Tuesday, 30 June 2009

From the diary of an exhausted opposition

Today is the 20'th anniversary of the 30'th June coup that brought Omer al-Bashir and Co to power. I still remember in the early 90s when the National Democratic Alliance - a coalition of oppostion parties - was organising in Omdurman how much disbelief was in the air, particularly after the summary execution of the 28 officers (proposedly pro-Ba'ath) who had the guts to stage a counter-coup and eventually met their fate at the hands of the late Vice President Zubeir Mohamed Salih, who later died in a plane crash in the vicinity of Nasser, and the security chief of the time Nafie Ali Nafie, still alive and kicking as ever.
The general assumption of the political class at the time was that the NIF coup will not survive a few months, at the maximum a year. This perception survived into the mid-90's. In 1995, I was a freshman in Khartoum University at the time, the student movement in cooperation with opposition parties operating in clandestine organised a series of demonstrations, that came to be known as the "1995 Uprising" in the urban resistance mythology of Khartoum. At the time the sensation was "freedom around the corner", even more so when news of scattered military gains of the NDA, in particular Abdel Aziz Khalid's Sudanese National Alliance began to reach Khartoum. Later on we came to understand how inconsequential the whole attempt at military action via Eritrea and into Northern Sudan was. In essence, the more military action raged in the border regions the more political resistance in the North lost ground, and to a greater degree surrendered to the hope of a victorious NDA liberating Khartoum through a military campaign. This particular false wish was to prove deadly to political recruitment and initiative inside the country - al-dakhil in NDA jargon. The weaving of hopeful expectations became the political act per se, and nothing else.
Reflecting back, it is amazing how much time and energy was spent tending to the injured pride of Khartoum's elite, and how little on political activism in the positive sense of the word. At the core of this misguided approach was the political imagination that a reversal of developments and a return to the zero hour of the coup, was the objective to attain, a perception that still prevails in some circles of the "opposition". Well, history has proven the futility of return, Ingaz simply survived all that fuss with the virtue of perserverence on one hand, and the ages old tactic of divide and rule combined with a mastery of perpetual procrastination on the other. The ruthlessness and violence of the regime need not be mentioned in this regard. It is difficult but necessary to state that the Northern opposition simply failed to recover from the trauma it suffered in the first years of Ingaz. The legacy of those years of terror has had a much deeper effect on our collective psyche than we wish to admit, as individuals and as institutions. The victim status that we came to accept lingers as ever ridding us of the urgency of agency and the creativity of subjective action. Comparing the demonstrations and activism of 1995 - 1996 with the throttled politcal initiatives of today we were then free in a sense we are surely not today. At least we had the nerve to break the rules and embrace dissent. Today dissent is tricky, not primarily because of the security grip, that is a secondary cause, but because of the exhaustion of our common political imagination. In the greater number of instances the political opposition in Khartoum simply has no idea "what is to be done?" A salient example is the response to Ocampo's arrest warrant. Irrespective of the judicial integrity of the process, and the wider political repercussions. In Khartoum the opposition paradoxically responded expressing fears of "constitutional vacuum". At the time when in anti-war protest we were tearing down life sized pictures on metal sheets of NIF martyrs in Southern Sudan from University Avenue (Sharia al-Jama'a to those familiar with street signs in Khartoum) it was exactly such vacuum that we were looking for. It comes then as no surprise that the gut response of the opposition to all political issues is let us organise a national conference for that. It is admirable to see so much willingness for debate, but in its reverse side this generosity signals how little in terms of programme or plan is on the table.

The image captures sentiments of the four opposition leaders from left to right Ali Mahmoud Hassanien, Deputy Chairman of the Democratic Unionis Party (DUP), Mohammed Ibrahim Nugud, Secretary of the Sudanese Communist Party, Hassan Abdallah al-Turabi, Chairman of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) and al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, Chairman of the Umma Party, brought together in a meeting with Jan Pronk at a Khartoum hotel in June 2006.

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