Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Rift Valley Institute: Field Courses 2013

In 2013 the three RVI annual field courses will be held in Uganda. The Horn of Africa Course, established in 2008, covers Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia (including Somaliland and Puntland), and Northern Kenya. The 2013 Horn course will take place from 8 to 14 June; the Director of Studies is Ken Menkhaus. The Great Lakes course, now in its fourth year, covering Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), will be held from 22 to 28 June; the Director of Studies is Jason Stearns. The course is in English and French, with simultaneous translation. The tenth RVI Sudan and South Sudan course, covering all areas of Sudan, South Sudan, and the borderlands between the two, will be held from 6 to 12 July. The Director of Studies is Justin Willis. A course prospectus, containing further details on all three courses, can be downloaded here. Apply online here.

Another coup: the politics of temptation

The contradictions ravaging the Sudanese Islamic Movement (SIM) matured in the folds of its 8th General Conference into an antagonism between loyalists and dissidents, an antagonism that the state attempted to resolve by means of a purge. Media coverage tended to portray the first as ‘hardliners’ and the second as ‘reformers’, a mystification compounded by the drama of the foiled coup plot which landed Salah Gosh, Sudan’s former spy chief, and Brigadier General Mohamed Ibrahim Abd al-Jalil, the ‘emir of the mujahideen’ better known to his admirers as ‘Wad Ibrahim’, and their associates in detention. Instead of reaping the benefits of their political investment in reform rhetoric, meagre as they may appear, the dissident ‘Saihoon’ of the SIM and National Congress Party (NCP), a pregnant Arabic term that translates in this context roughly into ‘God-seeking wanderers’, were tempted by the presence of combat-hardened officers and paramilitary ‘jihadists’ in their midst to try their luck at a putsch, the routine folly of the notoriously self-indulgent and vicissitudinous Sudanese petty bourgeoisie. 
In the late hours of 21 November operatives of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) arrested their former chief Salah Gosh and his alleged associates, among them the celebrated Wad Ibrahim, a man who once commanded the President’s guard, the former commander of the Sudanese-Chadian Border Force Fath al-Raheem Abdalla Suleiman, and the senior military intelligence officer Adil al-Tayeb. Fingers were instinctively directed at Ghazi Salah al-Din, assistant to the President and leader of the NCP’s parliamentary caucus, as the suspected poster boy of the coup plot. Ghazi was the Saihoon’s revered candidate for the leadership of the SIM. He withdrew from the competition once it became clear that the loyalist camp had engineered a safe majority to drown the immediate demands of the Saihoon in the General Conference. The ‘democratic’ exercise did not satisfy the Saihoon’s ambitions. They accused the SIM leadership of swarming the conference with rustics from the provinces who did not know better, the standard argument raised by elite Islamists against the transformation of the SIM under the NCP from a closely-knit vanguard of predominantly petit bourgeoisie composition to a mass ‘tareeqa’ with little in the way of entry requirements and wide exit door. 
In defeat, the Saihoon announced themselves an inner-party platform of the NCP. They issued a statement under the name of the ‘NCP – Reform Platform’ pleading President Bashir to release the detainees. The Saihoon fulminated against the Minister of Defence, Abd al-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, asking for his immediate dismissal. The Minister, said the statement, was responsible for the poor performance of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF) in the Sudanese war zones and directly to blame for the failure of the army to respond to repeated Israeli attacks on the country. “We remain in expectation of the decisions you will make. Be assured that they [the detained officers] all love, adore, and respect you [President Bashir] but your minister of defence has left them with no other option,” concluded the statement addressing President Bashir. The Minister, complained the Reform Platform, forced the chief of military intelligence and other senior officers into retirement because they offered their advice and counsel, and is currently “creating problems with the commander of the Armoured Corps”. The demand for ‘reform’ with a popular and national scope unravelled to read like the imploring of a jealous lover anguished by an unforeseen spell of neglect. Indeed, the Saihoon could only remember their immediate effendiya concerns, positions in the SAF hierarchy in this case, when surprised by the counter-intrigue of the state apparatus. 
While Sudanese commoners went on with their daily lives recording the coup attempt as another instance in the long tale of petit bourgeoisie squabbles over control of the state, star dissidents of the historic Islamic Movement came out in defence of the ‘reform’ putschists. Abd al-Wahab El-Affendi, a Westminster University scholar and coordinator of its ‘Democracy and Islam Programme’, praised ‘Wad Ibrahim’ to the holy heavens. Wad Ibrahim is more popular in the officer corps than the Minister of Defence, he wrote. This is a man who still lives in a humble government-owned house, and does not possess a house of his own, a man unstained by corruption, he added. The same could have been said about President Bashir before he assumed office of course. To the great mass of the Sudanese the state-sponsored life-style of Wad Ibrahim, a salary and a government house and car and possibly government-funded Hajj, is the object of revolutionary envy, one severe enough as to ignite the rebellions that he excelled in combatting over the years of his career in the SAF. El-Affendi, as if by instruction, attempted in a terribly twisted argument to make the claim that Salah Gosh, a Sudanese Yagoda if any, was arrested together with the ‘noble’ officers led by Wad Ibrahim, in order to taint their “good reputation”. He then went on to make the argument for a “move by the army”, i.e. a coup, as the less costly route to effecting democratic change in the country. Either way, he concluded, whether an initiative of the army supported by the people or a popular movement supported by the army, the countdown of the regime has started. Well, when it took over power by the same putschist route in 1989 the National Islamic Front (NIF), the political cloak of the SIM at the time, traded the same alibi, ‘salvation’ by conspiracy. Petty bourgeoisie oscillation between the ‘path of the masses’ to use a preferred phrase of the late Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub, i.e. collective emancipatory action, and the fantasy of a swift short-cut to ‘genuine democracy’ led by a circle of ‘progressive’ officers could not be better illustrated. El-Affendi titled his piece “The army sides with the people (in advance)”.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Sudanese Islamic Movement: a parastatal tareeqa

When recounting the deeds of the Sudanese Islamic Movement (SIM) before the final session of its 8th General Conference in Khartoum’s Chinese-built Friendship Hall last Saturday the outgoing Secretary General and First Vice President of Sudan Ali Osman Mohamed Taha identified “the increase in the rate of religiosity” as its first accomplishment. Taha, a lawyer by training and devout bureaucrat by profession, borrowed from the jargon of state statistics to justify the maintenance of an organisation that has long lost its lustre as a political vanguard, an expensive feat indeed when one considers that the three days event came at a cost of around 1 billion Sudanese Pounds (over 226.5 million US Dollars) according to the conference spokeswomen, Sanaa Hamad al-Awad. Unaccounted for in this sum are the series of local and state-level mini-conferences held in preparations for the Hajj to Khartoum. The same Taha admonished the Sudanese a few months ago for spending beyond their means in order to show off among family and friends as he bullied parliamentarians from his own party into approving drastic austerity measures to counteract the loss of oil revenues in the aftermath of the secession of South Sudan. 
If anything the SIM was showing off among peers in the region and beyond, in what appeared like a second act of Hassan al-Turabi’s 1991 Popular Arabic and Islamic Conference, without Turabi. The ‘pious and religious’ of the ‘Arab Spring’ were all there to witness the facelift of the SIM: Rashid al-Ghannushi of the ruling Ennahda Movement in Tunisia, Khaled Meshal of the Palestinian Hamas, the General Guide of Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood Mohamed Badie, the General Guide of the Libyan Moslem Brotherhood Bashir Abd al-Salam al-Kebti, the Deputy General Guide of the Syrian Moslem Brotherhood Ali Sadr al-Din al-Bayanouni, as well as the Emir of the Pakistani Jamaat e-Islami Syed Munawar Hassan, and representatives of Islamic movements from Chad, Senegal and Nigeria among other countries, each of course in an entourage of followers and assistants. Syed Munawar Hassan for instance was accompanied by five others including his wife and women league leader of the Jamaat, Begum Aisha Munawar. The list of attendants was sufficiently ‘internationalist’ as to ignite the suspicion of Arab Gulf governments weary of the machinations of the transnational Moslem Brotherhood. A critical tweet from the Dubai Police chief Dhahi Khalfan Tameem suggesting that the brothers were in Khartoum to conspire against the sheikhdoms of the Gulf prompted the conference chairman, al-Tayeb Ibrahim Mohamed Khair, to issue a statement declaring that the SIM had full respect for the sovereignty of individual Moslem countries. Taha, however, could not resist the temptation of the international platform. After dwelling on the religiosity rate and other issues of Sudanese relevance he broke into a shrieking staccato of sloganeering in rhyme to stumble into “no to the United Nations”, “no to the Security Council”, “no to the international injustice council”, “Islam is coming”, “from Sudan coming, from Egypt coming, from Libya advancing, from Sri Lanka coming, from Nigeria creeping, from Somalia keeping pace, from all the Ummah…”. The Vice President’s voice broke a little before climbing up to a finale of prayer, President Bashir was apparently amused by the performance, and the conference delegates were enthralled. Rather than bring out the composure of the statesman Taha displayed the worn out fashions of his student career as Chairman of the Khartoum University Students’ Union (KUSU) during the ‘leftist’ seventies, a time when the SIM was a small pack of rustic youth angered by the ‘cosmopolitan’ vices of Khartoum. 
For a moment there Khartoum seemed like a Moscow of pan-Islamic revolution. The Hamas politburo chief vowed revenge for the Israeli attack on the Yarmouk factory as Gaza was being bombed, and Taha proclaimed the ‘liberation of Palestine’ a priority for an Islamic international in the making. The entire fanfare had a much more immediate function though, one limited to the maintenance of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and its Islamist base. At the mighty price tag above the post-Turabi state-administered SIM managed to secure a degree of regional legitimacy that placed it on par with ‘Arab Spring’ counterparts. Mohamed Badie and Khaled Meshal delivered Friday sermons in Khartoum mosques praising Sudan’s pioneering Islamic experiment, and President Bashir played host to Rashid al-Ghannushi, a man who has Turabi to thank for safe sanctuary and a Sudanese diplomatic passport during years of exile. A spiteful Turabi wrote an open letter to the ‘brothers’ from abroad renouncing the SIM of Taha as a fake and pleading for recognition as the legitimate and sole figurehead of modern political Islam in Sudan but to no avail. They dined, exchanged ‘pious’ jokes and posed with President Bashir while Turabi tended to his wounded pride at home, a general without an army or rather a disowned father. 
The magic of an Islamic international assembled in Khartoum to witness Sudan’s Islamic experiment impressed the delegates of the conference as much as it cost the treasury. Taha and Co wooed the floor into approving the draft constitution proposed by the last meeting of the SIM Shura (Consultative) Council, an inflated Central Committee of four hundred members, with no more than punctuation modifications. Over the past year, the Islamist rank has been consumed in a dispute over the relationship with the ruling NCP and the government, a rather dull remake of the conflict that ended with the break-up between President Bashir and Hassan al-Turabi in 1998/1999. Two leading figures of the SIM framed the dispute in clear terms shortly before the start of the Conference. Ghazi Salah al-Din, the ‘hope and change’ candidate of the younger ranks of the SIM, advocated in a brief article published in two Khartoum newspapers simultaneously for the autonomy of the SIM from the NCP and the government, a notion that one of his sympathizers phrased as “the liberation of the Movement from the state”. On the other end, the SIM veteran Ahmed Abd al-Rahman called for the dissolution of the SIM as such in the NCP and claimed wide support for the idea in the upper echelons of the ruling party. In formal terms, the conflict crystallized around two clauses in the draft constitution presented to the conference, one dictating the election of the Secretary General from the Shura Council instead of the General Conference, and a second clause that provides for the establishment of a ‘Supreme Leadership’ for the SIM composed of its committed members in the leadership of the government, the ruling party and the ‘special branches’, i.e. the security services. To Ghazi Salah al-Din and his supporters the first clause undermined the legitimacy of the Secretary General, and the second stripped the office of all authority. The General Conference voted in favour of both articles adding only the qualification ‘coordinative’ to the definition of the Supreme Leadership. Plainly put, President Bashir and his deputies in the government and the party, i.e. Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and Nafie Ali Nafie, as well as the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, and security and military chiefs, will continue to watch over the shoulders of the Secretary General lest Turabi’s ghost settle into his jellabiya. 
The motley Ghazi camp came out of the second day of the General Conference defeated and bitter. Writing in al-Intibaha, one of the Ghazi’s sympathizers dismissed the proceedings of the day as a ‘democratic’ fiasco, where numbers overwhelmed the merit requirements of Islamic shura. It was the women of the SIM, he complained, undeservingly granted equal votes to men, who tilted the count in favour of the two disputed clauses. Modernity, it seems, had caught up with the SIM rejuvenators where they hoped it would serve them better. Ghazi himself leaked to al-Intibaha the decision to withdraw from the competition for the general secretariat, an office he ridiculed as worthless with the Supreme Leadership weighing over its occupant. Elections for the Shura Council were held on the third day of the conference in a closed session that extended to the early hours of Sunday. The General Conference elected 340 members of the 400 strong Shura Council, the ‘mass’ complement to a safe core of sixty including President Bashir, his deputies in the Presidency and party, SIM members in the cabinet, and top ‘special branches’ officials. The new Shura Council convened the next day in the smaller, shabby al-Zubeir Mohamed Salih Hall in Khartoum to declare al-Zubeir Ahmed al-Hassan (b. 1955) Secretary General of the SIM, the only contender for the post after Ghazi Salah al-Din’s withdrawal, and one of three nominees favoured by President Bashir. Ghazi’s name was not written, to quote Adil Imam. An economist by education al-Zubeir cycled through the Sudan’s Islamic banks before becoming deputy governor of the Bank of Sudan and then Minister of Finance. He left the cabinet in the recent reshuffle and currently chairs the economic sector of the NCP besides his seat in the National Assembly. 
The new Secretary General of the SIM appeared the next day on the Blue Nile TV in the flowing white jellabiya and shoulder wrap of the pious Sudanese elder. He stroked a generous white-grey beard as he responded to the calibrated questions of a prudent host. Until a day before only an Ustaz, the title of the Sudanese effendi, al-Zubeir was now the ‘Sheikh’, a veneration that ranks him equal to the grand heads of Sufi tareeqas (brotherhoods). al-Zubeir defended the worth of his office against Ghazi’s critique, and went further. In rejecting the benign notion of coordination between the SIM, its ruling party and its government in the form of a coordinative Supreme Leadership the opponents of the new constitution were attempting to lift the Secretary General of the SIM above the President, he accused. The new ‘Sheikh’ said he was ready to engage Hassan al-Turabi towards the greater good of unifying the Moslems. Thanks to the 1998/1999 fracture in the Movement both the government and the opposition are currently dominated by Islamist forces, added al-Zubeir with content. 
Rather than “liberate” the Islamic Movement from the state the 8th General Conference consummated its ‘nationalization’ as it were. The rebirth and rejuvenation that Ghazi’s supporters wailed about would have required the heresy of a sectarian split (I depend here on Slavoj Zizek’s reading of T.S. Elliot), an adventurous and costly undertaking that neither Ghazi, who prides in being a Khartoum dandy, nor his core support base of state-spoiled young professionals, were ready to dare. The entire episode started with a memorandum, it should be noted, the plea of the ‘thousand brothers’, now a Facebook group chattering away their dissatisfaction.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

President Bashir: throat politics

It is a sign of the times that the principal political question occupying the ‘political club’ in Khartoum these days, in government and opposition, is whether the swelling excised out of President Bashir’s throat is benign or malignant. The President’s brother, Abdalla al-Bashir, himself a physician, told reporters that the results of the pathological examination of the presidential sample revealed a benign tumour while opponents on the blogosphere quoted ‘informed medical sources’ saying that the President surely has a cancer. 
The condition besetting the President silenced him to a considerable degree, quite a calamity for a political leader whose main distinguishing mark from his allies and contenders in the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) is his throat mechanics so to speak. The President, unlike many of the PhDs-laden NCP high guard, is capable of projecting himself as a man of the people. He is known for his bellicose and inflammatory speeches, often followed by a round of dance and stick waving in the grand styles of Sudanese riverain patriarchy, theatricalised of course to serve the purposes of state power. Over time, the President’s public performances have become a distinct genre of entertainment. Crowds are truly disappointed when for any particular reason he fails to drift from the script of his speeches or does not allot time for the show thereafter. The Minister of Defence, Abd al-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, began recently to emulate the President’s moves but has proved a much poorer speaker and a terrible dancer. Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, although he tries, is quite lame when addressing masses. Unlike President Bashir, who quickly shifts to colloquial Sudanese Arabic after the first few lines of religious jargon, Taha has failed to unlearn the classical Arabic that cadres of the National Islamic Front (NIF) insist on as evidence of their Islamic credentials following Hassan al-Turabi’s example. As an orator Taha sounds more like the provincial school headmasters of (old) Sudan whom people might respect but do not identify with. In that regard, Taha’s argumentation skills are only demonstrable behind closed doors, his strengths being a mastery of organization and bureaucratic intrigue acquired through years of experience stretching back to the time when he sat in Nimayri’s parliament, the People’s Council, following the ‘national reconciliation’ of 1977. 
Speculations about President Bashir’s health status fuelled a latent controversy over succession in the hallways of Khartoum power. The press toyed with the issue, various candidates were identified and Taha-cheerleaders went on the campaign, but only for a brief spell. The security authorities eventually barred newspapers from reporting on the presidential throat apart from the official statements released by the President’s press office, and pre-publication censorship was re-instituted to ensure compliance. The fuss inside the NCP however was too loud to control. The deputy speaker of parliament, Hajo Gasm al-Seed, told reporters that it was high time for the ruling party to name a successor for President Bashir. The NCP’s Amin Hassan Omer, usually disciplined when it comes to in-house disputes, told the Saudi al-Sharq al-Awsat that Taha was the most likely candidate to replace Bashir. When it became clear though that the President’s throat might not be the focus of ‘malignancy’ it was thought to be, the more cautious swiftly reversed the signs. Ahmed Abd al-Rahman, an elder of the Islamic Movement and the NCP, suggested that the President continue in office for another term, and additionally assume the leadership of the Islamic Movement. The Movement, he stated, should dissolve its separate structures and fuse totally in the NCP under the command of President Bashir. Ahmed Abd al-Rahman said this proposal had the backing of Nafie Ali Nafie and others in the party. Amin Hassan Omer, in a TV interview broadcast this Sunday, fudged words when asked to address the succession controversy. He delivered however an interesting statistic. Over five million people in total, he said, attended the grass roots conferences of the NCP in 2011, while just over five hundred thousand attended the Islamic Movement’s conferences. Amin steered clear of the ‘younger’ Islamic Movement and NCP ‘dissidents’, the memoranda writers of the past few months, a constituency he had sought to appease with a series of critical articles proposing a generation shift in the ruling party. 
Django, reckoned the NCP nomenclatura, still has the grit in him to strike again. The question, I suppose, is who will fetch the canes.
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.