Sadiq al-Mahdi’s meeting with President Bashir on 22 January threw the Khartoum opposition coalition, the National Consensus Forces (NCF), back into disarray. To salvage their common line the leaders of the coalition met with Sadiq al-Mahdi on 25 January and issued a statement decrying the divisive tactics of the National Congress Party (NCP). The NCF leaders adopted Sadiq’s ‘national agenda’ as a basis for engagement with the NCP provided that negotiations take place with a joint NCF delegation. The statement, obviously a compromise by accumulation between the members of the NCF rather than a targeted political message, listed around ten pre-conditions for talks with the NCP, topped by the release of all political prisoners, the star among them the chief of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) Hassan al-Turabi, and the rollback of fuel and basic commodity prices. The PCP and the Communist Party seemed particularly wounded by Sadiq’s move. Siddiq Yusif from the Communist Party stated that the NCF was not obliged by any unilateral agreement between the Umma and the NCP, and the PCP’s al-Sanosi expressed his party’s disillusion at the Sadiq-Bashir rendezvous demanding the release of Turabi before any mention of talks. In concrete terms, the NCP has paralyzed the PCP by silencing its one-mind, Turabi, and wooed the Umma chief, Sadiq al-Mahdi, into an open-end flirt, and thus more or less hollowed out the wobbly NCF.
Acting apart from political party structures activists in Khartoum and abroad called on their fellow Sudanese to wage demonstrations against Bashir’s regime starting on 30 January. In Tunisian/Egyptian style the e-agitators busied internet social networks with messages prompting for a popular uprising. In a release to potential participants, one group advised demonstrators to put on sports gear in preparation for the hustle, and always carry a cell phone. Judging by the means and the message the constituency addressed I suppose are the young educated Sudanese who enjoy access to the internet and the possession of sports gear. These have grievances, true, but evidently risk more than their chains.
Both the political party opposition and the alternative ‘youth’ agitation seem to be oblivious to the question of constituency. The political parties take their public backing more or less for granted, and the youth groups suppose a default discontent with the NCP in the Northern heartland. Bashir bothered by the prospect of a mass revolt, a classic form of regime change in Sudan long before the Tunisian model, told a rally on 25 January “The day we feel that the people reject us we will go out to them in the streets so they can throw stones at us”. Rather than bluffing outright Bashir, I claim, was expressing the self-doubt of the regime at the current juncture. In the same speech the President reaffirmed his commitment to the implementation of shari’a, and declared the secession of the South a non-event. His bid remains the cultivation of a siege mentality in the rump North perpetually fearful of a threat from the South and suspicious of regional demands. The challenge before the opposition is how to overcome the construed contradiction between Bashir’s ‘people’ in the heartland and the pauperised of the peripheries, reified as ethnic communities, in other words de-ethnicisation.