President Bashir’s new ministers took the oath of office on Saturday, thirty one cabinet and thirty five state ministers in number. The sixty six ladies and gentleman paraded in front of the cameras in their best outfits to be told by the President that they should better avoid petty squabbles and focus on getting work done. To describe the cabinet as new is evidently an exaggeration. All of President Bashir’s old guard preserved their portfolios, Bakri Hassan Salih for presidential affairs, Abd al-Rahim Mohamed Hussein for defence, Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid for the interior, Ali Karti for foreign affairs, and Osama Abdalla for electricity and dams. Awad al-Jaz, who vacated the ministry of oil during the interim period of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was reinstated in his den so to speak, and Kamal Abd al-Latif took over the mining portfolio. The newcomers of Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) were granted the ministries of cabinet affairs, commerce, and youth and sports, while the breakaway faction of the party led by the newly appointed presidential assistant Jalal Yusif al-Digeir, a long term ally of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), was rewarded with the ministry of international cooperation, al-Digeir’s former abode, as well as the environment and forests, and human resources portfolios.
President Bashir made a few interesting choices though; he picked Mohamed Abd al-Karim al-Had, a leading figure of the obsessively zealous Wahhabi sect Ansar al-Sunna as minister of telecommunications and information technology sparking fears that the internet service in the country might be soon shrouded with a tight hijab. Sanaa Hamad kept her position as state minister for information but lost her title as the youngest in the team. Bashir named the thirty one year old Azza Omer Awad al-Karim as state minister of telecommunications. How the Wahhabi minister will deal with the young attractive woman to his side and retain his religious credibility is a matter of speculation. The President did not miss to dispense four state minister posts to a complacent faction of the SPLM in North Sudan that declared its opposition to the armed insurrection led by Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu in South Kordofan and Malik Agar in the Blue Nile.
Khartoum’s established opposition proved no more inventive in its disapproval than President Bashir’s recycled cabinet. Kamal Omer, from the Popular Congress Party (PCP), said Bashir was not willing to give up real power, and the Communist Party’s Sideeg Yusif reiterated the proposal of an all parties’ conference. Much more original criticism of the new government however came from the ranks of the NCP itself, or rather its Islamist core. Al-Intibaha’s columnist Saad Ahmed Saad mourned the Islamic Movement’s project as it were, which he claimed, has been long diluted by the NCP’s promiscuity. Notably Saad identified 1997 as the date of the Movement’s “tragic” deviation. In that year, the regime, with the Movement still intact, tabled the controversial Political Alliance (Tawali) Act allowing for political association within an Islamic frame of reference. The Tawali law, like the 1998 constitution, was attributed to Hassan al-Turabi, the veteran leader of the Movement, and at the time the speaker of the national assembly.
According to Saad, the Islamists’ share in the new cabinet does not exceed twenty per cent, and Islam’s share in the government is a meagre five per cent. The regime, he declared, failed in developing an Islamic model for the state, and eventually turned to its historical rivals, the sectarian parties, for political back-up. Following Saad, one could speak of the really existing Islamic state in contradistinction to a phantasm of a state ever deferred. If the new cabinet is too narrow to satisfy the established opposition it is too wide to ensure the Islamists of the actuality of their unquenchable desire. The reality of power in Khartoum, however, is a function of the ability and readiness of President Bashir and his captains to mete out the prizes of the state to an array of quarrelsome constituencies and peripheral power-brokers, who by and large do not share the fantasy of Saad and others. The Islamic Movement proper, although dominant, has been long reduced to merely one of these constituencies, and its cadres to faithful administrators rather than decision-makers. If the regime has failed to realize the Islamic project then that is the reality of the Islamic project, a discourse of power.