Last Wednesday a forum of the opposition alliance, the National Coalition Forces (NCF), in the premises of Turabi’s Popular Congress Party (PCP), located in the posh neighbourhood of Riyadh, Khartoum, turned into a mini demonstration soon to be dispersed by the well prepared police forces. The opposition leaders speaking at the forum, among them the Communist Party chief, Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud, pledged to overlook their differences in favour of the overall objective of doing away with President Bashir’s regime by popular revolt. Nugud stated that everyone needs Turabi at this moment to contribute in resolving the issues of Sudan. The PCP’s Ibrahim al-Sanosi, inviting a precocious 1985 scenario, called on the Sudanese army to side with the people’s choices. He promised with little to substantiate his claim “in the same way we brought them to power we shall overthrow them to repent our sin”.
Rather than tapping the resources of radical change in Sudan the opposition, I am afraid, is simply invoking popular revolt in the same manner a village kujoor (rainman) attempts with a combination of theatre and sacrifice to invoke rain. Basically wishing for a cheap transition of power on the shoulders of the revolting masses the opposition is overlooking critical features of the really existing New Sudan that is has yet to conceptualise and creatively transcend.
The most challenging of these is presumably the ever entrenched divorce between the rural and the urban spheres, a rift institutionalised in Sudan the colony via the administrative and legal divide between the urban civil and the rural customary domains, the civil and the native administration respectively. Sudan the post-colony made two attempts at de-ethnicisation, the first a memorandum written in January 1965 by the Communist labour leader al-Shafie Ahmed al-Sheikh as minister of the council of ministers in the radical October 1964 transitional government, and the second Numayri’s authoritarian reforms in the 1970s. The Islamists initial wariness of the native administration translated into envy. Once in power they approbated the resilient colonial structures of the native administration to serve their own survival re-inventing what Mamdani terms the decentralised despotism of the colonial state.
Resistance to the dominance of the National Congress Party (NCP) thus took on the same format of the state structure, namely regional or rather ethnic revolts as it were. In today’s Sudan the rallying cry for this form of resistance is marginalisation and the demand across the board is self-determination. South Sudan is this respect is a paradigmatic case with specific historical features rather than a racial/religious exception. Khartoum’s opposition is more perplexed by this dynamic than informed of its significance.
The sectarian parties, the Umma and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), once held an effective monopoly over rural politics in Northern Sudan whereby the native administration mediated between the urban-based party leadership and the rural clientele. Sectarian loyalties, the Ansar of the Umma and the Khatmiyya of the DUP, thus acted as an overarching political identity transcending the ethnic fragments of the native administration. The NCP via its re-articulation of the native question, to use the colonial term, or the rural question in the post-colony, eroded the authority of the two parties considerably either by the rehabilitation of the native administration in its tribal form or its re-endorsement in the guise of local administration. In these terms, Sudan has many an Abyei, i.e. a geography contested by two tribal authorities or more.
With that in mind the opposition’s point of reference in its quest for another Sudan should be the October 1964 revolution, pregnant with the prospect of liberatory de-ethnicisation and the transcendence of the rural-urban rift, rather than the urban-centric April 1985 Intifada satisfied with the demise of the dictator, but ignorant of the rural plight.