Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Suad Ibrahim Ahmed: “I am fighting”

Death robbed me of another ‘teacher’ this Sunday. Suad Ibrahim Ahmed, a veteran Sudanese communist, passed away in a Khartoum hospital in the early hours of 29 December at the age of 78. Born into a family of prestige and wealth, Suad chose the perilous path of the counter-effendi the moment she awoke to political consciousness as one of a few female students in Khartoum University in the late 1950s. Her father, Ibrahim Ahmed, was a distinguished politician of the Umma Party of a liberal mould and minister of finance in Abdalla Khalil’s cabinet. The daughter was raised in the shell of Khartoum’s grand and great, one she broke out of with the tool of mind. 
Suad Ibrahim Ahmed (1935 - 2013)
 photo credits Isam Hafeez
Talal Afifi, the man behind the Sudan Film Factory, introduced me to Suad. We visited her in her Khartoum (2) house, a history book by itself, for a video interview as part of a project to document the experiences of those distinguished Sudanese communists who lived through the 1971 purges and came out alive. Talal chose the title “We survived” for the series but it never saw completion, partially because of the stubborn resistance of many to speak about events they felt were still very much contemporary. It was in Suad’s house that the last meeting between the commanding officer of the 1971 communist coup Hashim al-Atta and the party chief Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub took place. Both men did not survive. Hashim was executed by firing squad in al-Shajara military base south of Khartoum and Abd al-Khalig died on the gallows of Cooper Prison in Khartoum North. Suad did survive, one of four women elected to the thirty three members Central Committee in the Communist Party’s historic 1967 general convention, next to Mahasin Abd al-Aal, Naima Babiker al-Rayah and Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim. I asked her how she landed in the communist bosom considering her background and education. She answered in the sharp tones of a militant: ‘The Origin of the Family’ referring to Engels’ book ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’. For many a feminist in Sudan, Suad was the woman to look up to, assertive, defiant and incorrigibly political. Alas, many of her admirers in recent years overlooked her politics in favour of her symbol. 
In her study, Suad had a desktop PC that she commanded with fingers severely disfigured by rheumatoid arthritis, one of several diseases she had to suffer in her later years. She was persistently in pain but brushed off sympathetic questions about her health with the answer: “I am fighting,” and a fighter she was. She was fired from government service in the statistics bureau in the early 1960s for opposing the flooding of Halfa and the eviction of its residents to make way for the construction of the Higher Dam in Egypt. The government of Ibrahim Abboud probably regretted the move, since it prompted Suad to become a full time journalist for the ‘The Voice of Women’, the surgically subversive publication of the Sudanese Women Union at the time. A Nubian herself, Suad continued to champion the cause of her people in the face of dams and displacement till her last breath, a legacy that won her the name “Mother of the Nubians”. 
Unlike many fellow Sudanese communists, Suad had the indispensable skill of making and managing money judiciously, capacities that she possibly acquired from her father, and also her husband, the late Hamid al-Ansari, one of a handful of Sudanese businessmen who associated with the Communist Party and probably funded it in its heydays. Hamid is remembered for his brave refusal to testify against Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub in the military tribunals set up by the revenge-thirsty Nimeiry following the defeat of the 1971 coup as bullets burst through the bodies of the accused officers within hearing distance. Suad spent money on the causes she believed in, a lot of it. She set up a centre to teach threatened Nubian languages in Cairo in the 1990s and continued to support initiatives and individuals in Sudan whenever need arose. Suad the Nubian will be missed by many; others will miss the feminist; some the communist. I will miss that invincible spirit, the emaciated white-haired woman seated in her study, her twisted swollen aching fingers defiantly tipping messages of solidarity letter by letter, each typo requiring excruciatingly painful repetition.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Bahnas died


Mohamed Bahnas, a dear friend, talented painter, poet and musician, froze to death this week on Cairo's streets, homeless, and isolated but from the clutter of contradictions that kept his mind ever alert. Born in Omdurman in 1972, Bahnas found refuge in artistic expression from an early age. The profession he sought most though was life itself. He chased it in the 'araki' quarters of Khartoum, the mosques of Omdurman, the conversations of the tired intellectuals of the capital, the glare of Paris and Berlin, in the company of friends and the faces of strangers. 
In the meantime, he painted profusely, wrote fresh poetry in a language made from the chatter of the streets turned into eloquent verse with a purpose, he cursed, made friends and enemies, disgusted many, and broke a few hearts. A 'malamati' of his age, Bahnas cycled restlessly between beliefs, convictions and fragmentary philosophical notions without ever finding a mental home as it were.
The last time I saw Bahnas was in December 2012. He sat at a distance from the loud crowd of the Goethe Institut's cafeteria in Khartoum drawing a self-portrait. We exchanged the usual greetings and then drifted into a full-blown discussion of 'Islamic' morality. He had just returned from a lengthy 'khalwa' committed to a form of mystical belief that he could not well explain. He corrected his sentences as he spoke unsatisfied with the shadows cast by his words, dropping one for a close synonym as he explored clarity in vain. Failing to reach consensus we exhanged jokes, laughed and drank the habitual teas of Khartoum's evenings as old friends just do. All the while he added a line and another to his drawing. 
The self-portrait I did not see completed, but I suppose he has just delivered his last drawing to the world, his own body flung on a Cairo street, resting forever in the cold of night. I have only words to mourn you ya my friends, farwell.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Sudan’s NCP: reshuffle and recharge

After months of wrangling within the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), the government declared its greatest ‘makeover’ since the split with Hassan al-Turabi in 1998/1999. Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, the long-serving First Vice President, in office since 1998 with an interlude as Vice President during the period of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), 2005 – 2011, was replaced by President Bashir’s confidante Bakri Hassan Salih, the only remaining member of the cohort of officers who led the 1989 coup in the circle of power. Hasabu Mohamed Abd al-Rahman, a native of South Darfur who served as commissioner of the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) during the height of the Darfur conflict and lately as Minister of Federal Rule, took over as Vice President from al-Haj Adam Yusif. Nafie Ali Nafie, the NCP strongman and assistant of President Bashir, lost his post to Ibrahim Ghandoor, and a majority of cabinet ministers including NCP stalwarts who had long recycled in the cabinet like Awad al-Jaz, Abd al-Haleem Ismail al-Mutaafi and Amin Hassan Omer were replaced by second-tier officials mostly promoted from administrative positions in the same ministries or called in from the states. Notably, the last remaining negotiators of the CPA and cooperation agreements with South Sudan, Idris Mohamed Abd al-Gadir and Mohamed Mukhtar Hussein, both state ministers, vacated their positions for new appointees. Likewise, the relatively younger al-Fatih Izz al-Din assumed the position of speaker of parliament instead of Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir who had held the post since 2001. Issa Bushra, the departing Minister of Science and Education was named as deputy speaker instead of Hajo Gasm al-Seed. Three prominent ministers though maintained their posts, Abd al-Raheem Mohamed Hussein in defense, Ali Karti in foreign affairs, and Mohamed Bushara Dousa in justice. Hussein has long been a target of severe criticism even within the NCP and in the officer corps of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) but continues to enjoy President Bashir’s confidence comparably only to the new First Vice President Bakri Hassan Salih. Hussein, like the President is indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed in Darfur.
The perception that the reshuffle marked the strengthening of the grip of the military over power at the expense of the civilian faction of the regime seems overrated since the two military figures in the inner circle of power, Bakri Hassan Salih and Abd al-Raheem Mohamed Hussein, never lacked influence over decision-making, and certainly always had the trust of the President. Rather, the reshuffle, particularly when considering appointments at the level of state ministers, is suggestive of a shift from the ‘old guard’ of the historic Islamic Movement to cadres groomed under the reign of the NCP, a demand that has been repeatedly voiced within the party. Nevertheless, the promotion of Bakri Hassan Salih to First Vice President, preceded by his recent appointment in the leadership council of the NCP and the higher leadership of the NCP-loyal Islamic Movement lends credence to the idea that he might be picked as President Bashir’s successor. Such a transfer of power, although only a speculation, would secure an exit for President Bashir without the risk of delivery to the ICC. 
While the opposition including Ghazi al-Attabani’s new ‘Reform Now Movement’ dismissed the reshuffle as a cosmetic measure and reiterated the demand of a ‘transitional government’ and the resignation of President Bashir himself, the government overhaul is likely to be welcomed by the rank of file of the NCP, particularly that it stresses the possibility of upward mobility for home-grown loyal cadres who do not compare in prestige and standing with the ‘old guard’, distinguished by their foreign doctorates and international exposure. This regenerative ability, limited as it might be, challenges the opposition parties on a level that the parties would probably wish to ignore, namely the long reign of their own leaders. That said, the response of the mainstream opposition was generally one of bewilderment, much like the reaction to the coup in 1989 mythologised by Tayeb Salih’s question in an Op-Ed published in the Saudi magazine al-Majalla in the early nineties “Where did they come from?” 
The opposition simply had no idea who these new ministers were. In the press, only al-Intibaha’s al-Sadiq al-Rizeigy offered biographical profiles of the new statesmen. Rizeigy hit a nail on the head with the remark that the calculus of rule in Sudan had changed from the domination of the urban ‘effendiya’ proper, the types picked by the late Nimeiry over the main evening news bulletin from the power-spoiled Khartoum University staff, to the ambitious elites of rural Sudan. In the style of the Justice and Equality Movement’s Black Book, Rizeigy noted the increased share of Darfur, Kordofan, eastern Sudan and Gezira in the central government at the expense of the ‘traditional’ excess allotted to the River Nile and the Northern region. Salah Wansi, Rizeigy explains, lived most of his life in Kadugli and other towns of Kordofan. Simeih, the Minister of Industry, hails from South Darfur. The new Minister of Interior, Abd al-Wahid Yusif, comes from tiny Ghibeish in West Kordofan, Yasir Yusif, the new State Minister of Media, is a Gedaref lad and Farah Mustafa, the new Minister of Federal Rule, calls the eastern Jebel Marra home. From Darfur also are the state ministers Fadul Abdalla Fadul and al-Sadiq Mohamed Ali, the first at the Presidency and the second at the Ministry of Labour. Mutaz Musa, the new Minister of Electricity and Water Resources who displaced Osama Abdalla, considered a favourite of President Bashir, and Ahmed Mohamed Sadiq al-Karuri who replaced Kamal Abd al-Latif as Minister of Mining, both served under Osama Abdalla in the Dams Implementation Unit. 
The NCP, expectedly, celebrated the reshuffle as an unprecedented and bold undertaking with no comparison in the Middle East and Africa, undeterred by the obvious fact that the overhaul also demonstrated the centralisation of power in the hands of President Bashir and the military officers at his side with the exit of all potential competitors from the scene. It must be noted that Taha, Nafie, al-Jaz and other prominent NCP seniors continue to hold seats in parliament as well as positions in the leadership council of the NCP. The new deputy chairman of the NCP, Ibrahim Ghandoor, spoke optimistically of a new era of dialogue with the opposition, stressing the government’s readiness to resume negotiations with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in North Sudan (SPLA/M-N), a new push for peace talks with the Darfur armed movements, and the NCP’s willingness to settle for a consensual elections law to govern the 2015 vote. Commentary in the Sudanese media focused on the ability of the new cabinet to tackle the country’s economic crisis as a condition for the success of the change agenda. In any case, the last time the government underwent such a makeover, following Turabi’s ouster, the CPA followed. It remains to be seen what concessions President Bashir and the officers at his side are ready to make this time to secure the reign of a regime that has arguably just undergone its third major mutation, the first being Turabi’s breakaway and the second the CPA and the secession of South Sudan. Nafie Ali Nafie expressed the ambitions at play in a speech to the NCP lawyers bloc bracing for elections of the bar association with Ibrahim Ghandoor, the man who just assumed his positions, at his side. Ingaz (the Salvation regime) has just reset its mileage to zero and started a new cycle, and will do so repeatedly till Azrael (the Archangel of Death) calls for the Apocalypse, he boasted. Nafie’s florid language could not dispel the ‘fatigue’ that has eclipsed over an Ingaz that has surrendered its ideological grit and organisational advantage, born of the experiences of the Islamist vanguard, to rely solely on the secular calculations of patronage and accommodation tied obviously to the promise of ‘developmental’ reward. Nafie’s script, it seems, was copied from the learning materials of the Communist Party of China, the NCP’s main interlocutor and model in party organisation. Unlike the Chinese rulers though, the NCP is yet to invent a retirement scheme for the Bringi (the number one), decorated with his ICC diploma. President Bashir who has effectively outmanoeuvred both Turabi and Taha, the sheikh and his captain, is the indispensable liability of the regime, Azrael indeed!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

President Bashir: an historian at large

A confident President Bashir addressed a jovial crowd on Saturday in Garri, just north of Khartoum to celebrate what state media described as the 500th anniversary of Sudan’s first Islamic state, by all means an invented date marking invented statehood. Going back five hundred years brings the calendar to 1513, well into the legends of the pre-colonial Sudan. According to the President though, five hundred years ago, Abdalla al-Quraynati al-Qasimi, better known a Abdalla Jamma’, i.e. the Gatherer, managed to unite the ‘Arab’ tribes of central Sudan and forged a peaceful alliance with Ammara Dunqus, Makk (Lord) of the ‘African’ Funj. The alliance according to President Bashir the historian delivered the first Islamic state on the banks of the Nile in the homeland of the Abdullab around Garri. 
Jalal Yusif al-Digeir, the President’s aide and head of the ‘registered’ Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a breakoff from the Khatmiyya-based mainstream DUP that draws largely from the Hindiyya religious order, the Khatmiyya’s historical minor ally, prepared the ground for the President’s pronouncements in fine effendi style. Digeir announced Abdalla “the first to lay the foundation of Sudan’s modern civilisation,” and “a pioneer who contributed greatly to the consolidation of the Arab-Islamic identity in Sudan, allayed tribal and local allegiances and united the Sudanese under a singular banner.” Whatever Digeir had in mind, his creativity is certainly remarkable, sufficient to astonish Abdalla himself. 
The rhetoric served a purpose though. Confirming a lively rumour, the President told the crowd that his deputy, the First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, had indeed resigned his post “to make way for the younger generation”. Taha’s resignation is a foretaste of the government ‘makeover’ expected to be announced on Sunday, a process in the making for several months that has provided continuous fodder for speculations and fantasies in the Khartoum press. Whether Taha gave up office willingly or was forced to resign is guesswork. President Bashir in any case denied any strife within the leadership of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) stating further that Taha is in fact the engineer of the entire operation to refashion the NCP and its government for the future, in Taha’s own words the ‘second republic’, the political order of the rump (north) Sudan born out of the secession of South Sudan. 
Why invoke Abdalla the Gatherer then? Once Hassan al-Turabi’s deputy, Taha assumed authority over the Islamic Movement after he managed to mastermind the eviction of his mentor from its political party, the NCP, in 1999. Taha was named First Vice President in 1998 against the will of Turabi who favoured Ali al-Haj, today a German citizen residing in Bonn, for the position. The arrangements of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement gave Taha’s position to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s (SPLM) late chairman John Garang and his successor Salva Kiir. Taha became the Second Vice President until the expiry of the CPA in 2011 when he bounced back to his former post. With Taha’s resignation not a single ‘veteran’ Islamist of standing remains in the khalwa of power, at least none who has earned the title of ‘sheikh’. Neither Nafie Ali Nafie, Deputy Chairman of the NCP and President Bashir’s senior assistant, nor Bakri Hassan Salih, the Minister of Presidential Affairs, the two men rumoured as candidates to replace Taha, have the material of a sheikh, the first a foulmouthed bully and the second a military officer on silent mode with no record of marketable ‘piety’ to speak of apart possibly from an alleged passion for ‘bango’ (weed). 
Taha’s resignation arguably implies the final exit of the Islamic Movement proper from power, a process heralded by Turabi’s ouster, and its full replacement by the NCP mass. Rather than surrender the Islamic cloak to the likes of Ghazi al-Attabani and the other ‘loud’ intellectuals of the Islamic Movement seeking a future apart from the NCP, the President’s gamble is to appropriate the ‘Islamic’ trademark and popularise it under his sultanic authority, a strategy that has hitherto freed his power from the eclectic ‘internationalism’ of Hassan al-Turabi and the machinations of his lesser heirs. The investment in an appropriately Sovietised biography of Abdalla the Gatherer as a model statesman of the Islamic periphery serves precisely that purpose. 
The President dismissed the available historical record of Abdalla the Gatherer as “Orientalist” garbage, and promised the crowd in Garri government-led efforts to correctively rewrite Sudanese history, then announced the establishment of an Islamic centre in Garri carrying the name of Ajeeb al-Manjuluk with the aim of countering the vices of drugs, illicit sexual behaviour, Westernisation and the internet. 
The Funj Chronicle, arguably the only surviving ‘Sudanese’ primary document from the age of Abdalla the Gatherer, credits Ammara Dunqus, Makk of the Funj, with establishment of Sennar, a city-state that expanded to become a Moslem kingdom, after crushing the Christian rule of Alawa around the year 1505. Ammara Dunqus sought the services of Abdalla to fight the Anaj who competed with the Funj for the grazing grounds of Gezira in the vacuum of authority that followed the collapse of Alawa. In reward, Ammara Dunqus appointed Abdalla chief in Garri, the Chronicle says. The Funj maintained capital in Sennar, while the Abdullab, the descendants of Abdalla the Gatherer, transferred their royal residence to Halfaya, a dynasty consolidated by Abdalla’s son Ajeeb al-Kafuta, known by his Funj title as Ajeeb al-Manjuluk. Ajeeb was appointed viceroy in the north upon his father’s death by Amara II of Sennar. 
In Abdullab legend, Ajeeb is celebrated as an ‘Islamising ruler’ who appointed sharia judges in his territory and made land grants to holy men. Ajeeb’s ambitions extended to the Funj throne. In 1606 he led an army against Sennar forcing Abd al-Qadir II to flee to Chelga on the route between Sennar and Ethiopia’s Gondar where he found protection by the Ethiopian emperor. Abd al-Qadir’s brother and successor, Adlan I, rescued the throne after defeating and killing Ajeeb at the battle of Karkuj around 1612. Ajeeb’s heirs fled to Dongola. Reconciliation between the two sides was mediated by Sheikh Idris Mohamed al-Arbab whose tomb and mosque still stand in A’ilafoon, east of Khartoum. Two years ago, a bunch of Salafi enthusiasts set Sheikh al-Arbab’s tomb ablaze and dug up the grave of the holy man. President Bashir is doing the same with history, digging up ‘Arabs’ and ‘Africans’ from a fragmentary record of warriors, adventurers, kings and holy men.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Ghazi and his president: love lost

Ghazi Salahuddin al-Attabani, once an aide to president Bashir and head of the ruling party’s parliamentary caucus, declared his breakaway from the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in a press conference held in his Khartoum home on 26 October and his intent to form a new party that would “bring new hope to Sudan”. Ghazi’s decision came in reaction to a ruling by a disciplinary committee formed by president Bashir, the NCP chairman, calling for the dismissal of Ghazi and two of his close associates, Hassan Osman Rizig and Fadlalla Ahmed Abdalla, from the party and the suspension of several others for a year. The cohort of NCP figures, chief among them Ghazi, had issued an open letter to president Bashir at the height of the September riots in Khartoum protesting the brutal security crackdown and calling for the reversal of the government decision to lift fuel subsidies. “The legitimacy of your rule has never been at stake like it is today,” said the letter addressing the brother president. 
Besides discipline by dismissal, a task he entrusted to the parliament’s speaker Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir and the oil minister Awad al-Jaz, president Bashir addressed the split in his party with the routine tactic of assuming the rhetoric of his adversary. “Reform and change is a daily process for us” he told parliament on 28 October in a speech marking a new session of the house. ‘Reform’ is the key word that Ghazi and his supporters from the NCP have been throwing around for the past two years, while ‘change’ is the favourite term of the secular-minded opposition, as in ‘hope and change’, the slogan of Yasir Arman’s aborted presidential candidacy in 2010, ‘Change Now’, the association of younger political activists advocating for the overthrow of the regime, and the online newspaper ‘Change’ that hosts a number of Khartoum’s barred journalists, blocked from publication in the printed press by order of the security service. 
President Bashir’s greatest investment however remains the alliances that carry the NCP in rural Sudan, a terrain that Ghazi al-Attabani as well as the Change Now activists seem badly prepared to navigate. Challenged in the capital, the president sought refuge in North Kordofan, at his side its new governor Ahmed Haroun and the minister of electricity and dams Osama Abdalla. The first he fondly called his “batch” in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the second a man he can trust to carry out duties when others falter. A jolly crowd welcomed the stick-waving president in dusty Um Bader where he inaugurated a new water dam on 25 October. For his enemies the president expressed only contempt. “Bandits”, “saboteurs” and “infiltrators” responsible for leaking information against him to the ICC they were. Since the September protests the president has made it a rule to bring up the ICC in almost all his public appearances, priding himself in the claim that he looked the lion in the eye and the lion blinked in reference to the US refusal to grant him entry visa to attend the sixty eighth session of United Nations General Assembly in New York. 
It is may be time to think again the politics that grew out of president Bashir’s indictment by the ICC. The arrest warrant transformed the demand of justice for crimes committed in the government’s counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur to one of regime change. As an indicted head of state president Bashir’s foreign travels and diplomatic standing were severely curtailed but not sufficiently as to strangle his crucial regional relations. Each of his trips abroad was portrayed by the regime as a national achievement, a snub at international justice and more haughtily a challenge to an inherently unjust international order. 
One immediate domestic consequence of the indictment was the marginalization of the question of justice in Darfur in the political arena, amplified as it was in popular depiction to become an element in the regime’s confrontation with its international enemies. Politically, the president’s international indictment became another in a list of teasers that the opposition employs to challenge the government. The regime, on the other hand, framed the issue as a question of national sovereignty, and as a side-effect managed to drown the demand for domestic justice in Darfur in an excess of propaganda particularly that the African Union (AU) effectively sanctioned the position taken by Khartoum. In the process the quest for justice for crimes committed in Darfur became almost irrelevant. In a perverse sense the ICC indictment of president Bashir justified the blanket immunity that his juniors going down to the singular army and militia fighter already enjoyed, the argument being ‘If he can get away with it why not we’.
Following the independence of South Sudan president Bashir reached out to the larger mainstream opposition parties with the outlook of negotiating a post-secession power-sharing arrangement. On the agenda of these negotiations was the condition that whoever wishes to partner with the regime must commit to secure the president from international prosecution, rephrased the president must live and die in office; power could be traded and sliced but not transferred. Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) accepted these terms and joined the NCP in the cabinet, and Sadiq al-Mahdi of the National Umma Party (NUP) is yet to make up his mind.
Today, the gravest risk facing the president comes not from the mainstream opposition but from within his very own NCP. Conscious of the possibility of a re-arrangement of blocs and loyalties inside the ruling party that could challenge his position, president Bashir reacted swiftly to the machinations of the ‘reformers’ in whatever garb they came. In that regard, the president’s antennae were well sensitised to memoranda intrigue by the precedent of Hassan al-Turabi’s ouster from the NCP back in 1999, an oedipal melodrama in which Ghazi al-Attabani and others shoved the dagger in Turabi’s back. 
As veteran leader of the Islamic Movement and mastermind of its rise to dominance Turabi thought himself safe from such backstabbing. The ‘brothers’ as Sudan’s Islamists refer to each other proved to be Turabi’s truest disciples though, and plotted his elimination from the scene of power when he became more a liability than an asset. The dagger was a ‘reform’ plea, dubbed the ‘memorandum of the ten’, authored by Ghazi al-Attabani and nine others and delivered to a session of the NCP’s Shura Council on 10 December 1999 chaired by president Bashir in full military dress, the rather symbolic party chairman at the time, in preparation for the eviction of the all-powerful secretary general Hassan al-Turabi. 
President Bashir, I suppose, with the ICC scales occupying his vision, fears such a scenario, pious intrigue by the Islamist ‘brothers’. When Ghazi al-Attabani and associates advocated for independence of the Islamic Movement from the ruling NCP ahead of the movement’s November 2012 conference in an attempt to secure an own platform, the president and his loyal officers responded with ‘reform’ measures uniting leadership of the party, movement and government in one office, the president’s. Exactly such centralisation was Ghazi al-Attabani’s demand in the ‘memorandum of the ten’ back in 1999 when he and others complained of the drawbacks of dual leadership, split between Turabi and Bashir, siding with the officer against the sheikh. Convenience eventually caught up with Ghazi who today cries for escape from the long shadow of the president he helped crown uncontested autocrat. 
As he welcomed Ghazi al-Attabani out of the NCP, Tayeb Mustafa, leader of the Just Peace Forum (JPF) and president Bashir’s uncle, offered a formula that would secure the president in office and yet offer the Islamists dissatisfied with the NCP’s politics a horizon for action. In order to break the political deadlock in the country, Mustafa called on president Bashir to withdraw from the NCP and announce himself a national figure above partisan politics at the head of a ‘national’ government that oversees a transitional period which ends with free and fair elections, a proposition that mirrors what the NUP leader Sadiq al-Mahdi has been long advocating excluding the notion of a constitutional conference. 
Paradoxically, the multiplicity of NCP breakaways, the Popular Congress Party (PCP) of Hassan al-Turabi, the JPF of al-Tayeb Mustafa and now the dissidents around Ghazi al-Attabani and the circle of intellectuals around al-Tayeb Zain al-Abdin, chairperson of the National Islamic Front’s Shura Council disbanded by Hassan al-Turabi following the 1989 coup, is generating a situation akin to what Turabi imagined would be the nature of an Islamic republic. In 1998, Turabi as speaker of parliament drafted a law that fell short of approving full-blown multi-party politics under the name of ‘al-Tawaly al-Siyasy’ (political allegiance). Under al-Tawaly, associations of a political nature would be permitted to compete for office as long as they committed to the primacy of sharia and the Islamic character of the state. 
The Islamic Movement dispatched a committee of five of its veterans to Ghazi last week to re-negotiate his allegiance, the mediation effort is supposed to close the gap between the NCP’s official reform process steered by Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir and Ghazi’s richly televised version. It was al-Tahir who recommended Ghazi’s dismissal to the NCP leadership council headed by president Bashir, which in turn approved the disciplinary measure but will hand it down to the Shura Council next week for a final decision, since only the Shura Council has the authority to dismiss members. The NCP after all is a party of institutions, isn’t it? Ghazi al-Attabani in any case was its secretary general between January 1996 and February 1998.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

شئ لله يا حسن: الحركة الاسلامية مقطوعة الرأس

رحب الطيب مصطفى، صاحب الانتباهة، بخروج بطله غازي صلاح الدين العتباني من حزب الرئيس البشير، داعيا في ذات الوقت البشير سيد الشي إلى الخروج هو كذلك على حزبه، وإعلان نفسه شخصية قومية فوق الأحزاب، تأتلف حولها قلوب المحتزبون في الحكم والمعارضة لفترة انتقالية كالتي يدعو إليها الصادق المهدي تنتهي بانتخابات حرة نزيهة كالتي وعد بها الرئيس في خطابه أمام البرلمان. الانتخابات القادمة، متى جاءت بالصفة التي طالب بها الطيب، ستتنافس فيها خمسة أحزاب على الأقل خرجت من صف الحركة الإسلامية فاقد الرص، المؤتمر الوطني (الأصل) لصاحبه البشير، والمؤتمر الشعبي (الأكثر أصالة) لصاحبه حسن الترابي، والسلام العادل لصاحبه الطيب مصطفى، والحزب الجديد "بدون عنوان" لصاحبه غازي صلاح الدين، والحركة الوطنية للتغيير لصاحبها الطيب زين العابدين، فمن تختار يا ترى أيها الحركي، أحزب الرحمن أم حزب الشيطان؟ إن لم تكن هذه صورة "التوالي السياسي" الذي وعد به حسن الترابي في 1998 فما هي؟ 
تلعثم أحمد الدعاك، حوار غازي وشريكه، عند مواجهته بالسؤال على شاشة التلفزيون عن احتمال الحلف بين حزب غازي وحزب الطيب مصطفى، فاحتمى بالتقية لا يريد أن يربط لسان جماعته في "قوى الحراك الإصلاحي" (سابقا) بحلقة الباشمهندس. غازي كما يبدو لم ينطق في هذا الخصوص ببنت شفة، إلا أنه كرر احتجاجه القديم على سلام نيفاشا كونه انتهى إلى انفصال جنوب السودان وهو المفاوض القائد الذي وقع على وثيقته الأولى، بروتوكول مشاكوس الذي أقر استفتاء مواطني الجنوب عندئذ على تقرير المصير. وقتها قال غازي للجزيرة أن خللا في منهج التفاوض دفعه إلى الاستقالة وصمت عن المزيد. أكد غازي للجزيرة، بعد أن صدر قرار لجنة محاسبة المؤتمر الوطني بفصله من الحزب وقبل إعلانه الشروع في إنشاء حزب جديد، أن جماعته لم تعقد أي اتصال بالجبهة الثورية المقاتلة ولا يجوز لها فهي تعمل في إطار القانون. طريف إذن أن يتعفف أحمد عن الحلف مع الطيب مصطفي فغازي يبكت على الوطني بنيفاشا كما الطيب ولا يستسيغ مراسلة الجبهة الثورية لخروجها على القانون، قانون بالقاف؟
ميز أحمد الدعاك حزب غازي عن المؤتمر الوطني بقوله أن "شريعة" الإصلاحيين غير، مضيفا أن جماعته بصدد جهد فكرى يجمر تجربة الحكم الإسلامي بالنقد الشديد. سوى ذلك لم يفصح أحمد في جلابيته البيضاء المكوية وعمته السنية عن شئ، فما صمة الخشم؟ قال أن حزب غازي سيتكون بالديمقراطية الملزمة، حرية ساكت، من القاعدة إلى القمة، ثم تكشم، هي..هي، الأمر الذي استقبله محاوروه بتكشم مقابل، هه..هه! والأمر كذلك، وقع على الحركة الإسلامية ما يقع بقوة الشريعة على البيوت التي يرثها خلف متشاكس كل بمتره فرح، هد الحيطة دي وأبني هنا، مصاعب منزلية في العبارة الأفرنجية، كل ذلك والأب بعد على قيد الحياة، فإلى من نردهم يا قاضي الدين؟   

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

كفى بك داءً أن ترى الموت شافيا

وقبور التلاميذ الذين قضوا برصاص الدولة رطبة ما تزال، الضلوع  تهشمت بالنار الحكومية والأكفان لم يجف منها دمع الأمهات السخين، خرج البشير في كامل زينته في محفل للجند، طاؤوس مخضرم، ليغسل الدم عن كفيه لا يشغله شئ. اتهم الرئيس الغائب عن كرسي العرش منذ مؤتمره الصحفي المشؤوم متربصين مخربين باستغلال الأوضاع لممارسة أعمال القتل والنهب والتخريب بداعي التظاهر والاحتجاج على قرارات الحكومة، وفق ما نقلت عنه الشروق. ترحم الرئيس على القتلى وأعلنهم "شهداء" من علياءه العسكري، ثم عاد يشكر حكومته ويثني عليها.
كان الرئيس قبل شهور، وقت فاجأه المرض فأسكت حلقه، أعلن التوبة بالحجاز، على مقربة من الحرم الشريف، وطلب من "الرعية" العفو على ما بدر منه في ماضي حكمه الطويل. ولعله ظن التوبة لا بد مقبولة، وهو الرئيس الذي لا يرد له طلب، فعاد إلى كتابه يخط فيه جديد الذنوب، مضاربة فوق مرابحة. أطلق جبروت الدولة الذي بيده على التلاميذ الذين خرجوا عليه بالهتاف فحصد من الأرواح الجموحة ما يرضي غروره، كأنه الفرعون يطلب قرابين. وأمر بالرصاص على من اتبع سنتهم فاجتمعت في حوشه الجثث، جروحها حية فائرة احترقت منها الأطراف وفقع من الأجساد باطنها، أحمر اللحم وأبيض العظم ولين الأحشاء.
الرئيس كما يعلم كل تلميذ، الحي منهم والميت، لا يعاف الميتة ولا ينتهي عن الدم، جديده هذه المرة أن نقل آلة القتل التي بيده من أرياف البلاد الملتهبة إلى ميادين حرب تصورها في حارات أم بدة والثورة والسامراب والكلاكلة. قال له غمار الناس الغاز والعيش فرد عليهم الصندوق (صندوق النقد الدولي) قال لي، ولما دعوا عليه "حرام عليك" أنزل فيهم سوء العذاب، هؤلاء أولادكم وبناتكم قتلتهم الضحى الأعلى، خذوهم عني واروهم ثم هُسْ. هُسْ أيتها الأم وإن طار منك القلب بالقهر والألم، هذه السنة لن يمتحن أيمن شهادة ثامنة ووفاء لن تجلس للشهادة، شهادتهم مسموعة عند عزيز مقتدر؛ هس أيها الأب، كتب الله عليك أن تحمل صلاح إلى القبر لا أن يحملك؛ هس أيتها الزوج، كفاك من هيثم هذا الرضيع عند صدرك؛ وهس أيها الشعب هس!
لمن أبى أفسح الرئيس الزنازين، استقبلتهم بالمئات، وقال الرسميون سيحاسبهم القانون، ينزع ببنوده الغليظة هذه الألسنة الطويلة عن لغاليغها، يكسر هذه الأقلام الجانحة ويلجم هذه العقول، لا يترك طايوقا. عاد تلميذ من الذين اتهمهم الرئيس بالتخريب إلى حضن أمه بعد ساعات في الحبس يحكي لأهله معجزة حريته. قال التلميذ أن ضابط بوليس فتح باب الزنزانة ليرى شلة مراهقين عيونهم تضج بالسؤال الصعب فانتهرهم "يلا أطلعوا من هنا جري قبل ما يجو يكتلوكم." ركض حفظه الله كما لم يركض من قبل، ركض حتى أتى الدار، قلبه يحاكي الطبل المجنون، فمرحى للحياة! سترت الأرض الشهداء، ضمتهم واحتفت بهم، والزنازين أسمعت المعتقلين من طوبها حبا وكرامة، فما يسترك الساعة، كلك عورة، عورة بنياشين!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Abdalla's clean jellabiya

Abdalla al-Gittay, a self-made intellectual of the working class, was arrested this Monday by the security authorities in Atbara, once the thriving centre of Sudan railways. I came to know Atbara's local star in 2008, at a time when the country breathed a sense of freedom thanks to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). 
Abdalla and his fellows introduced me to the surviving grand veterans of the Railway Workers Union, elderly chaps battling age, multiple chronic diseases and amnesia but still able to chuckle. Abdalla and his comrades took me and a group of friends on a tour in the rundown railway capital, a ghost of itself, feeding me a steady stream of stories and anecdotes as we passed by its decrepit monuments: the wall of the Atbara marketplace mosque where the trade union leader al-Shafie Ahmed al-Sheikh, executed by Jaafar Nimayri in the aftermath of the 1971 aborted communist coup, stood to address the workers in a bygone age; the house where Sabila, a town celebrity who donated money and gold to the workers union during the heroic thirty three days strike of 1948, used to live; Atbara's workshops and the colonial offices of the railway administration, kindly deserted by the government to become a walk-through museum free of charge. 
Abdalla's sense of humour had no bounds, quite like his sense of duty. He had a passion for poetry, and could recite at ease lengthy stretches of his favourite works. Conversation with him was a mix of literary criticism, political satire and Atbara anecdotes. "I just love communism," he told me as he sipped his tea before adding, "no wonder it collapsed, how could anything survive such love." Abdalla's communism was a Atbara brew more than anything else, a tale of working class emancipation in an African colony that he passionately expanded through the collection of stories from surviving witnesses of the 'golden' age of Shafie and Sabila. It was almost surreal sitting with Gittay and his comrades through the Atabara night to discuss  in earnest the fatal flaws of Soviet socialism and how they could be averted in the twenty first century with the help of araki served in the small transparent tea glasses so adored in Sudan. As the sips gave way to generous gulps, Abdalla's mind drifted to poetry and he delivered a perfectly rhymed parody of the same classic he had recited hours earlier. 
Abdalla's bicycle stands now idle in his humble Atbara home, longing for its comrade in silence, his friends miss him as I do, his frail body delivered to torturers who have neither appreciation for his person nor comprehension of his passions. As thick blood soaks his single jellabiya, sand-yellow rather white from repeated washing with Atabara's muddy tap water when available, Abdalla is probably worrying how is he ever going to get rid of such stubborn stains. A comrade like Abdalla does not stain his jellabiya, come what may! 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

President Bashir’s final war

Sudan's ministry of interior acknowledged on 26 September the death of twenty nine people in the wave of demonstrations gripping the capital Khartoum. Medical sources put the death toll since the outbreak of protests on Monday in Wad Medani, the capital of Gezira state in central Sudan, at one hundred and eleven. By Friday 27 September, another forty had been added to the tally. In preparation for the lift of fuel subsidies, enforced at the beginning of the week, the finance minister met with senior opposition politicians, president Bashir rallied support for the measure within the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and briefed senior officers of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) on the issue while the police said it was ready to counter any potential protests. President Bashir held a press conference on Sunday 22 September where he delivered the government’s arguments for the economic measures. The event was aired live. The president attempted to persuade but convinced only his own; evidence has been stacking against him for too long, and no words could cushion the blow the government was determined to deliver to fragile livelihoods. As the president spoke, the security authorities pre-empted the day after with a charge of arrests targeting the usual suspects. Senior functionaries of the Communist Party, almost all members of a committee formed by the opposition National Consensus Forces (NCF) to mobilise against the lift of subsidies and a number of prominent younger activists were rounded up before the break of dawn. 
In his press conference, president Bashir said society was divided into a rich minority with extravagant consumption habits and the majority struggling to make a living. By the official measure even the undersecretary of a ministry would count as poor, he said jokingly. In Wad Medani, protests had already broken out by then. Experience had primed the security authorities to expect trouble from university campuses, and police contingents were deployed to keep the students at bay. The government judged the mainstream opposition organisationally incapable of investing in the popular discontent and thought the nightly raid sufficient to stifle the initiative of newer associations of activists styled after Egyptian models. The security apparatus was unprepared however for the eventuality that Bashir spelled out but could not comprehend: class riots. True to the presidential proclamation, the spread of demonstrations in Khartoum since Monday maps materially to the class divide, the geography of impoverishment that encircles the capital. Omdurman’s Um Badda, al-Samrab in Khartoum North and al-Kalakla in Khartoum, to name examples from the three towns that make up the Sudanese capital, flared up in a show of anger that is by all measures the greatest urban challenge to the regime since its inception. In the same press conference, president Bashir, now in silent mode, revealed that sixty percent of the country’s police force had deserted the service because of law wages. 
No political organisation in the country can claim authorship of the demonstrations, whether the mainstream opposition or the newer protest movements with a youth tag. The leadership expected of the political class was restricted to surprise, the routine condemnation of state violence, and calls for refrain from ‘sabotage’, the accusation grabbed by the government to demonise the protesters. In Omdurman’s Um Badda, an angry crowd set ablaze the headquarters of the ruling NCP, a multi-storey building with air-conditioners sticking out of its walls, and looted its furniture. Gas stations around the capital were set on fire as were Mr al-Khidir’s green buses, over-priced public transport vehicles owned by Khartoum state and identified with its governor, Abd al-Rahman al-Khidir. Activists said thugs employed by the security authorities were to blame for the mayhem as part of plot to criminalise the protestors. The government’s misinformation campaign did not step here. The information minister accused operatives of the rebel Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) of involvement as did the governor of Gezira state who claimed the demonstrators were foreign to Wad Medani and had smuggled into the state capital in the dark of night. To explain the killing of protestors by gunfire in the town, the governor offered a scene out of a Western. The doors of a white car passing by flung open and unidentified gunmen opened fire killing a twenty three year old man, he stated, promising an investigation into the incident. To the governor’s credit, he told the truth. Only, he missed to mention that the gunmen were operatives of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) acting with absolute impunity. Looking for answers to its crisis the government had only the shock and awe tactics of counter-insurgency to draw on, it’s primary expertise. Unmarked white cars manned by death squads raced by protestors wherever they amassed in Khartoum’s rebellious neighbourhoods leaving a trail of blood behind. The minister of interior said in a statement on Friday that six hundred people had been arrested over the five days before. Meanwhile, a game of numbers kicked off. Government officials admitted the death of tens, including policemen, and opposition sources said the death toll was already in the hundreds. For families and friends, the number equals infinity.
The same neighbourhoods had before delivered young men and women to the service of the “project”, as Sudan’s Islamists refer to their long season in power, to be sacrificed in Sudan’s unrelenting peripheral wars. Today, the altar is set at the doorstep as it were. President Bashir, tucked away in the safety of his harem, probably thinks this a passing storm that he will survive as he did many a challenge. The paradox is, as he bleeds Um Badda and al-Kalakla he is cutting off his own life support.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Sudan: presidential hot dogs and ministerial pizzas

After almost two years of agonizing budgetary worries Sudan’s finance minister, Ali Mahmoud Abd al-Rasoul, pushed forward a plan to abolish government subsidies on fuels (including cooking gas) and wheat, a decision that the government failed to implement back in 2012 and is now apparently determined to enforce whatever it takes. The National Congress Party (NCP) bloc in parliament, effectively the entire house, voted down the scrapping of fuel subsidies in the 2012 budget draft but then agreed to a package of austerity measures, termed the three years rescue plan, including a gradual reduction of subsidies in June 2012 following on South Sudan’s decision to suspend oil production in January. The plan is copied letter and comma from recommendations regularly repeated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since the independence of South Sudan in 2011. In its 2012 Article IV report on Sudan, the Fund estimated the cost of subsidies to be a total of 1.24 billion US dollars in 2013. The IMF made the argument that it is not the poor who benefit from fuel subsidies but rather the affluent Sudanese who have cars and consume more fuel, a proposition that President Bashir has been drumming with little if any original contribution from his side. Emboldened by the expert opinion of khawaja finance gurus, the President and his aides vigorously advocated for the indispensability of the ‘economic reforms’ in the face of considerable resistance within the party, the rejection of opposition forces and public displeasure. Unlike in June 2012 when he preferred to watch over the debate President Bashir has taken it upon himself this time to lead the charge. 
The government’s keenness to implement the IMF’s recommendations seems partially related to its bid to secure the relief of Sudan’s burgeoning foreign debt; the 2012 calculation was 41.5 billion US dollars in nominal terms of which eighty four percent was in arrears. In its 2012 report the IMF declared Sudan potentially eligible for relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) noting that the country has progressed well towards the target of satisfying the conditions of the initiative. The related fragment of the report is worth quoting in full: “The government has taken three important steps: (i) it has reconciled over 90 percent of the end-2010 external debt stock in collaboration with creditors; (ii) Parliament has approved an ambitious interim-PRSP [Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper] in June 2012; and (iii) Sudan has implemented 13 Staff-Monitored Programs (SMPs) with the Fund since 1997, establishing a sound track record of cooperation on economic policies and payments. Furthermore, Sudan has indicated its desire to continue demonstrating a strong commitment to cooperation with the Fund on policies and the payment of arrears, also formally in the framework of a new SMP (for which negotiations could start later this year). Meanwhile, the government is collaborating with the World Bank on an Interim Strategy Note, which would determine the development objectives for the next two years.” Nada al-Galaa, one of Sudan’s star singers, was forced a few years ago to defend her reputation in lyrics after a video recording of a performance she held ‘bare-headed’ to entertain a Nigerian businessman identified as Mr al-Shareef and his guests in a hotel found its way to the internet. Nada sang “al-Sharif is pleased with me because I love my art” to mock her detractors. “The Lexus was a present and not the reward for a personal relationship,” she explained in the next line. Replace Mr al-Shareef with Messrs IMF and you have the government’s policy rationale, the detractors being the people under its rule. Whether the IMF will reward the Sudanese government with the Lexus it expects remains an open question. The government’s hopes in that regard have been repeatedly dashed, partially because of its failed relationship with its own people. President Bashir’s long reign, since 1989, has not witnessed a single day of peace throughout the country, before the secession of South Sudan in 2011 and thereafter. In his mind, this predicament is the product of a foreign conspiracy that unfolds to no end, tireless and timeless. 
Apart from the NCP’s leadership council, which hastily approved the decision to lift subsidies in a late night meeting chaired by President Bashir on 12 September, no political formation in the country sounded its support for the measure first hand. The National Umma Party (NUP), the Popular Congress Party (PCP) and the Communist Party declared their rejection of the government plan and vowed to mobilize popular protest against it. Even the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the NCP’s partner in the cabinet, voiced a similar opinion. The Just Peace Forum (JPF) issued a statement announcing its opposition to the economic measures and the party’s chairman al-Tayeb Mustafa wrote in al-Intibaha ridiculing the National Assembly for failing to challenge the government on the issue. Arguments for and against the measure were traded between officials of the NCP, the first claiming that subsidies do not benefit the poor anyway and were undermined by cross-border smuggling of fuel for sale in neighbouring countries, and the second stressing the possibility of a popular backlash. Prominent imams in Khartoum, including the imam of the city’s grand mosque, Kamal Rizig, criticized the government’s anticipated measures in their sermons on 13 September. Rizig told worshippers the way forward was to reduce government expenditure rather than burden the people with further increases in prices. In response, the security authorities ordered press silence on the subject and dissenters were punished with confiscation. On a single day, 19 September, the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) seized all copies of three newspapers, the left leaning al-Ayaam, al-Jareeda and Tayeb Mustafa’s al-Intibaha. In parallel, the finance minister and the governor of the Bank of Sudan were instructed to exercise their persuasion muscles with leaders of the opposition. The two gentlemen held a meeting with Hassan al-Turabi, and knocked the doors of the Communist Party. The patrons of the DUP and NUP, Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani and Sadiq al-Mahdi, received separate visits from President Bashir himself, each at his domicile. It was to his effective constituency that President Bashir paid greatest attention. The President took his economy team to meet senior officers of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and conferences of the NCP’s students’ and women sectors were hurriedly organized for the President to speak. Worn out by their own campaign the NCP bigwigs started to fret as it were. The Minister of Finance said the Sudanese were spoiled by years of luxury and now refuse to accept the necessity of austerity. “The houses were ugly” and “people only heard of pizzas while today pizza shops are everywhere…there were only old pickups in the country and now there are cars of all models,” he stated on 18 September to reporters prohibited from splashing out his pronouncements the day after. President Bashir won the cup in that regard. Caught up in a rant, the President challenged anybody who knew what a hot dog was before his rule to come forward. In the same speech to the NCP’s student sector on 19 September he declared that sixty percent of the police force had deserted the service over the past two years because of low wages, hot dogs notwithstanding. 
The crowning event of the NCP’s campaign was a presidential press conference on the evening of 22 September aired live. Beside the President sat the information minister, Ahmed Bilal Osman, a migrant from the DUP. To kick off the event the chairman of the Islamic Movement’s Shura Council, a four hundred members central committee, and head of the NCP’s parliamentary caucus, Mahdi Ibrahim, recited convenient verses of the Quran, ones reminding the believers of the alternation of plenty and scarcity and promising those who hold strong to their faith when challenged by persecution generous reward. The President delivered a macro-economic argument for the lift of subsidies, stressing the ills of the economy - excess consumption over production, imports over exports and government expenditure over income, crying all the while over the loss of oil with the secession of South Sudan, and concluded with the oft reiterated proposition that fuel subsidies benefit high consumers rather than the deserving poor. Instead, he declared, revenues spared through the scrapping of subsidies will be channelled to raise wages in the government sector and boost production. The President spoke the language of an incumbent with one term behind him attempting to clear his mixed record for a second try. His memory I suppose registers the twenty four years since he assumed power in 1989 as just that. Whatever he says however is hollowed out by the hard spade of practice. The revenues the government had commanded in the years of oil plenty were squandered in a manner that entrenched the imbalances he spoke of rather than correcting them producing a government sector hypertrophied out of all proportion by co-optation and nepotism, an immense gap between a wealthy minority and a majority of nas who can only afford their envy, and a rural economy that has imploded to yield an ever expanding resources conflict. The short version is: President Bashir and his ever recycled government cannot be trusted with money. A witty Omdurmani granny told me, if he is not ready to subsidise our cooking gas we are not ready to subsidise his hot dog, let alone his minister’s pizza. 

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Bashir and Kiir: brothers into twins

Khartoum received President Kiir of South Sudan with great relief. Even Tayeb Mustafa’s al-Intibaha offered the important visitor a welcome note, but made sure its readers received a florid interpretation of President Kiir’s salutary bow before the Sudanese flag in Khartoum airport. The more imaginative said a few tears came down his bearded cheek. President Bashir dropped his threat to block South Sudan’s oil exports through Sudan and President Kiir promised to halt all support to rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in North Sudan (SPLA/M-N) and their allies in the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) including sealing the border to the movement of insurgents. The two presidents effectively avoided discussion of the dispute over Abyei, weary of the Abyei constituencies in their orbit. President Kiir said his government backs the African Union (AU) proposal to hold the Abyei referendum next October while President Bashir affirmed that establishment of the agreed on civilian institutions in Abyei must precede the referendum. The routine positions drew criticism from leaders of both the Ngok Dinka and the Misseriya. That said, the two presidents appeared ready to freeze the situation in Abyei as long as the terms of their tenuous trade-off, continued flow of South Sudan oil in return for South Sudan’s commitment to suppress the activities of the SPLA/M-N along the border, were adhered to. 
The current thaw of relations between Sudan and South Sudan is also partially a result of the altered domestic political environment in both countries. President Kiir suspended the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) Secretary General and chief negotiator with Sudan, Pagan Amum, arguably the SPLA/M-N’s greatest friend in South Sudan, and put him under investigation, and dismissed his minister Deng Alor, the prominent Ngok Dinka politician, on allegations of corruption. In Sudan, appetite for confrontation with South Sudan has become hard to sustain, even with the continued propaganda of al-Intibaha, considering the economic hardships facing the country as a consequence of the loss of oil revenues, and the resistance of business to the government ban on the lucrative cross-border trade with South Sudan. At a grander scale, a delegation of Sudanese businessmen joining the tycoons Usama Dawood Abdul Latif and Jamal al-Wali recently visited Juba to meet President Kiir, and the sidelines of the summit witnessed the signing of a cooperation protocol between Sudan’s employers’ union and the commerce and labor chamber in South Sudan. The two announced the formation of a joint council and plans for a joint investment bank. 
Whether the current improvements in relations between the two Sudans will continue is contingent primarily on the domestic situation in the two countries, namely President Kiir’s ability to centralize power and guard it, and President Bashir’s ability to quell opposition to his continued rule from outside the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and dissent within it without the need for the shield of a foreign belligerent. The President held a meeting with the National Umma Party (NUP) chief Sadiq al-Mahdi as part of a public relations campaign to popularize the proposal of a national reconciliation, and the press continued to speculate about possible candidates for the new cabinet, from the opposition parties and also the ‘reform’ protagonists in the NCP, including the former National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) boss Salah Gosh. 
Reflecting the changing winds from Juba, the SPLA/M-N declared a month long unilateral ceasefire in solidarity with the victims of the recent heavy rains and floods in the country. The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) dismissed the declaration as a political gesture addressed to the international community but individual lawmakers in Khartoum welcomed it. Significantly, the government and the SPLA/M-N announced their readiness to allow the stalled polio vaccination campaign in rebel-held areas in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile to proceed in October. Details of the temporary ceasefire and the delivery of the vaccines are yet to be agreed upon. The government of South Kordofan offered opposition parties half the positions in the new state cabinet, and declared willingness to re-employs members of the SPLA/M-N dismissed from government service on outbreak of the insurgency in 2011. Judging by the precedent of its dealings with Chad in containing the operations of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Darfur, Khartoum will probably be inclined to intensify its military campaign against the SPLA/M-N while seeking political accommodation with leaders of the Nuba in South Kordofan, a strategy it has been actively. The As the SPLA/M-N’s Yasir Arman spoke of truce, the National Assembly in Khartoum urged leaders of the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) to scale up their recruitment efforts to assist the SAF ahead of the new fighting season. NCP politicians said one other season and it’s all over. Well, President Bashir said the same in 2004 as the war in Darfur was just warming up; the officially dated mayhem in Darfur turned ten this year. Khartoum’s calculations are clear to read, but it is the response of the SPLA/M-N to the shifting coordinates around it that will determine the future course of the conflict that now threatens to ‘Darfurise’ the New Sudan. 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

نافع: عامل تخاف، الله ما تخاف

عرضت وزيرة تنمية الموارد البشرية والعمل، اشراقة سيد محمود، على الرأي العام في مؤتمر صحفى الثلاثاء الماضي أرقاما من نتائج مسح قامت به الوزارة بالتعاون مع منظمة العمل الدولية والجهاز المركزي للإحصاء لسوق العمل السوداني. قالت الوزيرة أن حجم القوى العاملة ارتفع إلى 9.3 مليون عامل بالمقارنة مع 5.3 مليون في 1990، كما زادت نسبة البطالة إلى 18.8% مقارنة بنسبة 16.4% في 1990. من حيث التوزيع، قالت الوزيرة أن 53% من قوى العمل خارج القطاع الحكومي، وفصلت أن نسبة القوى العاملة في القطاع الزراعي انخفصت إلى 47% مقارنة بنسبة 60% عام 1990، لكن ليس لصالح التشغيل في القطاع الصناعي وإنما لقطاعي التجارة والخدمات. أضافت الوزيرة أن مؤهلات القوى العاملة التعليمية ارتفعت إلى نسبة 8.8% من 5%، ونسبت ذلك للتوسع في التعليم العالي مع تدني التعليم الفني والمهني رغم توجيهات الدولة بعكس ذلك. انتهى بذلك ما نقلت سونا من مؤتمر الوزيرة الصحفي التي أعلنت أن نتائج هذا المسح سيتم الإعلان عنها في ندوة لمنظمة العمل الدولية تستضيفها الخرطوم في 21 سبتمبر القادم، وذلك ضمن تقرير أوسع عن سوق العمل العربي.
غالب أرقام الوزيرة، كما هو ظاهر، معلقة في الهواء، لا يدرك متلقيها من أي مقام جاءت كسورها ، لذا لا مجال لتجميرها الساعة حتى تكشف الوزارة عن متن التقرير في سبتمبر القريب. من هذه "الضواقة" الاحصائية نأخذ بشاهدين على بعض التحولات الطارئة على الطبقة العاملة السودانية، توسعها الكمي وفك ارتباطها بجهاز الدولة إذا جازت العبارة، ما كان نتيجة لسياسات الخصخصة أو للتوسع في قطاع الخدمات. يتبع ذلك تشتيت قوى العمل في الإنتاج الصغير وما يعرف مجازا بالقطاع غير الرسمي أو القطاع الهامشي. تحاشت الوزيرة هذه التسميات لكن ألمحت إليها بقولها أن ما خسرت الزراعة من قوى العمل نزحت إلى التجارة والخدمات، وهو عرض لتدهور الاقتصاد الريفي بأي وجه فسرته. يكفي أن ملاك زراعيين في القضارف وشمال كردفان حذروا العام الماضي ومرة أخرى هذا العام من النقص الشديد في العمالة الزراعية، وعللوا ذلك بفقدان القوى العاملة من جنوب السودان بسبب استقلال الجنوب وتبعاته الحربية ثم حمى الذهب التي سحبت حتى رجال البوليس والجيش.
تلازم توسع الطبقة العاملة مع انتشارها الجغرافي والقطاعي، ولذلك تبعات تستوجب التقصي لمن أراد التوسل إليها بالتنظيم والتعبئة. قارن ذلك بالموقع المركزي الذي كانت تتمتع به عطبرة السكة حديد في خارطة العمل، حشدت كما حاسما من العمال المهرة يشتركون في المخدم والمحل. تضاعفت منذها أعداد العمال المهرة، لكنهم على خلاف السلف العطبرواي موزعون على مجالات إنتاج عدة ومخدمين أكثر، صلتهم الترحيل إن تيسر، لا سكن يضمهم ولا نادي. فوق ذلك انفك القيد القانوني على علاقات العمل، وأصبح حل للمخدمين التشغيل الكيري والموسمي والمؤقت كما يشتهون. خاف نافع علي نافع من "تخريب" يساري لنقابات غندور وحذر وأنذر، يستشعر ساعة تأتيه من حيث لا يحتسب، 9.3 مليون يا كابتن.  

Monday, 26 August 2013

A house of mud: Sudanese reads of Egypt

When Adly Mansour was installed interim president of Egypt by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the de factor ruler of the country, President Bashir eschewed the courtesy of congratulating his official counterpart down the Nile. The dramatic ouster of President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian military set off sirens in Khartoum, dulled only by the heavy rains and flash floods that more or less dissolved the common mud houses of the nas (commoners) in the capital and at no cost washed the dust off the concrete villas of the fortunate few. As the Egyptian security forces were busy killing hold-out supporters of Morsi in Cairo’s squares, Sisi’s soldiers airlifted humanitarian aid to the ‘people’ of Sudan. For some of Sudan’s star ‘democrats’, the gesture was the ornament needed to declare Sisi the type of benevolent strongman the country needs, a ‘nationalist’ officer capable of crushing the Islamist menace in an afternoon or two of tyranny. One particularly enthusiastic commentator crowned el-Sisi “the most important leader in the Middle East, past and future,” “a man with grand charisma”, whom history will grant “a degree above Gamal Abdel Nasser, and even above Ramses I.”
The mouthpiece of Tayeb Mustafa’s Just Peace Forum (JPF), al-Intibaha, published an assortment of pictures from the massacre in Rabaa al-Adawiya on 14 August, Mohamed Beltagy’s daughter smiling and then a lifeless face, the brain of a protestor in the hands of another, the rows of corpses in the mosque waiting in eternity for Morsi to return. On Friday 16 August, members of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP), the two wings of the parent Islamic Movement in Sudan, joined each other in a rally to protest the bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Officially, the Sudanese government maintained the ‘Chinese’ line that what is happening in Egypt is an internal affair for Egyptians to sort out. The NCP members who were chanting in Khartoum against el-Sisi’s coup did so under the banner of the NCP-subservient Islamic Movement, a nuance supposed to free the ruling party from the obligation of taking a definitive position on the issue and yet satisfy the imperative of solidarity with the Egyptian brothers. Zubeir Ahmed al-Hassan, the secretary general of the NCP’s Islamic Movement, and Ibrahim al-Sanosi, a veteran Islamist and Turabi’s deputy in the PCP, addressed the Friday rally, permitted to park next to the Republican Palace as only a democracy would allow. The two men appealed for reconciliation between the two wings of the Islamic Movement to face the challenge of the secular threat, the Sisi in the dark. 
“To my brother and sheikh Ibrahim al-Sanosi, what happened in Egypt pushes us towards unity. We should overcome our differences. The Islam that has survived imprisonment and attained power through democracy is the answer”, said al-Zubeir Ahmed al-Hassan referring to the election victories of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). To this flirt Ibrahim responded: “It is time to unite the Muslims to face the secularist threat from the [Atlantic] Ocean to the [Arab] Gulf, the forces that conspire against our brothers in Egypt. When they finish them off they will come to Sudan.” “The battle goes on as long as there is good and evil,” added Sanosi the sheikh. Sisi betrayed Allah and betrayed Morsi, who promoted him and made him his minister, he said, inviting the comparison with President Bashir, whom the PCP accuses of betraying Hassan al-Turabi, the Islamic project, and Allah for that matter. The emotions of Islamic unity were immediately traded in the political market. Press reports repeated over the next week claims of an impending reconciliation between the NCP and the PCP starting with a “love you too” meeting between President Bashir and his former sheikh Hassan al-Turabi. NCP officials welcomed the idea and commentators shot in all directions, speculating whether the PCP’s Ali al-Haj, settled in Germany, would replace Ali Osman Mohamed Taha as first vice president, or whether the ‘Saihoon’ princelings, the noisy reform protagonists in the NCP, would be invited to inherit the state. After all, the ‘Saihoon’ can boast a triad with government experience, Wad Ibrahim the army officer, Salah Gosh the security chief and Ghazi Salah al-Din al-Atabani the intellectual statesman. 
To many a secular-minded opponent of the NCP, Egypt between 30 June and 14 August offered the fulfilment of dreams long nursed, a popular uprising against Islamist rule, the army stepping in to side with the ‘people’ and clear the ground for real democracy, and a ruthless security operation that pins proponents of political Islam for what they really are, ‘terrorists’. Many were reading from the chapter of Sudan’s April 1985 uprising against Jaafar Nimayri, and were thus ready to cheer el-Sisi as Egypt’s Siwar al-Dahab. The revered general was Chief of Staff and then General Commander of the  Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) during Nimayri’s last year in power. He and senior officers of the army declared Nimayri history on 6 April 1985 after a fortnight of protests in Khartoum and other major towns calling for the overthrow of the absent autocrat, occupied at the time in the US. Siwar al-Dahab, as the most senior army officer, assumed leadership of the Transitional Military Council, to steer a one year interim period and eventually handed over power to the elected parliamentary government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi. Siwar al-Dahab, it must be added, is no stranger to Islamist politics. Once out of office he was named Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Call Organization, the charity arm of the Islamic Movement, which according to urban myth hosted the recording of President Bashir’s 30 June 1989 coup declaration. For the sake of detail, Nimayri had dismissed Siwar al-Dahab from the SAF in 1972, and he landed in Qatar where he served as military advisor of its Emir at the time, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad, and actual commander of the army and police until his recall by Nimayri the repentant imam in the 1980s. 
Reduce the above to pairs of Maoist abstractions and the result is two contradictions, one between secular and Islamist rule and another between military and civilian rule, argument being over which contradiction is the principal. The abstractions, compelling as they might be, miss if not mystify the dirty third, the contradiction between the mud houses on the floodplains, washed away, and the imposing villas, washed clean by Khartoum’s rains. Pit latrines collapsing around him, more the fifty thousand in the official count, the commissioner of Khartoum ordered a ban on building with mud bricks.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

الثورة المصرية: سياسة حتى الموت

لن يستر التحليل مهما توسع وتعمق الهمجية التي بها حصد جهاز الدولة المصرية أرواح المعتصمين في رابعة العدوية والنهضة وقد انتشرت جثثهم بين الميدان والمسجد، دامية أو محترقة، ثم في رمسيس الجمعة، تنتظر في الأبدية عودة مرسي المعزول. كتب روبرت فيسك، مراسل جريدة الاندبندنت المخضرم في الشرق الأوسط، كلمة قبل أسبوعين أو يزيد سجل فيها التناقض بين الليبراليين المصريين أبناء المدينة الذين آثروا حصن الجيش المصري على المواجهة السياسية مع حركة الأخوان المسلمين في الحكم وبين المهاجرين من الريف المصري إلى رابعة العدوية بالعيال وأمهاتهم نصرا للأخوان و"الشرعية"، وهو تناقض قائم كذلك بين قيادة الأخوان كثيرة المال قليلة الصلاة وأنصارهم من غمار الأتقياء. الشاذ أن القوى الليبرالية التي نهضت لتفويض السيسي حتى يخلصهم من الأخوان بالقوة الضاربة أغمضوا أعينهم عن هؤلاء، يرون في كل مناصر للرئيس المعزول ريان أو شاطر يحمل السلاح، استسهلوا أبلسة الأخوان وأحلوا دمهم جماعة، بلا حقوق انسان بلا لمة.
سألت جريدة نيويورك تايمز زمرة من الأكاديميين والمراقبين عن تفسيرهم للعنف المفرط الذي واجه به جهاز الدولة المعتصمين رغم وعد حكومي بالتدرج في إخلاء الميدانين فأفاد بعضهم أن غرض غزوة الأربعاء كان دفع الأخوان بشدة المغصة خارج السياسة إلى هامش الإرهاب فيما يشبه أحداث الجزائر عام 1991 حينما تدخل الجيش لكبت الإسلاميين بعد أن فازت الجبهة الإسلامية للإنقاذ بالجولة الأولى من الانتخابات. بغياب قيادتها السياسية في السجون انفرط عقد الجبهة وأخذت مكانها جماعات مسلحة ظلت تحارب الدولة والجبهة ذاتها وقت استعد بعض قادتها للتفاوض مع الجيش. قال اسكندر العمراني للتايمز أن أعضاء النادي السياسي وجدوا  في اتفاق المؤسستين العسكرية والأمنية على قهر الأخوان فرصة تاريخية لاستبعاد الجماعة من السياسة بالضربة القاضية حتى وإن كان الثمن القبول بعهد طويل من القمع السياسي تحت شعار فرض "هيبة الدولة" و"محاربة الإرهاب"، وهي لغة كان مرسي المعزول نفسه استلفها لمواجهة الحركة الجماهيرية ضد حكم الأخوان وقت اختار الفلولي محمد ابراهيم مصطفى وزيرا للداخلية في يناير 2013، ذات الوزير الذي يقوم الآن بفرض هيبة الدولة في مواجهة أنصار مرسي. حركة الأخوان من جهتها عدمت التدبير كل خطتها أن تحث أنصارها على "الشهادة" لا غير، تعطلت ساعتها يوم فاز مرسي بالرئاسة وسهت عن حقيقة أن شعبيته لم تزد على ربع عدد الأصوات في جولة الانتخابات الأولى. استغرب بيتر هسلر في مجلة نيويوركر هذه الغشامة من الأخوان المسلمين رغم تاريخهم الطويل في التنظيم وقال انقطعوا عن اتجاهات الشارع المصري واستعدوه حتى انقلب عليهم تحت ظل السيسي الأب.
لم أجد أحسن مقاومة لفتنة السيسي والأخوان من "الاشتراكيون الثوريون"، فصيل يساري قليل العدد لكن عظيم الهمة. أصدر الاشتراكيون ورقة بعنوان "يسقط حكم العسكر..لا لعودة الفلول..لا لعودة الأخوان" اجتهدوا فيها لعقل مسار الثورة والثورة المضادة في مصر وتطوير موقف أجدى سياسة من السرور بذبح الأخوان الجماعي والشماتة العاطلة. قال الاشتراكيون أن الجيش قطع الطريق على تطور الحركة الجماهيرية التي تصاعدت في 30 يونيو بالانقلاب في 3 يوليو تمهيدا لعودة الطبقة الحاكمة وقد نفضت عنها الأخوان، غطاء ذلك الدعائي تلبيس الأخوان في كافة جرائم العسكر والفلول والسعي لمحو 25 يناير واستبدالها بالتفويض. عف الاشتراكيون الانتهازية واستقبلوا العزلة المؤقتة بثقة الثوري في فتح قريب فمرحى لاستثنائهم المجيد. 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Sudan: the class war in the capital

Over the past few years the Sudanese press has dedicated more and more space to coverage of crime, reports that attract a greater readership than the seesaw of Juba-Khartoum relations and the bellicose politics of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and its opponents. In fact, the widest distributing paper in Sudan, al-Dar, is wholly dedicated to crime and scandal, feeding a steady stream of the bizarre, extreme and shocking to the gossip rounds of the nation, associated in the rule with the lengthy multi-event weddings and extended funerals that channel rather than interrupt daily life. 
Thanks to an ever increasing number of cars and internet-wired mobile phones, the more affluent middle-class inhabitants of Khartoum and other major towns of the Sudanese heartland converted the norms of the extended family into an urban art of socializing. Well informed about the calamities that befall their own families as well as those of colleagues, friends and acquaintances through the gifts of communications technology, they find themselves obliged to criss-cross the capital offering congratulations and condolences as the situation might require. The less committed of course might restrict these mujamalat (courtesies) to a phone call or a text message but drop them they cannot, to the extent that the distinctive marker of a middle-class Khartoum funeral is no more the anguished cries of bereaved relatives but the cacophony of ringtones and exhibit of parked cars, the more the higher the social value of the event. 
In addition to birth, wedding and death less cyclical misfortunes like a burglary or a car accident are also occasions for a mujamala, in this case prayers for kafara, i.e. consideration of the mishap as credit necessary to delete past sins from personal history. When suffering from his throat ailment late last year President Bashir invoked the kafara principle. He told a small group of supporters who assembled in the Sudanese embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after undergoing a medical procedure that his throat complaints were a kafara for whatever grievances his citizens might have against him. 
Sudan’s upper class proper, like their global counterparts, have the means to shield themselves and their property from the menaces of the less fortunate. In recent years, gated communities have mushroomed in Khartoum’s suburbia with private security firms taking over the responsibility for protection instead of the regular police, accused in popular perception of colluding with the very burglars they are supposed to nip and sharing in the booty of nocturnal house calls. With the withdrawal of the filthy rich from the city to their own sharia-free ‘liberated’ mini-worlds the immediate ramifications of class conflict play out orders of wealth lower, foremost in the crime-exposed neighbourhoods of the upper middle class still wholly dependent on state benevolence for security and services. 
As a boy growing up in Omdurman in the 1980s I remember vividly our neighbourhood burglar, a lone bachelor who despite his disrepute enjoyed the respect of children for being an adult and that of adults for adhering to a minimum degree of civility. Hasan spent his free time off burglary selling weed at discount prices to a small clientele of local craftsmen, shopkeepers and rebellious secondary school lads and running a one-man delivery service of ‘aragi’ (the famous Sudanese dates liquor) for respectable gentlemen who could not possibly risk buying the stuff themselves. A keen observer would spot Hasan in sneak mode gliding through the streets from this to that door during the early night hour when dependents were in trance watching the daily Egyptian series and the alpha males pretended to be waiting for the main news bulletin of the day but had their ears perked in expectation of his welcome drop-off. 
When business was down for any reason, or he just wanted to, Hasan would resort to stealing the bed sheets left hanging on washing lines by busy housewives, the random cassette player forgotten in the yard, and when lucky the odd piece of gold jewellery neglected by an anxious bride in the rush of matrimonial duty. In that regard, Hasan was more a scavenger than an active burglar. He did climb over walls, usually in the dark hour before dawn, but mostly only to pick whatever surplus of household items was on display. In return, Hasan had the duty to guard the neighbourhood against competing burglars, and in that he proved quite efficient, usually the first to shout harami (thief) whenever he spotted one during his regular rounds, and the most vicious in punishing trespassers of his domain. 
Almost every house in the neighbourhood lived partly off the dispatches of an expatriate son or daughter, cash of course as well as consumer products, electrical appliances, clothes, sugar, toothpaste, you name it. Hasan, like all neighbourhood residents, awaited the annual home vacations of these generous providers with great hope. Keen to avoid his intrusions, judged as particularly scary for children growing up in the safety and wellbeing of the Arab Gulf, the better off parents preferred to buy Hasan’s abstinence from the job with gifts, a new shirt or cloth for a new jellabiya was usually sufficient to secure his compliance. This precarious symbiosis was obviously not made to last. Trespassing gangs of thieves outcompeted Hasan as the capital received more and more impoverished migrants from Sudan’s devastated rural communities, drought stricken and war ravaged. He was soon accused of assisting the “strangers” through reconnaissance or the passage of crucial information on the in-country itinerary of vising expatriates. The new burglary model of which Hasan was charged featured ethnicity as a diagnostic cue of criminality. Being a Nuba, he was accused of siding with his kin in forcibly taxing dispatches from the Arab Gulf. 
Private property had by then acquired greater significance, partially as a result of the combined effect of the deterioration in living standards in the capital and the inflow of hard earned remittances from abroad. It was in Ramadan, the fasting month when believers are encouraged to share in the woes of the less fortunate by abstaining from food and drink from dawn to dusk, that the discrepancies between an emerging class of particularly pious nouveau riches and the sin-inclined majority were glaringly on display. Electricity generators and air conditioners turned Ramadan into a vacation of indulgence for the few while chronic power and water cuts kept the left behind permanently praying. Some envious evil-doers were even tempted to sabotage those beastly generators in order to silence their exhibitionist noise, torture pure that robbed the sinners destined to endure the glowing coals of Ramadan unmediated by modern devices of their only consolation, sleep.
The ideology of the remittance economy featured on one hand a jealous passion for private property and on the other confirmed faith in the infinite wisdom and superiority of sharia. Fidelity to sharia was perceived in this context as the reason behind a divine welfare scheme for the good Moslems of the Arab Gulf and its disregard as one definitive cause for Allah’s wrath towards the bad Moslems of Sudan. Echoes of the same notion are still operative today and can be discerned in the controversial statements of the one member of parliament who at least has something remarkable to say compared to the party-line parrots in the house, Dafalla Hasab al-Rasoul. The punitive sharia regime introduced by Nimayri in September 1983 functioned in part as a tool to safeguard the wealth of the nouveau riches from the extended hands of the rabble. The prompt justice courts manned by power-hungry sharia judges were welcomed as such by this powerful constituency at a time when the Sudanese judiciary was triple crippled, overwhelmed by the sheer number of criminal cases awaiting adjudication, depopulated by its Gordonian-trained staff of judges and prosecutors who found more attractive employment in the Arab Gulf and paralyzed by the intermittent strikes of those who held out. 
Today, even sharia seems incapable of disciplining Khartoum’s armed gangs, the professionals who have slipped out of the subversive civility of the likes of Hasan to join a global knighthood of adroit operators. Last year a troop of such men and women targeted the house of the NCP heavyweight Qutbi al-Mahdi, a Canadian citizen, and managed to get away with a cache of foreign currencies and gold. They security services eventually captured some of them but the trial proceedings proved a greater embarrassment for Qutbi than for the ‘criminals’ behind bars. I suppose Bertolt Brecht’s resonating indictment “What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?” would have served them well in court. “Hungry man, reach for the book, it is a weapon,” he also said. Hasan recently passed away in an Omdurman hospital. Farewell ya my friend.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

#OurSudan: musings of the undead effendi

A group of technology-savvy, gender-sensitive and human-rights-mainstreamed Sudanese young women and men put together a twelve minutes film titled #OurSudan for the English-literate audience with Arabic subtitles. I recognized a few of the people who spoke to the camera as friends and university colleagues. The film is the brainchild and production of Tariq Hilal, a Khartoumian political scientist and democracy practitioner. It is essentially a replay of Hilal’s TEDx Khartoum lecture in May 2012 with a cast. Apparently a hygienic exercise in the marketing of ‘good will’ and ‘positive thinking’, the film is a demonstration of ideology at its purest with the gushing of politics flushed out leaving bare the white bone of fantasy. 
The knot of Tariq’s narrative is the apposition of two generations, the fathers who inherited the colony intact and their sons/daughters who suffered the postcolony as a site of fracture and degeneration. The first, he tells us, had it all, trains that ran on time, jazz nights by the Nile, Khartoum University in its prime when exams were marked in London and students had their laundry done, and the second had to queue for fuel and bread, fought for a foothold in crammed public buses and endured education in impoverished universities that offered nothing more than diplomas. The idealism that inspired the return of the fathers from higher education in Europe and North America to build the country they considered theirs was replaced by humble goals and a pragmatic worldview that kept most of their offspring abroad as ‘naturalised’ citizens or permanent immigrants in foreign lands. While the fathers could not realise their dreams the offspring had difficulties dreaming bogged down as they were by the perception of having “fallen short” tells us Tariq. The resolution he offers is belief. With the insight that the golden age of Sudan was not so golden and the dark age not so dark, Tariq’s advice is “to recognise that our generation is a generation to be proud of too.” Without the privileges of the golden age Sudan’s young men and women have achieved great things, Hilal assures us. The climax is reached with the suspicious and oft-repeated Sudan snippet, a resources rich geography where the Middle East meets Africa inhabited by peoples of diverse ethnicities, religions and colours, and endowed with a predominantly young population eager to learn and achieve. The cast of the film actually represented the flow of colour from the dark ‘akhdar’ through the hybrid ‘asmar’ to the light ‘asfar’ of the Sudanese. The endpoint is reached with a marketing repetition of the trademark ‘My Sudan…Your Sudan… Our Sudan’ on the background of the smiling faces of the troupe followed by the instruction: “It is time to dream a new dream, the dream of our generation.” 
Tariq’s narrative and its video transformation pursue the politics of representation with the candour and inanity of television advertisements. The two sexes are highlighted as are the shades of skin colour, the signifiers of religious observance or lack thereof and the physiognomic features of ethnic categorisation. Conspicuously absent from the photogenic mosaic display is any reference to the contradictions of social class, and rightly so since the dreams entertained, the failed old and the celebrated new, are born of a shared political economy, that of the homogenous few who “stand tall”, to plagiarise Tariq’s very words, above the crowd. Tariq did a great job describing the anguish of Sudan’s effendiya and their heirs, the salaried degrees-heavy professionals with global ties, at the loss of a world they occupied but did not make. He voiced the fantasy of return from Babylonian exile in the world to a Sudanese Jerusalem to be with a passion deserving of admiration, but fell prey to the very fiction he dismissed as reminisce. If there is a single thread that runs through the tumultuous history of postcolonial Sudan it is the continuous revolt of its peoples against the power structures that made the trains run on the time of the effendiya as it were. Whether under the banners of a militant left in the 1960s, with the spears of sharia in the 1980s and 1990s or in the bandwagons of ethnic kith and kin, Sudan’s disenfranchised continue to challenge the colonial architecture of power at the heart of its persistent crisis. All claims considered, Sudan belongs to those who put down the rails, did the students’ laundry and shouldered the costs of the London exams. Cinema Coliseum is playing their film, and there are no subtitles.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Sudanese: between a rock and a hard place

The National Congress Party – Reform Platform (NCP-RP), a semi-clandestine association of disgruntled Islamists that developed as a carrier of the memoranda politics preceding the Islamic Movement’s November 2012 general conference and the political vehicle of the ensuing coup attempt of Brigadier-general Mohamed Ibrahim Abd al-Jalil (Wad Ibrahim) and fellow officers, issued on Saturday a statement declaring a mass revoke of allegiance to President Bashir. The NCP-RP author(s) used the Arabic word bai’a to define the relationship with President Bashir, a term from medieval Islamic jurisprudence that modern Islamic movements beginning with the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood under Hassan al-Banna have rehabilitated to refer to organisational subjugation and almost unconditional obedience to an all-knowing leader. 
The NCP-RP, dissident civilians of the ruling party and members of the military, announced a replacement pledge of allegiance to Wad Ibrahim arguing that President Bashir had failed to adhere to the conditions of the bai’a he enjoyed since 1989, namely the imposition of sharia and the rule of justice. Bashir failed to maintain the unity of the country’s territory as inherited from our forefathers and did not implement Allah’s sharia, said the statement. The blemish was not limited to President Bashir though. “Khartoum is today one of the most corrupt Arab and Moslem cities, and since its president is a dancer it is the habit of its inhabitants to dance”, added the statement paraphrasing a known Arab idiom. The Arabic word fasaad, translated here into corruption, carries strong connotations of sexual morality, and would better be translated into debauchery judging by the example of the dancing president and the idiom it refers to. In any case, the apparently sharia thirsty NCP reformers are obviously not impressed by the lifestyles of the new Khartoumians. 
The statement went on to deplore President Bashir’s tolerance of the financial corruption of his brothers and the nepotism of his ministers, referred to in the text as ‘racism’. The Minister of Oil Awad al-Jaz , said the reformers, manned the whole ministry with people from his ‘tribe’. The eclectic character of the NCP-RP’s criticism is noteworthy. From the Salafis they borrowed abhorrence towards the alleged promiscuity of the capital’s inhabitants, from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) the algebra of ethnic power-sharing, from the opposition parties the secession blame and from their own ranks the envy of junior cadres towards scandalously rich seniors. The reformers pledged obedience to Wad Ibrahim in order to carry out the battle to change this government which they said ruled in their name as ‘mujahideen’ and army servicemen but reneged on its promise to apply Allah’s sharia. A sympathiser might argue that the sharia rhetoric of the NCP-RP is only tactical in nature intended to challenge the ‘religious’ legitimacy of President Bashir as Moslem ruler. What matters however is not so much the actual practice of sharia but rather its function in political discourse. In that regard, the NCP-RP is rehashing a theme that goes back to the 1960’s when the emergent Islamic Movement, shocked and attracted by Khartoum’s offerings of pleasure, harassed President Abboud’s government and the political class at large with accusations of loose sexual mores. The campaign of the Islamic Movement peaked following the overthrow of Abboud in 1964 with mounting pressure on parliamentarians to ban prostitution in the capital.
As if on campaign, Wad Ibrahim accompanied by the former head of the NCP’s parliamentary caucus Ghazi Salah al-Din al-Attabani and a crowd of ‘Saihoon’, have been touring the native towns and villages of the coup plot officers attending one celebration of their release after another. They recently landed in al-Zubeirat in Gezira. Wad Ibrahim, nursing his political self, declared commitment to the path of reform, and his fellow officer Fath al-Raheem asserted that they were partners in the ‘Salvation Revolution’ of President Bashir and not mere footmen. The cautious Ghazi reiterated the call for reform stressing that it was a lengthy process and not merely a campaign against a few corrupt individuals. Between Wad Ibrahim and Ghazi, I wonder who pledged allegiance to whom. The situation is certainly familiar. Osama Tawfiq, identified as a Saihoon leader, kept the channels patent with President Bashir unlike the authors of the NCP-RP declaration. The President, he said, refused the prosecution of the coup officers and immediately signed the order of their release once it was presented to him. “These are not the men to be tried,” Bashir reportedly said. 
As the NCP-RP loads reloads its sharia guns the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in North Sudan (SPLA/M-N) and its allies in the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) are ravaging the countryside in South Kordofan and adjacent areas of North Kordofan with real gunfire, real enough to busy the medical corps of the demoralized Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) around the clock. Yasir Arman, the SPLA/M-N Secretary General, told US and Sudanese activists on Saturday that the SRF’s recent offensive was meant to convince the population yet unvisited by war that the government was sufficiently weak to be toppled through the combined military might of the SRF and the ‘revolutionary’ initiative of the political forces and civil society organisations that seek to overthrow the regime by peaceful means. Sudan is a failed state, said Arman, and a new “social contract that does not discriminate between the Sudanese” is necessary to reconstruct it, one that he proposed could be achieved if the ruling NCP agrees to negotiations with the SRF as a whole and not only the SPLA/M-N in order to end the wars in the country. In earlier statements, Arman instructed those who reject armed resistance to the NCP to escalate mass political action, rather than subdue to the ruling security-military complex. Arman’s message to the allegedly complacent heartland, rewritten, is simply rise up or endure the consequences of failing to do so. The reasoning is a Manichean one, either with us or with the enemy, mirroring rather than transcending the NCP’s mobilisation propaganda. 
The ‘change’ that has eluded the NCP-RP, officers and civilians, from within, the SRF is dashing to achieve by the reach of its guns from without. Between the disciplinary edge of the Islamist reformers’ renewed sharia passion and the gun-mediated secular social contract pledged by the SRF there is a uniting chain, coercion. The barricades are littered with the ethnically labelled corpses of the ‘Sudanese’.
 
Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.