” Alaa Salah, a prominent member of the protest movement, said on Twitter on Tuesday.
Ahmed Soliman, Africa Fellow at Chatham House, said Ibn Auf was “very much a member of the old guard.”
“[He is] among the political leaders who have supported president al-Bashir for a long time and for his whole army career. It’s difficult to see this as a transition moving to a new stage of inclusive government.”
Jean-Baptiste Gallopin, a Sudan researcher at Yale University, said that despite al-Bashir’s removal, power remained in the hands of his associates.
“The regime is the same as it was yesterday, with the exception of a few figures close to al-Bashir who have been detained,” he told Al Jazeera.
For its part, the African Union said the military takeover was “not the appropriate response to the challenges facing Sudan and the aspirations of its people” while Ibn Auf’s controversial past also came under scrutiny.
“The general who has taken over in this palace coup, Awad Ibn Auf, has been sanctioned by the United States for orchestrating war crimes in Darfur, just as the just-deposed Omar al-Bashir has been,” said Hollywood actor George Clooney, a longtime human rights campaigner in Sudan, calling on the international community to ensure the transitional leadership in Sudan be inclusive and negotiated.