Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Sudanese Left

A chapter on the Sudanese left in Mapping of the Arab Left North Africa - a publication of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

اليسار في السودان: موارده وتحدياته المعاصرة، فصل ضمن إصدارة مؤسسة روزا لوكسمبرغ "خارطة اليسار العربي" - تونس، مصر، اليمن، السودان، المغرب، الجزائر

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Himeidti: the new Sudanese man

Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the National Umma Party (NUP) and patron of the Ansar brotherhood, appeared on Thursday before the prosecutor of crimes against the state in Khartoum for questioning regarding statements he recently made accusing the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of committing crimes against civilians and including non-Sudanese nationals in its ranks. The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) responded with a barrage of charges against Sadiq al-Mahdi under Sudan’s criminal code including ‘dissemination of false news’, ‘instigation of unrest among the armed forces’, ‘defamation’ and ‘threatening of public peace’. Sadiq al-Mahdi, in full bravado, told reporters on Tuesday he was ready to go to court as long as a free and fair trial was ensured. A cache of followers accompanied the former prime minister to the prosecutor on Thursday chanting “no dialogue with evil” and a more flat “Sadiq Sadiq the imam”. He was probably pleased to hear both. 
The commanders of the RSF did not sit idle and held their own show at a press conference of the Sudan News Agency on Wednesday. The RSF is for all practical purposes the government’s most recent attempt to reconstitute a fighting force capable of countering the assortment of insurgents in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. Since their inception in August last year the, the RSF under the leadership of Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (Himeidti), a captain of the government’s cheap counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur, have scored a chain of victories where the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) before them had proved a chronic failure apart from notoriously inaccurate bombing campaigns that only succeed in swelling the ranks of the armed movements in the terrains of Sudan’s wars with angry combatants. Obviously, the SAF laid claim to the gains scored by the RSF, the spokesman of the army regularly appearing on state television to read out the names of the villages, khors and wadis captured by Himeidti and his men. Himeidti himself has slowly moved from the obscurity of militia operation to the limelight of national politics. State governors and senior SAF officers in Darfur receive the man as a war hero, and now he is up against Sadiq al-Mahdi, a lord of the establishment. 
“All allegations against us are lies” shouted an angry Himeidti at the press conference on Wednesday. The commander’s predicament was made clear however by the fact that he was denied the uniform which draped his minder, the SAF officer officially in charge of the RSF Abbas Abd al-Aziz. Himeidti appeared in civilian dress a few numbers larger that his size guarded by an associate who made sure his pistol was on display. A few years back, while still in the jellabiya of a Rizeigati militiaman, Himeidti demanded integration into the SAF as he bargained his way back from a spell of sulky unwillingness to cooperate further with the central government bordering on frank insurgency. He had a trademark red cap back then, a favourite among the Fur peasants who were once his hosts. Abbas Abd al-Aziz, the army officer, said the RSF were administered by the NISS but operate under the SAF. “These troops were gathered from different units and from volunteers. We selected people with fighting experience. We chose them very carefully,” he said. The chain of command above Himeidti and his men, it follows, is camouflaged by design to allow the officers at the helm to claim victory when it happens but avoid culpability for the carnage. 
Dismissing Himeidti and his men, six thousand according to the SAF minder, as an edition of the ‘Janjaweed’ overlooks the agency of these take-away fighters who have come to occupy the recesses vacated by an exhausted state or never effectively controlled by its coercive apparatus. Much like the private companies who have taken over the lucrative venture of managing the irrigation system of the vast Gezira Scheme and made fortunes out of the win, Himeidti’s forces are an instance of ‘private-public partnership’ in the military business of counter-insurgency and related matters. The allegory does not end here though. The companies put in charge of irrigating the fields of Gezira, in the rule owned by headmen of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and associates, proved a disaster exposing the region between the Niles to one season of thirst after another. Likewise, Himeidti’s advances might provide immediate relief to the officers of an army unwilling or unable to fight the very communities from which the majority of its soldiers are drawn but conclusively dispel whatever illusions still linger regarding the capacity of the state to act as a neutral arbiter in the bloody disputes of Sudan’s hinterlands. If the Janjaweed operated in a zone of legal immunity, Himeidti’s forces constitute the law. 
The best witness of the privatization of the SAF is arguably the defence minister, Abd al-Raheem Mohamed Hussein. He recently told parliament that the army suffers a severe and threatening shortage of recruits, a situation he attributed to the poor pay of its soldiers and the attraction of artisan gold mining in Sudan’s peripheries. He did not mention the lure of joining any of the assortment of militias in the same regions, pro-government, insurgent or communal. To address this situation, said the minister, the SAF resorted to relying on the pool of ‘regular forces’ under its purview through short-term contracts, the Popular Defence Forces (PDF), the Popular Police, conscripts of the National Military Service, and the military units of the NISS. According to Abbas Abd al-Aziz, the RSF were conceived precisely to plug this gaping deficit in the SAF’s fighting power. Himeidti, a businessman with a successful record in livestock and furniture trade and a major investor in real estate in the capitals of Darfur, had already presented his bid in the battle for Heglig with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan back in March-April 2012 and was in a position to bargain a better deal with the SAF officers than his predecessor Musa Hilal. Unlike Musa, officially a vigilante unmarked by insignia, Himeidti achieved the proud rank of brigadier-general of the NISS. 
Sadiq al-Mahdi’s alarm over the RSF is remarkable in its irony. If the business of counter-insurgency in Sudan has a pioneer it is Sadiq who as prime minister in the late 1980s resorted to arm the Baggara on the southern Sudan frontier, a solid constituency of the NUP, to battle the rebel SPLA. Fadlalla Burma Nasir, Sadiq’s defence minister at the time and today deputy chairman of the NUP, carried out the mission aside the formal structures of the SAF. The National Islamic Front (NIF), the ancestor of the NCP cycling in and out of government coalition with the NUP back then, pressed for the creation of a ‘popular force’ to assist the army, a proposal fiercely opposed by senior officers fearing further dilution of the SAF’s precarious monopoly. A draft law to launch the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) was already ripe for parliamentary approval when the NIF picked power off Khartoum’s streets on 30 June 1989 to paraphrase the memorable words of the late Zain al-Abdin al-Hindi. “Your democracy is but stinking carrion, if a stray dog ran off with it, nobody would give a damn,” he told parliament shortly before the 30 June coup.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

مع قرنق: "الصفوة البيروقراطية المتبرجزة"

حدد المرحوم جون قرنق في المانفستو الأول للحركة الشعبية لتحرير السودان عام 1983، وقبل ذلك في رسالته للدكتوراة عام 1981، محل السلطة السياسية والاجتماعية في السودان بما سماها "الصفوة البيروقراطية المتبرجزة"، يقصد انها صعدت إلى موقعها الطبقي المتميز بفضل سيطرتها على جهاز الدولة البيروقراطي وليس نشاطها الاقتصادي، فهي بذلك ليست برجوازية أصالة، صعودها الاقتصادي والاجتماعي رهين بسلطتها السياسية. ساوى قرنق في تشخيصه هذا الصفوة الشمالية والجنوبية؛ سبقت الأولى الثانية إلى موارد الدولة عبر "السودنة" الشمالية لكن لحقت بها الثانية عبر اتفاق أديس أبابا 1972 الذي سمح لها بتدشين سطوتها "الثانوية" من خلال هياكل الحكم الذاتي الاقليمي في جنوبي السودان.
في أطروحة قرنق صدى لتقدير رتشارد سكلار في مقالته الموسومة "طبيعة الهيمنة الطبقية في افريقيا" (1967) أن  العلاقات الطبقية في افريقيا "تتحدد في قاعدتها بعلاقات القوة وليس الإنتاج". عند سكلار، صعود الطبقات الاجتماعية المهيمنة في افريقيا دالة لنشأة الحزب السياسي، الآلة التي تمكنت عبرها من السيطرة على جهاز الدولة ومن ثم الاستئثار بمواردها. عاد إلى هذه الفكرة مؤخرا كلمنس بينو في مجلة شؤون افريقية لشرح الصعود الطبقي لصفوة الحركة الشعبية العسكرية-السياسية في جنوب السودان. تتبع بينو كيف انتفعت هذه الصفوة من الدورة الثانية لحرب التحرير في جنوبي السودان (1983 – 2005)، عبر سلب موارد المجتمعات المحلية بخاصة غير الموالية للجيش الشعبي خارج مناطق تجنيده الرئيسية وفرض الضرائب العينية والنقدية على السكان حيث استقرت سيطرة الجيش الشعبي والتجارة في الماشية والسلاح. بذلك تحقق لصفوة الحركة الشعبية تشكيل نفسها كطبقة "ارستقراطية عسكرية" في مقابل غمار السكان في جنوبي السودان حتى نالت الدولة، وعبرها فيض الموارد الذي أتاح لها تجذير نفوذها وتوسيعه، بالدرجة الأولى دخل البترول والقروض والمنح الأجنبية. نقل بينو في مقالته تقدير منظمة قلوبال وتنس أن صفوة الحكم الجنوبية نهبت فيما بينها، بمنهج "الفساد التضامني"، ما لا يقل عن أربعة بلايين دولار منذ تشكيل حكومة جنوب السودان شبه المستقلة عام 2005.
انتهى بينو إلى أن صفوة الحركة الشعبية شكلت من نفسها ارستقراطية جديدة من خلال اقتصاد الحرب ثم عززت نفوذها بالغرف المباشر من خزائن الدولة عبر محاباة شبكة الأقارب والموالين التي رعت من حولها وإتاحة المجال للأعداء السابقين أن ينهلوا كذلك ما استطاعوا تحت خيمة الرئيس كير الكبيرة. يعضد الفساد في تقدير بينو الهيمنة الطبقية والسياسية لصفوة الحركة الشعبية على المدى القصير لكن يهدد بقاء الدولة بما يثير من صراعات سياسية وإثنية. بذلك، يرى بينو أن الصراع الجاري في جنوب السودان يعود في جانب كبير منه إلى البون الشاسع بين ارستقراطية الحكم الجديدة وفئاتها الدنيا من قادة ميدانيين ومحليين وجمهور الناس. لكن، ألا يمكن بتمرين عقلي سهل تبديل جنوب بشمال والوصول إلى ذات الخلاصات. إن كان فساد "الصفوة البيروقراطية المتبرجزة" تسارع حادا في جنوب السودان حتى الانفجار الحربي في ديسمبر الماضي فسيرة قرينتها الشمالية مزمنة لا غير ربما، يميزها فيما مضى نجاح الانقلاب كخطة للاستيلاء على السلطة المركزية كلما اشتدت أزماتها. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Mahjoub Sharif: a secular prophet

Mahjoub Sharif (1948 - 2014)
Mahjoub Sharif had his way with words. Throughout decades of poetic passion he managed to refashion the colloquial Arabic of the Sudanese town and chant it back at its speakers enriched with emancipatory themes. Mahjoub wrote poems for freedom, crisp, pregnant with music, witty, agitating, but always didactic. He proverbially breathed poems, till his very last breath at his Omdurman home on Wednesday 2 April at the age of sixty six. Thousands accompanied the ‘poet of the people’ as he was known to his last resting place in a mass act of baraka that not even the most pious of sheikhs can claim. 
A school teacher by training, this secular prophet spoke truth to power in a creative language that readily transformed into powerful memes, and as a consequence landed him habitually in the detention cells of Sudan’s military rulers. He was incarcerated repeatedly during the reign of Jaafar Nimayri and then under Omer al-Bashir. It would be no exaggeration to say that the long spells of jail in Cooper prison set the stage for the lung ailment that ended his life. Like scores of Communist Party members he was dismissed from government employment during the extensive purges of the civil service in the 1990s. No prison however could blunt the sharp blade of Mahjoub’s poetry. His joyful compositions cut through the fallacious fat of official propaganda to bare the bone of daily existence as experienced by the nas, the toiling women and men who came out to honour him on Wednesday. 
Beyond exposing power’s sins, Mahjoub had the extraordinary capacity to imagine another future in feather-light lines, suitable even for the playful entertainment of children. He nursed dreams of emancipation on behalf of the country and its people. What sounded hollow and barren in the tedious declarations of Sudan’s politicians, Mahjoub could articulate in immediately accessible promises of a tomorrow waiting to be made. He had the will to dream, so much so that Sudan’s chattering opposition occasionally employed his words as an ersatz for action. Mahjoub Sharif wrote and Mohamed Wardi sang; the perfect duo produced songs that became over time part of the politically erotic repertoire of opposition congregation whenever opportunity allowed. High on these valiant chants many overlooked their subversive root: the taxing commitment of an exemplary counter-effendi. That said, Mahjoub survives not in the gushes of individual eulogy but in the indecipherable hum of the masses who carried him to his grave. His legacy is indeed talking out the mind of the collective.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

ده الحوار الدايرنو ليك

نعى غازي صلاح الدين العتباني، قطب المؤتمر الوطني السابق، وقائد حركة الإصلاح الآن، في كلمة "قنعانة" مؤخرا الحوار الوطني الذي دعى إليه الرئيس البشير في خطاب "الوثبة" باعتباره سلة مهملات سياسية مصيره "التلجين"، وعدد في هذا المعنى مراحل اندهاشه المتكرر من وعود الرئيس التي لا بر لها. لغازي كل الحق في إحباطه إذ أمل أن يجرى على يد الرئيس شفاء لداء الوطن واستعد بالعزم لذلك، سعى إلى قادة الأحزاب يعرف بحركته الجديدة وأرخ لكل اجتماع ببيان وصورة إرشيفية، ثم طمت بطنه مما شهد في صحراء السياسة بغير مظلة الحكم.
ليس غازي وحيدا في أمله، فالأمل كذلك قوي عند حسن الترابي وحزبه وعند الصادق المهدي وحزبه، بل جر الأمل الاتحادي الديمقراطي إلى حوش الحكومة "تووش" قبل أن تنبس شفة الرئيس بوعد الوثبة، لا حوار ولا محركة، وما الداعي إذا كانت مقاعد الوزارة لين فرشها لمن والى، قام عنها وزارء الحركة الشعبية فاستقبلت وزارء الاتحادي الديمقراطي، شركاء الحكومة العريضة. الرئيس، الذي يتهافت على مجلسه المتهافتون، أعلن في بورتسودان بدغرية صاحب الملك، أن الحوار الذي في باله حكومة أعرض وكفى، لا انتقالية ولا قومية، بل عريضة بفيونكات.
واقع الأمر أن الرئيس يطلب بحواره تجديد شبابه السياسي، فكأنه يعرض مقاعد الوزارة في عطاء لمن رغب، حدد شروطه وأحكمها، وعلى المتقدمين استيفاء الشروط وإرفاق ما يلزم من مستندات، بما في ذلك خلو طرف من خدمة الوطن على الحقيقة والتعهد بخدمة السلطة على بلاطة الولاء. باعتباره صاحب العلامة التجارية المهيمنة في سوق السياسة استعد الرئيس لعطاءه بإفراغ دست الحكم ممن طال بهم العهد، علي ونافع وعوض وآخرين، من ظنهم الناس أسيادا أصحاب تنظيم وشوكة، وهم في واقع الأمر حاشية مدنية لسلطة عسكرية تقوم وتقعد بشورى المشير ورفاقه الضباط.
لا غرابة إذن أن هرول المؤتمر الشعبي لمجلس الرئيس يعرض عطاءه، أزال قادة الحزب عن أنفسهم غبار المعارضة، حريات وما إلى ذلك، بتيمم سريع في أديم القصر، حجتهم كما ورد على لسان كمال عمر أنهم تابوا إلى الوثبة مع الرئيس بوازع التدين، فالمؤتمر الوطني كما قال "قدم تنازلات كبيرة وكافية من أجل الحوار". تشنقل كمال عمر في منطقه كل الشنقله فشبه الأمر لمحدثه فتح الرحمن شبارقة في مقابلة نشرتها الرأي العام (الأحد، 23 مارس) بتحول سيدنا عمر بن الخطاب من الجاهلية إلى الإسلام، متسائلا "هل يمكن أن أحاكم سيدنا عمر بكفره قبل الإسلام؟" عبأ المحبوب عبد السلام تحول المؤتمر الشعبي في كلمة طويلة تنشرها الرأي العام في حلقات عمادها القول أن تكاثر الخطوب يتطلب الحوار وإلا فويل لكم وويل، وهو قول صحيح، لكنه ليس حوار الرئيس الذي فر منه غازي، بل حوار بين القوى الاجتماعية الخارجة على النادي السياسي المخاتل حتى تستعد لنزع شوكة ضباط القصر وحاشيتهم، مقامرين ومقاولين، وتجعل محلها سلطة لغمار الناس يتحرون بها مصالحهم ويحققونها.  

Friday, 21 March 2014

The sheikh and the officer: a tale

Omar al-Bashir stood outside the presidential guest house on 14 March to receive Hassan al-Turabi, the two men offered the camera wide grins as they shook hands, and proceeded through the door with guards on their sides to a wide hall where they were joined by loyal captains, other men in jellabiyas with a common history and shared memories. From President Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) there were Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, Nafie Ali Nafie, Ibrahim Ghandoor, and the President’s new deputy Bakri Hassan Salih, in addition to Ibrahim Ahmed Omer, Awad al-Jaz and Mustafa Osman Ismail. Turabi was accompanied by his deputy Abdalla Hassan Ahmed and his long-term companion and trusted aide Ibrahim al-Sanosi, behind them a younger crew of Turabists including Bashir Adam Rahama, Kamal Omer and Mohamed al-Amin Khalifa. 
The ‘get together’ was by all means an anti-climax, closer to a mujamala (courtesy) drop by than a meeting of political giants as popularised by the NCP’s media machine, partially because the real meetings, where the hard bargaining reportedly took place, had already happened in the dark of night, much like the distraught prayers of repenting sinners. On that assumption, the 14 March encounter was an event for the cameras where the attendants simply played themselves. Suitable armchairs were placed in a row at one end of the hall for the men of calibre to occupy. The footage on Sudan TV showed Omer al-Bashir sitting in the middle of the schoolboys’ row, to his right Hassan al-Turabi and then Abdalla Hassan Ahmed and to his left Bakri Hassan Salih followed by Ibrahim Ghandoor. The five men were positioned at the head of two arcs of armchairs where the delegates of the two parties sat facing each other in the President’s divan. Thanks to the presence of two women, Samya Ahmed Mohamed from the NCP and Thuraya Omer from the PCP, dirty jokes were out of question I suppose. The delegates chatted the time away with the help of refreshing drinks served by impeccably dressed catering staff, a good hour or so, before spokesmen announced an agreement to agree on a timeline and agenda for ‘national dialogue’, the current buzzword in Sudan’s political club. 
The Bashir-Turabi meeting, conveniently held on a Friday, the Muslim day of rest, was reported live on Sudan TV’s evening news bulletin and subsequently made the headlines of every printed newspaper in the country on Saturday, but with almost no content to accompany the announcement. Editors had only the past to fill the white of their pages, profiles of the two men, the sheikh and the officer, and summary re-runs of their dramatic divorce fifteen years ago. The notion that a cordial encounter between competing lords would open a new chapter in political life has deep roots in the imaginary of the ruling elite. Indeed, commentators wishing to implant life into the Bashir-Turabi mujamala drew a comparison with the historic ‘meeting of the two sayeds’, the patron of the Khatmiyya Ali Mirghani and the patron of the Ansar Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi, on 3 December 1955 in the run up to the declaration of Sudan’s independence on 1 January 1956. 
At the time, Sudan was poised for a self-determination referendum to ascertain its political future, choice being between association with Egypt, the declared objective of the National Unionist Party (NUP) affiliated with the Khatmiyya, or complete independence, the rallying cry of the Ansar’s Umma Party. The self-rule elections of 1953 had delivered government to the NUP with Ismail al-Azhari as prime minister. By August 1955 discussions were underway about a self-determination referendum under the supervision of an international committee joining representatives of seven countries chosen by parliament. The opposition Umma Party and the independent press called for a ‘national government’ to lead the country through self-determination but Azhari, the Prime Minister, balked arguing the democratic credentials of his government. Azhari’s position however did not find favour with Ali al-Mirghani, who nursed suspicions of Azhari’s popularity and autonomous machinations. Division between Ali al-Mirghani, the sheikh, and his officer Ismail al-Azhari led to the collapse of the government. Under instructions of the sheikh, a handful of NUP members of parliament joined the opposition in voting down the government’s budget proposal on 10 November 1955. A majority of NUP parliamentarians, mostly Azhari loyalists, declared on 11 November their objection to the formation of a ‘national government’. On the next day, 12 November, delegates of Ali al-Mirghani met with Azhari in Omdurman to negotiate a settlement. The Khatmiyya’s newspaper, Sawt al-Sudan, published on 14 November a statement issued by Ali al-Mirghani advising all political forces in the county to eschew partisan rivalry and commit to ‘national’ interests, phrasing that translated into support for formation of a national government. Azhari and his captains met with Ali al-Mirghani on 14 November to sort out the situation. According to the reporting of al-Ray al-Aam, Ali al-Mirghani said he did not specifically want a ‘national government’ but a government of a national character. Accordingly, Ali al-Mirghani instructed parliamentarians under his authority to vote Azhari back as prime minister and indeed Azhari won confidence of the house on 15 November with a margin of two votes. Hassan al-Tahir Zaroug, the single communist member of parliament representing the Anti-Imperialist Front, abstained. 
Ali Mirghani still had a card to play against the stubborn Azhari though. The Khatmiyya patron met on 3 December with his arch-rival, Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi of the Ansar. A joint statement issued by the two sayeds said they had reconciled and agreed to work together for the good of the nation, and expressed their hope that the political parties under their influence, the NUP and the Umma Party, would agree to form a ‘national government’. The message obviously targeted Azhari’s ambitions. Under pressure, Azhari’s cabinet announced on 6 December 1955 an invitation to the political parties to negotiations on formation of a ‘national government’. The talks between the ruling NUP and the Umma Party, while they did take place, proved a futile exercise, since Azhari refused to surrender the premiership to a consensual candidate. Faced with the impending possibility of a Khatmiyya-Ansar alliance that would undercut his parliamentary support and almost inevitably cost him his office, Azhari’s stroke of genius was a motion to parliament on 19 December to declare Sudan a sovereign independent country. Nobody in the house could vote against him. To discipline Azhari, Ali al-Mirghani had to form his own party, the People’s Democratic Party and capture government in alliance with the Umma Party against Azhari’s NUP. When all space for manoeuvring was consumed, the two sayeds, Ali and Abd al-Rahman, agreed to invite the army leadership to take over on 17 November 1958. 
Now, Bashir and Turabi might imagine themselves two sayeds doing business, but their prayers, unlike those of the baraka-laden Ali and Abd al-Rahman, do not echo far beyond the presidential divan. In the really existing ‘New Sudan’, even a Rizeigati chief like Musa Hilal has a separate sheikhdom, protected by the steel baraka of guns mounted on hijacked vehicles.
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.