In a meeting extending to the early hours of Thursday, 23 February, the Leadership Council of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) approved a major re-distribution of duties in its top rank, namely the leadership of the party’s five sectors and their constitutive secretariats a rung lower. Vice President al-Haj Adam Yusif, Hamid Sideeg, Samya Ahmed Mohamed, Sabir Mohamed al-Hassan and Amin Hassan Omer replaced Qutbi al-Mahdi, Nafie Ali Nafie, Salah Wansi, Awad al-Jaz and Ibrahim Ahmed Omer as chairpersons of the party’s political, organisational, professionals’, economic and cultural sectors in that order. Only Mustafa Osman Ismail, the chairman of the external relations sector was not affected by the reshuffle. In his department Mohamed Yusif Abdalla, Hassanat Awad Satti and Issa Bushra were named secretaries for African, Western and Asian countries respectively. In the political sector, the secretariat for mobilisation headed by Haj Majid Siwar was scrapped and its mandate fused with the media secretariat led by Ibrahim Ghandoor. Hasabo Mohamed Abd al-Rahman, the former commissioner for humanitarian affairs and the head of the Darfur caucus in the parliament, was appointed secretary for political communication, a post previous occupied by al-Haj Adam Yusif. In the organisational sector, Khalil Abdalla replaced Hajo Gasm al-Seed as secretary for Kordofan and the White Nile, and Salah Ahmed was picked to lead the information secretariat. Amin Mahmoud and Abd al-Moneim al-Sunni, the secretaries for students and youth were affirmed in their positions. Adil Awad Salman, the former governor of the Northern state, was appointed secretary for civil society organisations, a newly devised post, while Intisar Abu Najma was named secretary for women, Samya Ahmed Mohamed’s former position. Mohamed Haj Majid and Ammar Bashari assumed responsibility for the social affairs and voluntary work secretariats respectively.
On a first glance the impression of a major sweep in the leadership of the NCP is justified. This at least is the message that the NCP wants to transmit. The party’s Nizar Khaled Mahjoub told the press that the reshuffle was part of a wider reform agenda endorsed by the December 2011 general convention. Well, that may be so. Closer scrutiny, however, reveals a less dramatic state of affairs. The reshuffle seems to be driven by two related concerns, accommodation of those NCP headmen left out of the post-secession cabinet, and the integration of the Islamic Movement’s influential and more vocal functionaries into the business of the ruling party. The division of labour, or rather the acrimonious equilibrium, between Nafie Ali Nafie and Ali Osman Mohamed Taha was reset despite the apparent delegation of responsibilities to junior functionaries. The first was re-affirmed in his position as Deputy Chairman for Party Affairs, a mandate that provides him with sufficient authority to rule supreme over the new head of the organisational sector, while the post of the second was redesigned to read Deputy Chairman for Executive Affairs, a depiction that corresponds to his role as guardian over the NCP’s cabinet members and the state bureaucracy. Significant though was the NCP’s readiness to promote younger members of the Islamic Movement to high office. Ammar Bashari and Mohamed Haj Majid, to name two of the youngest breed, have next to no experience of political activity before the 1989 coup. In the mid-1990s both were student activists. There are good reasons to believe that Bashari was involved back in 1998 in the murder of Mohamed Abd al-Salam, a fellow colleague in Khartoum University and a member of the Communist Party’s student organisation. Haj Majid distinguished himself by an avid enthusiasm for jihad against the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) and the regime’s many enemies during the 1990s, and was eventually rewarded for his long service with the top job in the Martyr’s Organisation, the benefits dispenser of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF) responsible for the well-being of the fallen combatants’ families and close kin. Compared to their generation in the opposition establishment these younger NCP functionaries seem to be faring pretty well, it must be said. In the National Umma Party (NUP), the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and the Communist Party, I fear, Bashari’s contemporaries are busy writing protest documents against their perceived ‘marginalisation’. The NCP, on the other hand, seems to be ready to offer its offspring the token of inclusion along a rough quota system, a model that emulates, and here I am speculating at will, the experience of the NCP’s strategic partner/patron, the Communist Party of China. Back in January the two parties held what they termed the first session of a high level dialogue in Khartoum co-chaired by the NCP’s Deputy Chairman, Nafie Ali Nafie, and the CPC’s Li Yuanchao, Politburo member, Secretary of the Secretariat of the CPC’s Central Committee and Chairman of the Organisational Department of the Central Committee. “The friendly frank and in-depth dialogue reviewed how to further develop the two parties’ relations in light of the current development, shared experiences on how to consolidate their ruling positions”, reported Xinhua.
In the first public appearance following his new NCP appointment Haj Majid addressed the founding conference of the Islamic Constitution Front (ICF) in Khartoum in the very language he employed as a student agitator for the Islamist cause. “The martyrs of jihad did not die for a person or for a party but for the cause of the [Islamic] faith”, he declared. The conference which brought together representatives of almost the entire spectrum of political Islam in the country, Turabi’s deputy included, renewed the call for a strictly Islamic order as detailed in a draft constitution published under the name of the ICF in October last year, and warned President Bashir of an ‘Arab Spring’ in Sudan if he fails to follow through. The NCP, a partner in the venture, simply responded with the reassurance that sharia will prevail. The opposition in Khartoum, as expected, stumbled over its own incompetence and turned the whole issue into an internecine dispute over the significance of Abdalla Hassan Ahmed’s signature. The PCP’s Deputy Secretary General had attended the event and signed the founding charter of the ICF drawing fierce criticism from his party fellow Kamal Omer, the PCP’s permanent representative in the opposition alliance. The debate thus focused on whether Abdalla had signed in his personal capacity, Omer’s claim, or the capacity of his office, the opposition’s suspicion.
Whatever the case, the lesson to be drawn is that the NCP and its jealous allies are pursuing the consolidation of a political order defined by commitment to an Islamist frame of reference. Under these terms the NCP could only glee at a fracture in the political scene dividing between the supporters of sharia rule and its opponents, a situation that would naturally allow it to ride high on the Islamic wave and equate instances of opposition to its hegemony with the disparage of Islam as such. This ideological operation is a game that Sudan’s Islamists have mastered very well. Its roots in the Sudanese postcolony reach back to Ismail al-Azhari’s toying with sharia rule in the 1960s as a means to achieve presidential ambitions, while its perfection is certainly Hassan al-Turabi’s primary achievement. In the face of this challenge the opposition to the NCP has usually resorted to the category of soft sharia, or what President Bashir recently denigrated as coy revisionism of hardcore sharia obligations. Necessary, I presume, is the rejection of the sharia-secular dichotomy altogether rather than submission to rules of engagement that favour by virtue of their very formulation the claims of the puritan fundamentalist over those of the enlightened reformer. Sharia as an item of political grammar operates in a secular manner, and has become the name of secular demands. The emergent petty bourgeoisie of the Islamic Movement wrote sharia on their banners to storm the citadels of the sectarian parties, themselves reliant on another read of sharia for their ideological sustenance. Today, the NCP cheers sharia to quench the anti-systemic rage brewing in Khartoum’s impoverished neighbourhoods where feelings of neglect, exclusion and enstrangement are harnessed by the extra-NCP Islamist extreme. The claims of fidelity to sharia, and sharia as such, streamline the conflict in society rather than define it. No wonder it is the CPC that the NCP turns to for advice not the sheikhs of Islam. The counter-claim of Khartoum’s secular opposition has traditionally been the attempt to flake the form from the essence, the first perceived to be sharia and the second the Islamists’ drive for power. What is denied in this flat empiricism is the whole of the societal conflict that determines both.