Last Monday marked the 39th anniversary of the abortive communist coup against Ja’afar Numayri, 19th July 1971, a 3 day showdown that ended with the massacre of the leading figures, civilian and military, of the Communist Party of Sudan at the behest of military tribunals set up at a flash. An angry and vindictive Ja’afar Numayri backed by regional powers, Egypt’s Sadat and Libya’s Ghadafi as well as probable complicity of British intelligence, moved swiftly at the opportunity to behead the young and ambitious political movement drunk with modernity.
19th July has thus become the Karbala of the Sudanese left, a sharp and bloody turning point that thrust the party back from a daring, confident and discursive political force knocking with vigour the gates of the future to a juvenile self-satisfying aggregate of the of the like-minded absorbed by a more and more golden past. The experience of the coup and its aftermath invites among the comrades recurrent showers of romanticising reminisce every year, where the bravery and the integrity of the martyrs is praised and the evil and treachery of their enemies is reasserted lest anybody forget. Historical knowledge of the calamitous event however is limited to a ‘policing’ account, devoid of the Marxist acuity and breadth that interprets an event into its socio-economic ecology. Even the role of imperialist forces, usually overstressed in leftography, did not receive more than a fleeting mention in the Party’s official account and did not attract historical testing and verification.
That said the NIF 1989/1999 coups seem today the historical double of the disastrous leftist attempt 1969/1971, however as a copy it has bandaged the ills of the original without necessarily healing them. When the Free Officers led by Ja’afar Numayri snatched power in 1969 in coalition with a cohort of communist officers the late Abdel Khalig Mahjoub, Secretary General of the Communist Party, kept his critical distance and insisted on maintenance of the independence of his Party. The leader of the Islamic Movement, Hasan al-Turabi, embraced his coup and thrust the Islamic Movement full fledge into the state without a whimper, effectively liquidating the Islamic Movement as it had existed prior to 1989. Threatened by the state in 1971 communist officers attempted a wholesale take at the dream of ‘revolution’ under the leadership of the vanguard Party sandwiched in the ‘National Democratic Front’ yet singled out, whereby fantasy turned into nightmare. The Communist Party faced the enmity of the state at zero distance and paid the price. Turabi on the other hand, manoeuvred out of power in 1999, held his grudge grinding his teeth and seeking new shores, SPLM memorandum and JEM strings. According to al-Mahboub Abd al-Salam he refused to engage the army yet again brushing off the idea of a repeat ‘corrective’ coup with the disillusion of a man who has learnt his lesson. Nevertheless he could not save the Islamist Movement from attrition by rule, just like the communist leadership post-1971 could not manage to save the Communist Party from attrition by opposition. In both cases ideas were sacrificed at the blows of heavy yet empty boots.