Friday, 25 March 2011

Sadiq back home..

Sadiq al-Mahdi in young age

The Khartoum daily, al-Sahafa, made public portions of what it claimed was the report submitted to the latest Politburo meeting of the Umma Party by its Secretary General, Siddig Mohamed Ismail, regarding the progress of its negotiations with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).  According to al-Sahafa, the two sides agreed on five major issues: (1) the enforcement of shari’a on a territorial and not an individual basis; (2) shari’a and custom are the two sources of legislation; (3) citizenship is the basis of rights; (4) the people are the source of authority and elect the president and the legislature; (5) The elected parliament promulgates the legislations.
Differences were harder to overcome regarding a second set of issues including the administrative division of the country, the reform of the civil service, the security agencies, and the army, as well as the Umma’s Party’s position towards the international arrest warrant against President Bashir. While the NCP agreed to the largely abstract notions above it rebuffed the Umma Party’s propositions of restoring the pre-1989 division into six regions, including a one Darfur, and of restructuring the civil service and security agencies along ‘national’ i.e. non-partisan lines.
Without much ado the two sides seemed pleased with approximating their proposals of a broad-based government (NCP) and an interim all parties government (Umma) on the grounds of barring the Communist Party and the Popular Congress Party from a prospective power-sharing equation in the North following the formal secession of the South on 9 July. Speaking to the press on Wednesday the Umma Party’s Secretary General declared that the two sides had achieved a consensus over 85% of the issues at stake, a qualitative measure I suppose in the guise of a figure. He added that the remaining issues will be tackled by the heads of the two parties, President Bashir and Chairman Sadiq al-Mahdi, in a joint meeting the next day. On Thursday al-Mahdi emerged out of the announced meeting with Bashir stating that the dialogue between the two parties will continue until amicable solutions are achieved to all the remaining points of divergence.
Within the NCP al-Intibaha’s al-Tayeb Mustafa rejoiced at the prospect of winning Sadiq al-Mahdi over to a rejuvenated post-secession Bashir regime. Resurrecting the never dead historical fantasy of the Turabist Islamic Movement Mustafa suggested to the ex-Premier a categorical change of lanes from what he termed the secular camp of the Communist Party and the Northern Sector of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) to the holy camp of shari’a rule, an Islamic Consensus instead of the opposition National Consensus. Come such realignment, even Turabi’s PCP would be vexed to switch into appeasement mode at the cost of sacrificing the sheikh once more. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Shari’a with a human face

Hassaballa Omer

Hassaballa Omer, a senior officer in the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and the Secretary General of the Presidential Security Advisory, a man unaccustomed to media exposure, probably did not imagine that a slip of the tongue on air would cost him his post. Omer who till Sunday evening chaired the steering committee of the Strategic National Dialogue, an initiative launched by the Security Advisory presumably under instructions from the Presidency, told Omdurman Radio a week or so ago “if the political parties agree to repeal the shari’a laws then shari’a should go”. The statement was picked up by the chief of al-Intibaha, al-Tayeb Mustafa, who launched a vicious attack on the man and the very possibility of a government-endorsed political process that could question the enforcement of shari’a laws. On al-Intibaha’s heals the Shari’a Association of Scholars and Preachers, a seasonal forum of Sudan’s Moslem ‘evangelical bloc’ so to speak, declared Omer an apostate, the first I presume in the ranks of the National Congress Party (NCP)!
Omer’s public reprimand, the manner in which it was staged and the response it prompted, served the function of demarcating the ideologically impermissible in post-secession North Sudan. Addressing a press conference on Sunday, a few hours before Salah Gosh announced his dismissal, Omer attempted to defend his position with the claim that his statement was wrought out of context, and that he, a man who has served the Islamic Movement for more than 30 years, cannot be accused of wavering on shari’a. However, he also stated “millions of Sudanese guard shari’a, and it is in no need of those who claim a monopoly on it”, adding “even if shari’a needed defence it occupies the core of the ruling party’s programme, and the party is capable of defending it”.
I suppose it is these two statements rather than the original blunder which eventually signalled his fall from grace. In a certain sense, explicable only with the help of Stalinist hermeneutics, Omer’s folly as an insider is greater than any a standard contender of the NCP can commit. While he did not actually question the rule of shari’a, a claim usually raised by the secular intelligentsia on the grounds of cultural and religious pluralism, he stripped it of its ideological exclusivity without intending to, namely in suggesting that the rule of shari’a is a demand of the majority and not only the name of the hegemonic project of the NCP vanguard. The subversive twist is that he, a committed NCP apparatchik, abided too literally by the official propaganda, and in doing so implicitly exposed its claims to investigation.
Possibly distancing himself from the scandal Vice President Taha while addressing a rally on Monday in Rihed al-Birdi, a Baggara capital in South Darfur, did not miss to state where he stands. He called upon the political forces in the country to join the NCP in a constitutional review process with the objective of building a shari’a state, stressing once and again that shari’a is beyond negotiation or repeal, but the very national firmament, i.e. shari’a can only have the face of the NCP.  

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Policing Libya

In his address to an Arab League summit a few years back Colonel Qaddafi, troubled by the official Arab approval of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, warned his counterparts that they will soon face the fate of Saddam Hussein one after the other. Today it is Qaddafi and Libya in his cloak standing before the Iraqi abyss. Both Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali bent comparatively peacefully to popular demands and relinquished power while Qaddafi has apparently chosen to fight it out thereby transforming civilian dissent into a civil war, an armed confrontation that the Western powers have now catapulted into an international policing exercise under the banner of ‘the responsibility to protect’ (R2P).
Two arguments spell out the liberal opposition to the Western onslaught on Libya, the first questions the ethical consistency of the Western powers on the grounds that the US and its allies have refrained from intervening in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen where dissidents face similar if less dramatized suppression. By extension, the same powers have done embarrassingly little to ease the pain of the Congo or stop the bloodshed in Darfur. The second argument relies on the arithmetic of casualties as a measure of priority, whereby for instance Western funding for malaria research would probably save more lives than the zeal for humanitarian wars.
Apolitical as they are the two arguments take for given the vogue R2P and thus fail to challenge the ideological consensus that sustains Western interventionism. The logical end-point of this liberal moral claim is a perverted utopia where Western firepower intervenes when and where deemed necessary by an ethical committee of commissioned saviours. Paradoxically, such reasoning speaks for more rather than less imperial policing, with notably greater focus on the humanitarian bluff implied.
In its heyday the Save Darfur Coalition quoted the R2P to justify the imperial imposition of a no fly zone over Darfur if not a full-fledged military campaign against the Khartoum regime to secure the smaller but equally threatened Benghazis of the region under the motto of ‘out of Iraq into Darfur’.  That did not happen but the manner in which the prospect of Western intervention obfuscated the actual crisis in Darfur remains resonant. In short, the focus of the rebel movements shifted from the arduous task of organising a receptive constituency in Darfur, without which any armed insurgency is doomed to degenerate into warlordism, to the reliance on international levers, a bid that turned sour in the Abuja peace process 2006.
My claim is that the choice between Qaddafi and the Western saviours is one between two false options. Rather than surrender the anti-colonial ground to Qaddafi the challenge is to re-invent the politics of liberation, a horizon that Frantz Fanon once poignantly proposed would only reveal itself on an international scale with the destruction of the Manichaeanism of the cold war.   

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Pagan, don’t panic

Pagan Amum

Apparently the secession talks between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) arrived at a stage that necessitated realignment beyond the negotiation table, what does not equate to a dead end but rather signifies a bottleneck.
In quite a dramatic twist, the SPLM’s Secretary General, Pagan Amum, declared in Khartoum on 12 March the suspension of talks with the NCP on the grounds that Khartoum was plotting to overthrow the SPLM government through its presumed proxies, Athor, Oliny, the rebels of Jonglei and Upper Nile, and Lam Akol the master conniver. Back in Juba on 14 March Amum produced documents to back his claim that the intelligence branch of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) was busy providing the Southern militias with arms and training. President Bashir, whom Amum accused of overseeing the whole episode, caricatured the allegation during his address to an NCP function marking the disengagement of the ruling party’s Southern Sector with the phrase “if somebody just coughs in Juba they [the SPLM] point fingers at the NCP”. In his polemic against Khartoum Amum employed the terms ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ to tag the supposed SAF masterplan in the North-South border zone, reference being to the recent waves of violence in Abyei.  
Now, the same Amum stated in his Juba press conference that the SPLM and the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) were ready and willing to offer the Khartoum government a generous grant to ease the pain of the loss of oil revenues upon the declaration of partition on 9 July. The day before, 13 March, President Bashir announced the formation of a committee headed by the minister of oil, Lual Deng, from the SPLM, and joining the auditor general of the Khartoum government, and the auditor of the GoSS, mandated with the selection of a foreign firm to review the oil production figures of the last 5 years, a measure that Bashir declared was necessary to refute the accusations of foul play in the oil revenue sharing arrangements between the North and the South. A weak earlier a Khartoum newspaper quoting Pagan Amum reported that the NCP had demanded the extension of the CPA oil sharing formula between Khartoum and Juba for another 7 years, a request to which the SPLM responded with a resonant no.
It would be naive to assume that the military intelligence, acting with or without a political cover, would shy away from leaking arms to old or new acquaintances in the South, if not by recent design at least as a matter of habit. However, from that level of involvement to a plot targeting power in Juba there is a wide terrain, one which the military intelligence even if it wanted would find difficult to cross. Otherwise, how did it lose the war in the South in the first place? In a sense, Pagan Amum, similar to Bashir, caricatured a situation he knows better. Both were not funny.
What is being played out is the screaming stage of a hard bargain. Amum, I presume, was crying out to the Prendergastian gaze, particularly that the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army has lately landed in front of the humanitarian muzzle for bullying the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) acting under the Chapter VII element of its mandate, the protection of civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, in case it dares trespass into the combat zones of Jonglei. 
Adding an evil twist, what could be the future of Pagan Amum in the new South, with the likes of Lam Akol equally anxious to capitalize on the Shilluk constituency, Amum's prospective power base now that the liberation phase has passed, and seek a return to the Juba scene through constitutional means, Lam Akol the democrat this time. 

Friday, 11 March 2011

Nugud: what now?

Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud

With his ever crisp wit the Secretary of the Communist Party, Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud, arriving on 9 March to the site of the opposition’s planned demonstration to find but a few scattered onlookers and journalists, picked a carton box from the litter of the street and wrote on it the standard note of the unannounced Sudanese visitor “we arrived and did not find you”. Nugud’s remark made the headlines of the Khartoum press the next day, and will probably join a list of other pithy allegories under his name.
According to the announced plan all the leaders of the opposition alliance, the National Consensus Forces (NCF), were supposed to congregate in Abu Jinzeer square in Khartoum and address the awaiting masses. Apart from Nugud the leaders did not keep their promise, and the masses apparently knew better. Conspicuously absent were Sadiq al-Mahdi and Yasir Arman, the chief of the Umma Party and the Secretary General of the SPLM-North. Both men have other agenda to groom. The first is in the midst of negotiations with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) targeting respectable inclusion in President Bashir’s coming government, and the second is politically handcuffed by the Khartoum-Juba rules of engagement. Nugud in a sense remains the orphan of the political establishment, a ban he has tried long and hard to dispel through a liberal reformulation of the Communist Party since he assumed its reigns after the murder of its radical chief, Abd el-Khalig Mahjoub, in the aftermath of the 1971 Communist coup attempt against Colonel Nimayri.
Throughout this period Nugud’s essential contribution to the legacy of the Sudanese communists has been a determinate shift of theory and practice from the early visions of revolutionary social transformation to the full embrace of reform-minded parliamentary politics. Accordingly, the Communist Party shed off its once sharp criticism of the political establishment which pitted it against the leadership of the sectarian parties, the Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), assuming a catholic commitment to parliamentary rule whatever its content with the unqualified conviction that it is inherently self-corrective.
During the post-1971 years of Nimayri’s dictatorship the communists remained underground strangers to the politicking of the Umma, the DUP, and the Islamic Movement, tainted as they were with the accusation of bringing Nimayri to power in the first place. The ‘democratic’ renaissance of the Communist Party materialised however in the 4 years of parliamentary rule between the demise of Nimayri in 1985 and the National Islamic Front’s coup in 1989. Reflexively, the communists aligned themselves with the sectarian parties in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the umbrella opposition coalition against the Bashir-Turabi regime, and effectively became its sole flag-bearer witnessing how the wagon emptied one by one. First, the Umma chief, Sadiq al-Mahdi, signed an appeasement arrangement with President Bashir in 1999 following the Turabi-Bashir split, then, Mohamed Osman al-Merghani, the DUP chief, signed a similar arrangement with Vice President Taha late 2003 while the Naivasha talks were underway. In a sense, even the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) betrayed the terms of the coalition when it opted for bilateral negotiations with the National Congress Party (NCP) leaving behind its minor partners.
In the wobbly post-Naivasha Sudans the Communist Party tried the same yet again favouring an even looser, if not escapist, alliance with the Umma Party, Turabi’s Popular Congress Party (PCP), and what remains of the SPLM in the North, over the (im)possible challenge of re-inventing politics for the really existing Sudans. To me Nugud once expressed the irony that the same figures who sacrificed the very democracy they espouse in 1965 in order to ban the Communist Party and force its representatives out of parliament, Sadiq al-Mahdi and Hassan al-Turabi, now congregate in its Khartoum premises to lament the loss of public freedoms under Bashir. Nugud may have succeeded in rehabilitating the ‘democratic’ credentials of the Communist Party, as opposed to its putschist inclinations. Locked in these two false options however he effectively compromised the most original contribution of the Sudanese communists to the politics of the post-colony, to paraphrase Abd el-Khalig Mahjoub, the creative application of Marxist political economy.    

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Naughty opposition

To no surprise the Khartoum police intervened with the accustomed vigour to suppress the two motions of the opposition today and yesterday. Both the 8 March women demonstration in Omdurman and today’s exercise in popular protest were dispersed in their first minutes. The police forces arrested literally all the participants, most however were released hours later on bail including the Communist Party chief, Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud. Select activists though were detained early this morning well before the foiled demonstration and will probably have to withstand the hospitality of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) longer than their compatriots in police custody.   
Expressing the guarded arrogance of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) Qutbi al-Mahdi stated yesterday “The opposition has been cursing the government for the past 20 years, and that is its limit. It is not capable of more”. He added “The country is free. Anybody can go out and curse the government at will, and then return home”. The NCP’s self-assurance aside Qutbi correctly delineated the coordinates of the political game in Khartoum. In a sense, the government pretends to uphold public freedoms while the established opposition parties pretend to campaign against the regime. The no trespassing rule implied is that the government continues to tolerate the bickering of Khartoum’s politicians as long as they do not venture into the prohibition of actually organising against its authority. The less celebrated instances of concrete civilian mobilisation against the NCP’s domination in the past year or so did not feature the political establishment proper, and were discretely frowned upon by its cautious and negotiation-minded authoritative representatives. The anti-NCP Girifna campaign during the April elections took off on an original note forging links to the bitter streets. However it remained a protest movement in the style of Khartoum’s university politics and later succumbed to the lure of NGO superstition adopting the sterile language and vegetative tactics of the awareness-raising business. Its sting survived in the form of the current ‘Youth for Change’ platform albeit plagued by the infantile withdrawal from the question of power as suggested by the consolation of the tag ‘youth’ and the willingness to surrender political processes to a vague liberal fantasy of Khartoum’s veteran parties. 
At the level of demands the successful doctors strike of June last year is probably worthier of interrogation than the poorly nursed initiatives of the versed activists. Over the period of six months focused and creative agitation drew hundreds of notoriously conservative professionals into defiance mode behind trade union slogans. These two constituencies, the students and the middle class professionals, have twice before ignited the mass political strikes that brought down Khartoum’s military rulers, Abboud in October 1964 and Nimayri in April 1985. The ensuing short-lived periods of elected parliamentary government however crashed repeatedly at the challenge of Sudan’s rural crises, the political economy of the peasant/pastoral hinterland. 

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Khartoum fidgeting

This week the schedule of the Khartoum opposition is particularly busy and colourful. Tomorrow the opposition alliance, the National Consensus Forces (NCF) plus/minus the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), will hold a rally in the premises of the Northern Sector of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Khartoum to expose what the opposition claims to be an attempt by the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) to rig the coming gubernatorial and parliamentary elections in Southern Kordofan. The event, inconsequential as it is, has been described in the media outlet of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), the Sudan Media Centre (SMC), as the zero hour of a sabotage plot orchestrated by an unholy alliance comprising Yasir Arman’s Northern Sector, the Communist Party, and Turabi’s Popular Congress Party (PCP). The security forces therefore will probably outnumber the sympathetic attendants. The NCF further announced the organisation of popular demonstrations in two squares in Omdurman and Khartoum on the occasion of the International Women’s Day and in solidarity with the popular uprisings in the region on 8 and 9 March respectively, an initiative that the NCP’s political secretary in Khartoum mocked with the verdict that “the opposition had failed repetitively in mobilising the streets against the NCP”. The alternative ‘Youth for Change’ platform, also declared 8 March the date of a new wave of anti-NCP demonstrations in the style of the 30 January experiment.
Although the believer might be vexed into reading in these multiple announcements a concerted efforts by Khartoum’s activists to face up to the NCP I fear that the opposition is for the time being tackling itself. Within the NCF the two major parties, the Umma Party and the DUP, are actively engaged in appeasement talks with the NCP, the first even with the claim of a mandate from the NCF, and the second humbly on its own account. In that sense, the demonstrations, supposing they do materialise, constitute at a certain level an attempt by the opposition professionals, the Communist Party and the PCP, to embarrass at least the Umma Party back in line. In their own ranks the two parties face the challenge of the younger zealots who are drifting persistently to autonomous forms like the ‘Youth for Change’ platform in frustration over the impotence of the established parties. Beyond appearances, the announced demonstrations could be interpreted as an attempt by the political elite proper to accommodate the agitation of the younger membership.  
Knowing the demography of opposition activists in Khartoum I guess the circles of friends will be quite overwhelmed by this week’s obligations. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Abyei: malignant neglect

A renewed wave of violence engulfed Abyei over the past few days pitting armed Misseriya against the local Southern Sudanese police force. The Misseriya claimed that armed Dinka Ngok supported by the Southern Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) had established checkpoints blocking their route of annual migration southwards, while an SPLM official in Abyei accused Khartoum of attempting to terrorise the Dinka Ngok out of Abyei through its Misseriya proxies. Judging by the reported death toll, 7 Dinka Ngok and 16 Misseriya, it seems both communities are suffering the terror of Abyei.
Noticeably, this wave of violence did not attract the high politics of Khartoum and Juba, consumed by grander issues it seems. My suspicion is that Abyei, for the time being at least, will be surrendered to a perverse version of state-sanctioned violence at the hands of its embittered inhabitants without allowing it to infect the loftier concerns of partition. To their constituencies in the area and beyond the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) have always promised the maximum as a matter of political convenience. The NCP pledged to keep Abyei Northern at all costs, while the SPLM vowed never to forsake the ‘hostage’ Dinka Ngok. Such propositions have largely secured the loyalty of the Misseriya and the Dinka Ngok respectively and also nourished obstinacy within the two communities. On the negotiation table however Abyei features as an element of a bargaining calculus that overrides the immediate quest for its own peace. In that sense, the Abyei impasse is a political creation and not necessarily a consequence of the unique intractability of the conflict. Of course, both parties claim exactly the opposite.
The explanation is that both employ the issue as a bargaining chip at will. To their wider constituencies the fate of Abyei is phrased in the language of national pride, and to the international spectators it is pictured as a highly inflammable flashpoint of cultural and racial collision. This approach has evidently raised the price of peace in Abyei sufficiently as to make it the jewel of the post-referendum negotiations, if not a lasting playground of relationships between the two Sudans. The backdrop of this overt inflation is the chronic cycle of violence in which the Dinka Ngok and the Misseriya are currently trapped. If anything Abyei has to be saved from the deadly embrace of the NCP and the SPLM not from itself. 
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.