Monday, 24 October 2011

Gaddafi’s corpse

Muammar al-Gaddafi, the last to fall in the series of Nasser-inspired officers who snatched power from the colonial era monarchists of the Arab world, was lynched last week by the combatants loosely assembled around Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) in his hometown Sirte. The TNC Chairman, Mustafa Abd al-Jalil told a rally celebrating the ‘liberation’ of the country that shari’a will constitute the major source of legislation in the new Libya. Any laws that contravene shari’a will be scrapped, he added.
In Sudan not a single political force distinguished itself by refusing to dance around Gaddafi’s corpse. Of particular interest was the contest between the two wings of the Islamic Movement, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) to claim the greater joy at Gaddafi’s demise. Al-Intibaha ran a lengthy editorial the day after excelling in Schadenfreude, and adorned its pages with photographs of the slain colonel. The NCP’s Nafie Ali Nafie told the press that Gaddafi was a mighty thorn in Sudan’s back. He had granted crucial support to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) in its formative years and supplied different factions of the Darfur insurgency with safe havens and arms. Mustafa Osman Ismail, President Bashir’s foreign affairs advisor, stated that Gaddafi’s demise is a lesson to all tyrants! The death of the colonel, he hoped, would pave the way for a lasting peace in Darfur. The PCP issued a celebratory statement titled “The Demise of Libya’s Pharaoh”, warning Sudan’s rulers of a similar fate in case they insist on rejecting the demands of the people. Even Sadiq al-Mahdi, ever conciliatory, had no mild words for Gaddafi. He argued that the manner in which Gaddafi died corresponded to his tyrannical rule.
It is fair to state that neither the Islamic Movement nor Sadiq’s Umma Party had ever registered any qualms over Gaddafi’s favours in times of need. After his fallout with Nimayri the Libyan colonel had provided the Islamic Movement and the Umma Party, at the time allies in the opposition National Front, with training, arms, and finances to bring down the Khartoum regime. The two recruited a formidable militia with Libyan support and attempted in July 1976 to storm Khartoum after a long trek from bases in Libya. They did not succeed in overthrowing Nimayri but did succeed in dispersing firearms in the wasteland of Darfur, at the time a mere side-effect of the power politics of the Khartoum elite that went largely unnoticed. Payback came when Sadiq al-Mahdi was elected Prime Minister following the 1985 uprising against Nimayri. Gaddafi generously supported the Umma Party’s electoral campaign and the Umma chief, once in power, allowed Gaddafi to operate in Darfur as a sovereign. At the time the Libyan leader was embroiled in another episode of the lengthy Chadian-Libyan conflict, and needed Darfur as a corridor and a recruitment ground for operatives against Hissène Habré. Darfur was swept into political-military dynamics in the region and beyond, if not globalised so to speak as a distant theatre of Cold War drama. Darfur’s ever grumbling war has certain roots extending to this episode of militarisation. Both the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) led by the pro-Turabi Khalil Ibrahim and the pro-government Abbala militias famed as the Janjaweed list among the beneficiaries of the Gaddafi logic. Incidentally, they shot at each other. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Sadiq's hand

Upon the secession of South Sudan last July President Bashir declared his intent to form a ‘broad-based government’ in the rump (North) Sudan possibly with the participation of the main opposition forces. Since then the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has been engaged in extensive negotiations with the two larger parties in the scene, the National Umma Party (NUP) led by Sadiq al-Mahdi and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) led by Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani. Conscious of the inevitable economic and political repercussions of secession the NCP wished to secure its hold on the Sudanese heartland through an alliance by engulfment with the two sectarian mass parties or at least one. Apart from spurring the breakaway of yet another DUP faction the talks with the two major parties did not yield any results of immediate interest to the NCP.
According to the Vice President, al-Haj Adam Yusif, the NCP had made a most “convincing” offer to the opposition, as much as half the seats of the cabinet. Despite the declared rejection of the offer by both the NUP and the DUP Yusif remains hopeful. He told a conference of his party in Atbara “the [opposition] parties still have the opportunity to join the government at any time irrespective of the composition of the coming cabinet”. President Bashir himself acknowledged the deadlock in his address to the National Assembly on 10 October. He made the rhetorical claim that NCP and the opposition had reached a consensus over “national concepts” and certain “commonalities regarding the preservation of the country’s unity”. On a more aggressive tone Qutbi al-Mahdi, the chief of the ruling party’s political sector, told reporters on 5 October that the opposition faces the choice between cooperation with the NCP and collaboration with the enemies of Sudan, the Western powers, Israel, and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Nafie Ali Nafie, the NCP’s Deputy Chairman, resumed the flirt when addressing the closing session of a conference of the ruling party’s political sector attended by the NUP chief, Sadiq al-Mahdi, and several senior DUP politicians on 11 October. He stated that the participation of the opposition parties in such a function of the NCP is a consequence of the “constructive dialogue” between the two sides.
The NUP and the DUP had apparently bargained for more than a share in the cabinet. The NUP had a name for its bride wealth, Sadiq al-Mahdi’s ‘national agenda’, a list of demands under the theme of ‘the transformation of the party-state into a nation-state’. The DUP, not so much plagued by concerns of intellectual prestige, chose a more frank approach. The party’s negotiators simply stated that the NCP’s offer was far less than the due of the historical party of the national movement. They demanded the allocations of positions to the DUP extending right through the government structure, from the presidency to the localities. 
Sadiq al-Mahdi at least was obviously reading from his 1977 diary. In that year the NUP chief and President Nimayri agreed on the terms of what became known as the ‘national reconciliation’. Sadiq al-Mahdi returned from years of exile to assume a leading position in Nimayri’s Sudan Socialist Union (SSU) next to Hassan al-Turabi. The two men had allied against Nimayri in the opposition National Front generously hosted by Libya’s Gaddafi. Exhausted by their disastrous July 1976 military attempt at Khartoum from their Libyan base the two chose to join the man they could not beat. Turabi made the best of the unexpected turn of events. The rapprochement with Nimayri is identified in Turabi’s history of the Islamic Movement as the period of ‘reconciliation and development’. The Islamic Movement grew into the state machinery as it were. Sadiq al-Mahdi was less fortunate. Incapable of adaptation to the realities of the ‘one party state’ a frustrated Sadiq eventually resigned from the SSU’s politburo to grumble at home while Turabi developed the definitive disorder of army politics, an infatuation that eventually cost him his power and his Islamic Movement.
Informed by this experience Sadiq al-Mahdi resisted the NCP’s passionate overtures secretly hoping that a repeat intifada might sweep the regime away.  Sadiq is equally anxious that such a popular outburst might even endanger the authority and standing of the established parties, his own included. The wise NUP chairman wants the Aristotelian gold, a negotiated hygienic transfer of power through the means of a constitutional conference and an electoral process. The anti-Mahdist Sadiq, I fear, does not have the sufficient credit to make such a long call. 

Saturday, 8 October 2011

State Islam according to al-Intibaha

Late in August the Just Peace Forum (JPF) led by al-Tayeb Mustafa had cuddled up to the extra-Turabist if not the anti-Turabist forces of the Islamist scene in Sudan, the Wahhabi Ansar al-Sunna, the remnant non-Turabist Moslem Brotherhood, the aggressive Moslem Clerics Association, the Moslem Forces Union, and a set of even smaller groups, to form the single theme Islamic Constitution Front (ICF), an umbrella format akin to the Kauda alliance, but arguable more focused. Beginning on 3 October al-Intibaha, al-Tayeb Mustafa’s toxic newspaper, started publishing a draft constitution for the rump Sudan crafted by the ICF brothers in faith. Pushing the contestation of Islam and the state forward as the ultimate political question in the country the text reads like somebody’s fantasy and by definition another’s nightmare.
The draft, in the tradition of Sudanese precedents, begins with a series of definitions: “Sudan is a united Islamic state that exercises sovereignty over all the regions within its territory, and where the dictates of Dar al-Islam apply”; “Islam is the religion of the state, a faith, a path and a way of life”; “Arabic is the official language of the state”; “Sudan is part of the Moslem Umma and a member of regional and international organisations”. Sovereignty, according to the draft, is exercised by Allah alone, while shari’a rules supreme and the Umma enjoys political authority, three variations on the theme of the ultimate source of political power in Islamic jurisprudence. After fitful experimentation with the same abstractions Hassan al-Turabi has lately declared society sovereign, the implied condition being that Moslems constitute a majority. To qualify shari’a for his rediscovered passion for parliamentary democracy Turabi argued that the elected representatives of the nation may choose to uphold or drop articles of shari’a at will, since the consensus of the Umma constitutes in itself a source of legislation next to the Quran and the traditions of the prophet. The revisionist Turabi of today would probably rubbish the constitutional propositions forwarded by the JPF et al as an instance of infantile Islamism, further evidence of the chronic decay of Moslem societies.
To illuminate the abstractions above one has to read further into the draft constitution. Legislative authority in the Islamic state of Sudan is the due of an elected shura (consultative) council; the members of the council are nominated for election from five colleges: scholars of shari’a, specialists in the natural sciences, professionals, leaders and notables, and individuals with considerable experience and knowledge. To qualify for membership of the council a nominee has to be Sudanese, at least thirty years old, of sound mind, of fair standing, capable of ijtihad, and of reasonable opinions, in addition to satisfying the conditions of inclusion in one of the five colleges as stipulated by law. The draft details ‘fair standing’ with the qualifications of Moslem, male, sane, and evidently pious. The head of state is elected by popular vote from three nominees not younger than forty years old handpicked by the shura council. The draft lists the same set of conditions for the office of the president with the addition of the necessary power to confront the enemy and wage jihad, as well as sound organs and senses. 
Essentially, the Islamist margin is spelling out its version of a WASP oligarchy so to speak, free of camouflage. Naïve as it may appear the ICF’s draft transpires of the post-colonial quest to mould the state rather than reject it. The ICF is demanding a state with which a fantasized pious Moslem can easily identify. The irony being that power, albeit congruent with an imagined tradition of Moslem statehood, has to be guarded from the same Moslem plebeians by an elite corps of shari’a fellows, distinguished effendiya of the professions, and revered notables. In the absence of a credible left capable of transcending the divide between urban and rural struggles in Sudan this utterly modern frustration with the shortcomings of the state as it exists cannot but translate into ethnic fission in the peripheries and its Islamized rearticulation in the heartland.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Sudanese straw-men

Protesters in Khartoum kept the riot police rather busy over the past week. In several residential areas people took to the streets equipped with frying pans, pots and jerrycans to vent their frustration over the steep rise in living costs. The protesters demanded the dismissal of the finance minister and the enforcement of government controls on the prices of basic commodities. The authorities responded with the classics, police and propaganda. Senior officials of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) accused unspecified political forces of exploiting the post-secession economic slump to further their regime change agenda, and complained of a Western conspiracy against the country. Nafie Ali Nafie, the Deputy Chairman of the NCP, put the blame on a certain "communist with some money” whom he accused of orchestrating the largely nocturnal hunger riots. The alleged communist’s long arm, however, reached out to al-Elafoon, a centre of Sufi brotherhoods at a short distance from Khartoum, where worshipers from the main mosque, under the influence of the local Imam, took to the streets following the Friday prayers to protest against the deteriorating living conditions. The same area had welcomed President Bashir some months ago promising allegiance to the last man, woman and child. Evidently, the NCP will find it difficult to sustain its patronage network at the cheap. Contrary to common wisdom the weakest link in the chain is none other than Khartoum itself, and not the peripheral war zones.
Slump is arguably an understatement. Early in September the governor of Sudan’s central Bank, Mohamed Khair al-Zubair, asked Arab counterparts to feed the safes of the Sudanese financial system. Al-Zubair stated that the country needs a minimum of 4 billion US dollars this year to make it through the oil deprivation crunch. Apparently his plea was left unanswered. Bashir welcomed the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this past week, not a particular favourite of the richer Arabs. While Bashir wished for greater economic cooperation Ahmadinejad did his regular piece, Islamic solidarity against the Western conspirators. Talking to the press in Paris last Thursday Sudan’s foreign minister said the economy of the country faces collapse unless the international community provides Khartoum with badly needed assistance. Back in Khartoum he claimed to have secured French cooperation regarding the relief of Sudan’s burgeoning foreign debt, estimated last December at 31.9 billion US dollars. In short, Khartoum is petitioning all around for aid.   
On the other pole the Secretary General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in North Sudan (SPLM-N), Yasir Arman, entertained audiences in the United States and the United Kingdom over the past two weeks with the themes of war in Sudan’s new south. The highlight of Arman’s campaign was the Prendergastian plea for the international enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan, justified by the responsibility to protect (R2P). In a Bashir-style speech to the Sudanese political class in London Arman referred to Khartoum’s protesters as the heroes of the impending regime change. In the custom of the opposition effendi Arman blamed the NCP for destroying the economy and impoverishing the nation. His best though was the argument that President Bashir even destroyed the Islamic Movement which Hassan al-Turabi had spent decades to build from a student organisation to a capable power machine. The convenience is surely telling. The split in the Islamic Movement is now considered another of Bashir’s uncountable vices. It seems even the long demonised Turabi is amenable to rehabilitation in the heat of effendiya resistance to the NCP.
More telling I suppose is the parallel between Karti’s rendezvous in France and Arman’s US-UK tour; both demonstrate the profound extraversion of Sudan’s rulers, past, actual or hopeful. Even Nimayri, whom the Sudanese dethroned by popular revolt lives in the memory of many an effendi as the man who begged abroad to give us back at home, a reference to the favours in cash and kind that he was so apt at begetting from his US patrons and their allies in the Gulf, favours that now glare at the Sudanese in the form of a 31.9 billion dollar bill. Bayart possibly phrased it best. He forwarded the proposition that “the leading actors in sub-Saharan societies have tended to compensate for their difficulties in the autonomization of their power and in intensifying the exploitation of their dependents by deliberate recourse to the strategies of extraversion, mobilizing resources derived from their (possibly unequal) relationship with the external environment” whereby the external environment “turned into a major resource in the process of political centralization and economic accumulation” as well as the conduct of social struggles of subaltern actors.  Bayart’s dictum that African elites have been active agents in the dependency misery of their societies echoes Fanon’s denunciation of Africa’s straw-men, the heirs of the colonial state. Arman the ‘secular democrat’ and Karti the ‘Islamist autocrat’ are no strangers to this legacy. 
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.