Enough 101: Who is Omar al-Bashir?

Editor’s Note: This post is a profile, intended to provide a contextual background for understanding the complex issues that the Enough Project works on. It is part of the series Enough 101.

Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir is the current president of Sudan, who currently faces international charges of orchestrating genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.

Bashir was born in 1944 about 100 miles north of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. His career has been entirely military. Bashir joined the Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF, in 1960, graduating from Sudan Military College in 1966, and later obtaining a Masters in military science in both Sudan and Malaysia. He fought in the Egyptian army in the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel, and eventually became the leader of an Islamist cell within the SAF.  

He is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, National Islamic Front, or NIF, (which supports an Islamic Sharia-governed state), and National Congress Party (the NIF’s political arm).

On June 30, 1989, Lieutenant General Bashir led a bloodless coup, in the midst of Sudan’s second civil war, solidifying the power of the Islamist-backed regime. After a three-year stint as minister of defense and head of a Revolutionary Command Council, Bashir was appointed President in 1993 and has led a repressive regime ever since that has consolidated power and resources in the capital and marginalized communities at the periphery—particularly those of non-Arab ethnicities.

 In February 2009, the International Criminal Court, or ICC, issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest and charged him with crimes against humanity and war crimes for his role in the genocide in Darfur that reached its height in 2003 and continues to fester to this day. There are two warrants out for his arrest, totaling 10 counts of criminal responsibility. Charges include: murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, rape, orchestrating attacks against civilian populations, and three counts of genocide. This marks the first time the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for a sitting head of state.

"Yes, there have been villages burned, but not to the extent you are talking about. People have been killed because there is war. It is not in the Sudanese culture or people of Darfur to rape. It doesn't exist. We don't have it." - Bashir on the conflict in Darfur, NBC News, March 20, 2007

Despite the West’s vilification, Bashir enjoys strong support within some areas of Sudanese society (mainly Khartoum’s elite, but also among non-urban dwellers). In the April 2010 elections he won with 68 percent of the vote, albeit a result marred by accusations of voter intimidation and fraud. In the past 20 years, Sudan’s gross domestic product has nearly tripled, due to the country’s newfound oil wealth; however as tensions with South Sudan increase, the economic prosperity of Sudan is endangered and Bashir’s hold on power hangs in the balance.

On January 30, 2011, Arab Spring-like protests broke out in the streets of Khartoum, suggesting that the Sudanese may not tolerate al-Bashir’s iron fist for much longer. As a result of this internal pressure, Bashir promised not to run in another election, but whether he’ll abide by this commitment remains to be seen as Sudan approaches its second scheduled elections in 2015.

Though he is internationally notorious, very little is actually known about Bashir’s private life. He has two wives (and is a strong advocate for polygamy) and no children.