Friday, 23 March 2012

Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud: A Sudanese communist

Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud, 1930 - 2012
(photo credits Talal Afifi)
Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud (b. 1930), the Political Secretary of the Communist Party of Sudan (CPS), passed away yesterday afternoon at the age of 82 in London where he was seeking medical attention. Nugud learned the skills of dodging the punitive apparatus of the state early in his life. He was dismissed in 1952 from the University College Khartoum and incarcerated a whole year for his role in a wave of popular demonstrations against British colonial rule. Upon his release Nugud fled Sudan in disguise to continue his studies in Sofia University, Bulgaria, where he earned a degree in philosophy. He returned to the country in 1958 to become a full time political agitator in the ranks of the CPS battling the military dictatorship of General Abboud (1958-1964). Nugud spent the year 1961 in the prisons of Malakal and Juba for his political activities. 
Following the victory of the 1964 Revolution Nugud was elected a member of parliament in 1965 on a CPS ticket, but was expelled from the house together with the eleven other communist MPs only months later. In November 1965 the parliament voted to ban the CPS and dismiss its elected representatives from the house in an episode of unconstitutional political malice orchestrated by Hassan al-Turabi and his associates in the Islamic Charter Front (ICF). Wary of the accelerating influence of the CPS, considering its decisive role in the 1964 Revolution and the political clout it reaped from the victory, the two sectarian parties, the Umma and the Unionists, backed Turabi in his pledge and delighted in seeing the CPS reduced once again to an illegal organisation. 
Unknowingly, the political parties invited upon themselves a greater evil than the one they thought they had dispelled by banning the CPS. Jaafar Nimayri, the Nasser styled Free Officer, justified his putsch of May 1969 with the claim of defending the progressive gains of the 1964 Revolution against the forces of reaction. Nugud was to say the least well informed of Nimayri’s plans, as was the CPS. The party welcomed the 1969 putsch but refused to grant it the stature of a revolution. Several communist officers sat on Nimayri’s Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) but the CPS under Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub preferred to maintain its autonomy from the regime, a decision that did not find Soviet favour. During the year 1970 the CPS split into two, a faction that chose to dissolve in the regime’s newly established one party, the Sudan Socialist Union, and a majority that backed Abd al-Khalig’s autonomic position. Nimayri eventually dismissed the communist officers in the RCC and they responded with a coup attempt, the 19 July 1971 Corrective Movement. Following two days of military confrontations in the capital Nimayri returned victorious in a counter-coup and the communists were defeated. A bloody period of vendetta followed. Nimayri ordered the execution of the CPS top leadership including the political secretary Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub, and the officers involved in the context of a wide anti-communist purge. Nugud escaped Nimayri’s wrath in hiding together with several other leading figures of the party. He was then picked as Abd al-Khalig’s successor, a position that he occupied until his death this Thursday. Nugud became the master of clandestine activity; he emerged from the underground in 1985 upon the collapse of Nimaryi's regime to lead the CPS through the parliamentary period that lasted only four years. He was elected as a MP representing al-Diem, the Khartoum constituency where a woman was recently killed by the aggressive Public Order Police. 
When al-Bashir took over power in the 1989 putsch Nugud was jailed together with other prominent politicians in Cooper Prison and then placed under house arrest. He escaped his captors and slipped into hiding until early 2005. The Sudan that Nugud re-surfaced in was not the country he had experienced before. The challenge that faced him as political secretary of the CPS in the 2000s was much more formidable than his first test of endurance, the task of rebuilding the CPS following its debilitating confrontation with Nimayri’s regime. From the 1969-1971 setback Nugud drew the conclusion that the struggle for socialism in the conditions of Sudan must complement rather than negate the achievements of liberal democracy. His insights and the direction he devised for the party helped restore the democratic credentials of the CPS as it were. When the CPS re-emerged in 2005 from years of exile activity and clandestine agitation inside the country against the regime of President Bashir, thanks to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the situation had changed radically and was not anymore graspable with the simplistic opposition between dictatorship and parliamentary democracy. The CPS formula for change, restoration of the democratic order through a broad political alliance as a condition for the pursuit of a global solution for Sudan’s multiple crises, put it in one boat with the mainstream parties of the Khartoum establishment including Turabi’s Popular Congress Party (PCP) but did not deliver, a shortcoming of the party’s strategy that Nugud well recognized
Nugud was a sharp intellectual well versed in Marxist classics and the literature of Eurocommunism. He agreed with many of Althusser’s theses and was a great admirer of the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. Among his intellectual accomplishments is a pioneering book on the relations of slavery in Sudan. Before his death Nugud embarked on two research topics, the evolution of the Sudanese state, and the historical role of Sufi brotherhoods in Sudan. The thorough analysis of these three institutions, slavery, the state, and Sufi brotherhoods, he considered instrumental in understanding the historical trajectory of the country. I recall long evenings of conversation with him on these issues, discussions that he preferred over the persistent occupation with current politics. With his death the CPS has lost its leader, the Sudan a politician and an intellectual of calibre, and I personally a mentor and a friend. 

Monday, 19 March 2012

The SAF's no to the four freedoms

In a statement released late on Sunday the spokesperson of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Colonel al-Sawarmi Khaled Saad, claimed that the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement in North Sudan (SPLA/M-N) with the support of South Sudan was preparing to launch a new offensive in South Kordofan. On these grounds, concluded Saad, it is evident that South Sudan has scrapped the recent agreements signed between Juba and Khartoum. With this statement, it seems, the SAF declares its rejection of the four freedoms framework. In the same vein the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, and the Vice President, al-Haj Adam Yusif, both downplayed the significance of the four freedoms framework and affirmed that it neither affects the 8 April deadline or prejudices the amendments to the Sudanese nationality bill passed by the National Assembly. The Just Peace Forum, I guess, has mustered sufficient political muscle as to hold a veto over the ruling National Congress Party's political choices. 

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The NCP’s sobbing negotiators

Last Tuesday the negotiations teams of Sudan and South Sudan in Addis Ababa initialled two so called framework agreements, the first on the status of nationals of the other state, and the second on the stalled demarcation of the border between the two countries. While the latter, essentially a commitment to form a joint commission to oversee the process, passed almost unnoticed, the deal on the status of nationals in the other state became the focus of intense political positioning and mobilisation in Khartoum. The deal, applauded by the African Union and international observers, spelled out a commitment to negotiate through a joint committee co-chaired by the ministers of interior in the two countries the means to extend the freedoms of residence, movement, economic activity, and property to the nationals of each state in the other, following a transitional period of undetermined length during which efforts are to be accelerated to provide the nationals of each state resident in the other with appropriate identification and relevant documents. 
Even if approved by Presidents Kiir and Bashir, supposing that the announced summit meeting between the two does take place, the framework agreement remains just that, namely a suggested framework. It neither commits the two countries to any immediate measures to address the citizenship dilemma of the Sudanese stranded between the two states, nor can it protect the disenfranchised of Sudan’s partition from the impulsive behaviour of the law enforcement agencies to which they remain prey. Where politics failed the negotiators in Addis Ababa had administration to offer. It must be mentioned here that Khartoum and Cairo are also bound by a ‘four freedoms agreement’, but Sudanese travellers to Egypt are still obliged to obtain a visa. Obviously, Khartoum and Juba are under considerable international pressure to reach speedy solutions for their disputes, and as such had to produce at least a token of progress along that path. The four freedoms agreement declared in Addis Ababa serves that purpose well. It looks good and, unlike oil, entails no immediate costs. Well, what the National Congress Party (NCP) negotiators hoped would be a cheap exercise in public relations proved to be a domestic political crisis. 
The Just Peace Forum (JPF), headed by al-Tayeb Mustafa, declared the alarm upon announcement of the deal. In a statement published on the pages of its paper, al-Intibaha, the JPF announced its steadfast opposition to the agreement which it described as a “humiliation”, a “threat to national security”, and a second Naivasha. Tayeb Mustafa hurled insults at the NCP’s negotiators and Ishaq Ahmed Fadlalla, the author of a column that appears simultaneously in al-Intibaba as well as the NCP’s mouthpiece al-Raed, asked that the negotiators be sent to the war front in South Kordofan as a disciplinary measure. The JPF appealed to the imams of Khartoum’s mosques to make the four freedoms framework agreement the focus of their Friday sermons, and maintained that it will stop at nothing to prevent the implementation of the “catastrophic” deal. As a short cut al-Tayeb Mustafa implored his nephew, President Bashir, to scrap the deal as he had done before with another worthless framework agreement, the document signed between the NCP’s negotiators and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in North Sudan (SPLM-N) in June 2011. Both frameworks, I presume, were agreed upon with the sole aim of winning the approval of the international beholder. The June 2011 agreement was signed at the behest of the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the most recent pieces were penned down in the shadow of her threats and with the immediate intervention of the US Special Envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman. 
On Friday, a great number of Khartoum’s prominent preachers answered the call of the JPF. The most vocal was Sheikh Tanon, the imam of a posh mosque in the upper class Khartoum district, al-Mamoura. Tanon likened the four freedoms framework to the 1978 Camp David Accord signed by Egypt’s Sadat and Israel’s Begin. The negotiators who approved the deal, he claimed, had in doing so betrayed their faith and their country. Incidentally, the head of Khartoum’s negotiation team, Idris Mohamed Abd al-Gadir, was in the mosque listening to Tanon’s sermon. According to Saturday’s papers in Khartoum he stood up to defend his case to cries of reproach from his fellow worshippers. Overwhelmed Abd al-Gadir broke into tears. The NCP official contended with the claim that the ultimate responsibility for the deal lay not with him but with the President Bashir. In his daily column on Saturday Tayeb Mustafa described Abd al-Gadir as a mild chap incapable of facing up to Pagan Amum, the “predator”. He demanded that Abd al-Gadir and his team be replaced and punished for their repeated failures, the first being the mother of all disasters in Mustafa’s mind, the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). 
Only Ali Karti, Sudan’s Foreign Minister, the man who gets to feel the international pressure on the country at close range, attempted to defend the four freedoms framework in public. Informed by the experience of the June 2011 framework agreement the usually vocal NCP high priests did not dare an opinion. Ultimately, it is President Bashir, the sultan, who has to decide whether it pays better to bluff the international beholder or his domestic audience. Unlike Abd al-Gadir, he cannot sob his way out of the clutch of his lovers.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

RVI Field Courses 2012 - Final Application Deadlines

The RVI annual field courses are filling up and applications will be closing in a few weeks. The final application date for the Sudan and South Sudan course is 30 March; for the Horn of Africa course, 16 April; and for the Great Lakes course, 30 April. Applications after the deadline for each course will be considered only if there are cancellations. For more information please download the course prospectus, or apply online – or contact
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
For further information (or to request the application form as a Microsoft Word document), email

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Power to the NCP, sharia to the masses

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.
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.