Saturday, 28 January 2012

Wave of arrests in Khartoum

Sources report that tens of youth activists associated with the groups Girifna and Sharara have been arrested by the security authorities over the past two days in what seems to be a preemptive crackdown ahead of 30 January, the date of the relatively coordinated wave of demonstrations organised by the same youth groups last year in the capital and other major towns of (North) Sudan. 

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Intibaha Spring

Some ten days ago the Deputy Chairman of the National Congress Party (NCP), Nafie Ali Nafie, received a memorandum reportedly signed by one thousand members of the Islamic Movement, the semi-clandestine ancestor organisation of the ruling party. The document which became known as the ‘corrective memorandum’ summarized what its author(s) perceived as the commendable successes of the regime and its stark failures, and proposed a reform agenda to address its deficiencies. The 1999 fracture of the Islamic Movement into two fratricidal camps, the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) led by the veteran chief of the Movement, Hassan al-Turabi, and the governing NCP headed by President Bashir was identified as the most significant setback of the Islamic experiment in Sudan. To this the document added rampant corruption, political inconsistency as evidenced by the swing from a “totalitarian one-party system” to the current tolerance of opposition parties, “errors” committed by the government in Darfur, and the regime’s security obsessions.
Had the Islamic Movement not seized power in its 1989 coup, said the author(s), the country would have either fallen into the hands of Baath Party elements or Egyptian agents in the army, who were all jockeying to topple Sadiq al-Mahdi’s government. Guided by its innovative reading of Islamic scriptures (ijtihad) the Movement took the right decision at the right time, said the document, and thus obstructed the Western plot to install the rule of a Christian minority led by John Garang and his rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) over the country’s Muslim majority. This scenario, it went on, would have entailed the “ethnic cleansing” of Sudan’s Arabs, a repeat, it said, of the 1964 tragedy in Zanzibar and long before that the expulsion of the Arabs from Andalusia. The Movement faced up to this challenge, said the authors, defeated the rebels on the battlefront, and eventually managed to attain peace through a tortuous and exhausting negotiation process that culminated in a self-determination vote and the breakaway of South Sudan. This conclusion, stated the document, might be criticized by some as another of the Islamic Movement’s failures although it should count in its favour politically and intellectually. 
Publicly, the NCP’s leading figures welcomed the memorandum as an instance of awareness in the ranks of their party remarking that all the issues it discussed were already addressed in the party’s national convention held in December last year. However, neither President Bashir, the Chairman of the NCP, nor Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, his deputy and the Emir of the Islamic Movement, to whom the memorandum was directly addressed, made any public comments in its regard. The critical nature of the document compounded by the conspicuous silence of the two men at the top prompted observers in the Khartoum press to compare it to the famous ‘memorandum of the ten’ that signalled the 1999 conflict between President Bashir and Hassan al-Turabi. The NCP bigwigs dismissed the comparison and rubbished projections of an imminent split in the party as unjustified exaggerations. Qutbi al-Mahdi, the chairman of the party’s political sector, argued that the memorandum’s signatories had acted in good faith by preserving their anonymity. 
Qutbi, I presume, is right, but only in a false sense. The ‘corrective memorandum’ does not compare to the ‘memorandum of the ten’, and is unlikely to be the foreplay of a power struggle as fierce as the 1999 divorce between Turabi and Bashir. Its author(s) did not challenge the authority of the party’s leadership and their demands were largely a re-run of the NCP’s official line. The document detailed a set of reforms that the NCP, being the ruling party, should implement with the objective of rooting out corruption and achieving “comprehensive social and political justice”. These included the establishment of a judicial anti-corruption body, promotion of the regime’s political transformation towards an elections-based order that respects the free will of the citizenry, promulgation of a permanent constitution for the country, and guarantee of the independence of the judiciary. Regarding the NCP’s organisational well-being the document demanded that the ruling party sever its organic links to the state structures and develop binding rules to govern the office terms of its leaders. Apart from the reform rhetoric above the document made a few recommendations that deserve attention: continuation of the regime’s project to “Islamize” the state and society, “fearless enforcement of sharia without hesitation”, and coordination with the Islamic forces in the country to combat secularism and moral subversion. 
So what then is the correction of the ‘corrective memorandum’? I suppose al-Tayeb Mustafa spelled it out in his address to the Shura (Consultative) Council of his party, the Just Peace Forum (JPF), a few days after his paper, al-Intibaha, published the text of the memorandum. He told the meeting that the country’s troubles would only be resolved if and when the JPF is invited into the government. This, to my knowledge, is the first time that Mustafa loudly voices his power ambitions. Recently, al-Intibaha chided the NCP for accommodating the ‘sectarian’ forces of old Sudan at the expense of the Islamist vanguard. In fact, the ‘reform memorandum’ that al-Intibaha attributed to the mujahideen of the Islamic Movement, i.e. the combatants of the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) who took part in the war against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), reads like an editorial in the paper. Al-Intibaha actually dedicates a daily page to the glory of the mujahideen and their accomplishments. If not authored by al-Intibaha’s folks the document, it can be safely stated, mirrors their fantasies. Mustafa, of course, denied any links to the document but stressed that it did not go far enough. The Islamic Movement, he said, is in need of a “genuine revolution” and not the timid inking of demands. Lately, the JPF has been mobilising support in Sudan’s central states as a separate entity from the NCP. The party chairman, al-Tayeb Mustafa, tours the country to spread his message and receive vows of allegiance. The JPF teamed up with several forces from the Islamist fringe and drafted an ‘Islamic constitution’ for the rump (North) Sudan which they eventually delivered to President Bashir. The NCP notables, Ghazi Salah al-Din, Amin Hassan Omer and Qutbi al-Mahdi all publish frequent musings in al-Intibaha and are habitually celebrated on its pages. Ghazi in particular has lately become a favourite of al-Tayeb Mustafa. The man stands out in the crowd of the NCP nomenklatura by his 2008 attempt to displace Ali Osman Mohamed Taha from the leadership of the Islamic Movement. Although largely dormant and hollowed out the Movement remains a handy tool in the contests of the ruling elite. 
The memorandum in a certain sense defines the limits of the permissible in today’s Sudan. Criticism of the NCP functionaries, even the bitterest, is tolerated if not encouraged in the same fashion that prohibitions cry out for their violation, provided that the ultimate authority of the man at the top is acknowledged. He and his intimate captains, Bakri Hassan Salih and Abd al-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, identify with the domain of sovereignty, the establishing violence of the political order that came into being with the 1989 coup. Even the polished Ghazi would not dare transgress that line. In his recent lecture at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London he argued for the same set of reforms proposed in the ‘corrective memorandum’, i.e. the necessity of a permanent constitution, a wider concept of justice and ‘democratization’, however within the framework defined by the formal requirements of state formation and institutionalisation, bluntly stated submission to the hegemonic order he shares in running. This unqualified distinction between state formation and competition for political power is equally prominent in the debates of Khartoum’s opposition. Shafie Khidir, for instance, developed the theme of a neutral space guaranteed by a democratic constitution and state structures equidistant from the political parties and formations where contestation for power is to take place once the NCP regime is dislodged. The state, however, is never the neutral arbiter it is presumed to be, even less so when it relies on gate-keeping i.e. the control of export-import outlets for its very existence. In concrete terms, what Sudan is being promised is deliverance from the NCP proper to the JPF and allies under the benevolent watch of Bashir and his fellow officers.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Rift Valley Institute (RVI): 2012 Field courses: applications open

The Institute's annual field courses offer an intensive, graduate-level approach to the history, culture and political economy of three subregions: Sudan and South Sudan; the Horn of Africa; and the Great Lakes. The courses consist of a six-day dawn-to-dusk programme of lectures, seminars and panel discussions, led by international specialists and scholars and activists from the region. Dates and locations are as follows:
- Sudan and South Sudan Course, Rumbek, S. Sudan, 26 May-1 June
- Horn of Africa Course, near Mombasa, Kenya, 16-22 June
- Great Lakes Course, Bujumbura, Burundi, 7-13 July
Download the prospectus here and/or apply online here. For further information (or to request the application form as a Microsoft Word document), email Applications will be considered in order of receipt.

Monday, 16 January 2012

New positions at the Rift Valley Institute London office - apply by 29 February

The Institute welcomes applications for two newly-created posts. The first is a Finance and Administrative Officer, to work with the RVI Programme Director on book-keeping and accounts, grant administration and office management. The second is a Publications and Public Relations Manager: a writer/editor/administrator who will work with the Executive Director to develop the RVI's publishing programme, manage digital content, and advance the Institute's public profile. The successful candidates will join the RVI's core team in London. For details write to Applications close 29 February

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The imam, the sheikh, and the secular

Last week witnessed an exhibitionist exchange of accusations between the National Umma Party (NUP) chief and Ansar imam, Sadiq al-Mahdi, and his brother in law Hassan al-Turabi, the sheikh of the Popular Congress Party (PCP), fellows in the “wobbly” opposition alliance, the National Consensus Forces (NCF). The feud began with Sadiq al-Mahdi’s dismissal of the NCF as a “wobbly” structure hopelessly detached from the beat of the streets. The NCF, said al-Mahdi, had exhausted its credibility by repeatedly claiming that a popular revolt against President Bashir’s regime was around the corner. Instead, he suggested, the opposition should uphold the ‘national agenda’ and seek constructive engagement with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).  The ‘national agenda’ is the title Sadiq gave to a set of reform proposals he had presented to the NCP as a condition for the NUP’s participation in the government.
Apparently, Sadiq al-Mahdi overestimated his price, and was eventually outflanked by his historical rival Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani and his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the NCP’s new partner in the cabinet. According to Sadiq’s cousin and competitor in the leadership of the NUP, Mubarak al-Fadil al-Mahdi, the coalition talks between the NCP and the NUP collapsed at the latter’s insistence that the NCP overhaul the security apparatus and armed forces to accommodate the incomers. Mubarak claimed that the NCP had offered the NUP as much as half the cabinet positions, and even agreed to introduce a prime minister office to suit Sadiq al-Mahdi, but vehemently rejected the propositions of the NUP pertaining to the military and the security bodies. It is obviously hard to verify Mubarak’s account of the NUP-NCP flirt. Whatever the details of the exchange, Sadiq’s party emerged out of the affair firing in all directions. Sadiq’s eldest son and heir apparent, Abd al-Rahman, became President Bashir’s advisor, his daughter, Mariam, continued to agitate for urgent regime change, and the Imam himself muddled in between. He dissociated himself from the opposition and ridiculed its pretentious zeal, but could not force his party to accept the NCP’s offers. Reportedly however he agreed with President Bashir to lead a constructive opposition.
The next twist came with the arrest of the Hassan al-Turabi’s deputy in mid-December. Ibrahim al-Sanosi was apprehended by the security authorities in Khartoum airport upon his return from a trip to Juba and Kampala, both refuge venues for the leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in North Sudan (SPLM-N) and their allies. The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) claimed that al-Sanosi was on a mission to orchestrate a grand plot targeting the overthrow of the regime. As evidence the security agency presented a document allegedly found among al-Sanosi’s belongings. In a speech marking the anniversary of Sudan’s independence Sadiq mocked the PCP’s enthusiasm for ‘democracy’ as measured against the responsibility of the National Islamic Front (NIF) for the 1989 putsch that put an end to his four years reign as prime minister. They invited us to take part in a coup plot, said Sadiq al-Mahdi, prompting Hassan al-Turabi to hold a press conference the next day. Sadiq al-Mahdi is a “liar”, said Turabi, repeating the slight thrice. The sheikh accused Sadiq of collaborating with the NISS in the clamp down on his party. In association with al-Sanosi’s arrest the security authorities had once again shut down the PCP’s mouthpiece, Rai al-Shaab, and seized its assets. Turabi more or less challenged the NISS to arrest him, an invitation that the NCP explicitly declined, saying that the old sheikh wanted to theatrically install himself a hero of anti-government resistance. Sadiq al-Mahdi’s office issued a statement of clarification saying that the imam was not referring to a recent event but to a message carried to him by the NIF figure Suleiman Ahmed Suleiman shortly before the June 1989 coup.
Turabi’s party chose to disclose the clandestine document that the NISS claimed to have seized with al-Sanosi, a three pages projection written in all likelihood by Turabi himself. After the standard opposition depiction of the country’s crisis the author suggested three possible future scenarios, reconciliation between the NCP and its opponents, a putsch, or a popular revolt against the regime. The first was judged as improbable considering the NCP’s adamant attachment to power, and the second dismissed as unappealing. Regarding the third option, the document warned of an extended confrontation between the regime and its opponents which might well result in widespread civil war and accelerate the country’s fragmentation. To counter this risk and secure a favourable outcome the author advised a speedy well organized ‘revolution’ under the control of the established political parties with the guarantee of a streamlined transition to parliamentary rule, a chocolate laxative, I assume.
The last scene in this self-parody took place two days ago. The two elderly gentlemen responded to a reconciliation mediation led by Hala Abd al-Haleem, a younger Khartoum politician who presides over the miniscule New Democratic Forces Movement (Haqq). After a lengthy meeting in the premises of Haqq the two leaders came out all smiles. Standing between the two Hala declared that the sheikh and the imam had agreed to rest their disputes and cooperate towards toppling the regime. She stated further that Turabi had agreed to the restructuring of the opposition alliance, the NCF, along the lines suggested by Sadiq al-Mahdi. Knowing Sadiq’s infatuation with titles and honours, the press in Khartoum speculated that the imam might be interested in chairing the revamped opposition umbrella, a position currently occupied by the party-less Farouq Abu Issa.  
Hala heads one of two wings of a party that is itself the outcome of the fracture of an organisation founded by al-Khatim Adlan in the 1990s. The late Adlan was a prominent ex-communist who turned his back to the Sudanese Communist Party upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. His departure text, ‘Time for change’, which draws heavily from Alvin Toffler’s bestsellers, became the bible of a new generation of politically ambitious intellectuals in Khartoum and the Sudanese diaspora. As soon as it was established however Adlan’s movement split into two, one led by himself in exile and another inside the country under the tutelage of his contemporary and competitor, al-Haj Warrag. At the time, Adlan advocated for armed insurgency against the regime while Warrag called for peaceful resistance. Adlan passed away and Warrag reversed his position, but that is another story.
Recently, what remained of Adlan’s movement divided yet again in the wake of a drawn-out and highly publicized confrontation between its chairwoman, Hala Abd al-Haleem, and her mentor and erstwhile sponsor, al-Bagir al-Afeef. The two wrestled over the control of a cultural centre established by al-Afeef to honour the intellectual heritage of al-Khatim Adlan. Hala accused Afeef of embezzling funds and he simply hailed insults at her. I suggest that Turabi take it from here. He is by all means well-endowed to lead a mediation bid between the two for the general purpose of toppling the regime. 
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.