Sunday 25 December 2011

Khalil Ibrahim: the chief of the marginalised

In the first hours of Sunday 25 December the spokesman of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), al-Sawarmi Khaled Saad, told the media that a company of the army had killed Khalil Ibrahim (b. 1958), the Chairman of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and his entourage, in Wad Banda at the north-western edge of North Kordofan. On 22 December the JEM claimed to have reached al-Nuhud, a major town in the region, en route to Khartoum. The SAF dismissed the rebels’ statement but affirmed that JEM fighters had launched a series of attacks on Um Qozain, Qoz Abyad and Armal between North Kordofan and North Darfur.
The SAF spokesman referred to Khalil as the ‘rebel’, but he was an in-house rebel so to speak, a son of the Islamic Movement and the regime it established in 1989. He joined the Movement as a secondary school pupil and matured in its ranks as a medical student in al-Gezira University, where he graduated in 1984.
It is an irony of fate that it was Khalil Ibrahim himself, in the company of Darfur’s governor at the time, al-Tayeb Ibrahim Mohamed Khair (Sikha), who hunted down Dawood Yahia Bolad in 1992. Like Khalil, Bolad was a Darfurian who found a political home in the Islamic Movement. From the chairmanship of the Khartoum University Students’ Union (KUSU), the training post of the Movement’s career politicians, Bolad was named the National Islamic Front (NIF) political supervisor over Darfur and its candidate for the Nyala national constituency in the 1986 elections. The NIF did not perform as well as it assumed it would in Darfur. The Islamists won all the four Darfur graduates’ constituencies but claimed only two out of thirty nine geographical constituencies in the region. Bolad did not make it to the parliament in Khartoum.
Bolad’s break with the NIF came a year later in the context of ethnic polarisation in Darfur between the Fur and the Arabs prodded by the escalation of the Chadian-Libyan conflict. With the approval of Sadiq al-Mahdi’s government Libya and its Chadian allies used Darfur as a conduit to Chadian territories in their campaign against the regime of Hissen Habré. The Libyans suffered a series of embarrassing defeats during the so called Toyota war of 1987, culminating in the successful Chadian raid on the Libyan Maaten al-Sarra airbase in September of the same year. Ghaddafi did the expected and sponsored a proxy force from the Beni Halba and Rizeigat Abbala of Darfur to counter his Chadian enemies.  The Chadian regime, on the other hand, sought the service of the Zaghawa Bedayat to harass Libya’s protégés. Considering US-French support for Habré and presumed Soviet support for Ghaddafi, Darfur, wrecked by waves of drought and desertification, became the scene of a late Cold War encounter. Both the Umma Party and the NIF were deeply indebted to Ghaddafi and in no position to resist his demands. Eventually Darfur’s politics spilled over to Khartoum in the form of two rival organisations, the Libyan-sponsored ‘Arab Gathering’ established in 1987 with the approval if not open support of the Umma Party and the NIF, and the ‘National Council for the Salvation of Darfur’ founded in 1988 by Fur intellectuals in the capital with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party. Two of the NIF’s Darfur MPs, Farouq Mohamed Adam and Abd al-Jabbar Abd al-Karim, defected to the DUP in protest against the NIF’s acquiescence to Libya’s devices in the region; Bolad was their third. He appeared in Khartoum immediately after the NIF takeover in 1989 carrying a book draft which could have well been the intellectual precursor of JEM’s famed Black Book. According to Turabi’s top aide al-Mahbub Abd al-Salam, Bolad was aggressively rebuffed by the NIF leaders prompting him to leave the country and seek contacts with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). Bolad returned to Darfur a rebel leader on behalf of the SPLA/M. Al-Tayeb Sikha, the governor of Greater Darfur, and Khalil Ibrahim, his minister, caught up with Bolad in Jebel Marra, executed the man and annihilated his cell of operatives.
To his disappointment Khalil never made it to a national post. He held state ministerial posts in Darfur, the Blue Nile, and an advisor position in the Juba government of Bahr al-Jabal after a distinguished record of combat in the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF) against the rebel SPLA/M. Khalil resigned the Bahr al-Jabal job in August 1998 and after a short attempt at NGO activity flew off to Maastricht in pursuit of a MSc in Public Health. When the Islamic Movement fractured into two Khalil Ibrahim sided with Hassan al-Turabi against President Bashir and Ali Osman Mohamed Taha. He announced the formation of the JEM in 2001 from his Maastricht base.
The trajectory of the chief of the marginalised, Dr Khalil, and his Movement mirrors closely the ups and downs of Khartoum’s stormy relationship with Deby’s Chad and Ghaddafi’s Libya. The Sudanese intelligence sponsored an attack of the Chadian rebel United Front for Democratic Change on Ndjamena in 2006, and Chad and Libya cooperated to support JEM’s attempt on Khartoum in May 2008. The dice turned against Khalil when President’s Bashir and Deby reached a deal of co-existence in 2010. Deby refused to allow Khalil into Chad, and turned him to Libya’s Gaddafi who kept him under effective house arrest and denied him access to the media. Ghaddafi’s regime collapsed under the blows of the NATO- supported National Transitional Council. Libya’s to be rulers accused the JEM and its leader Khalil Ibrahim of acting as Ghaddafi’s mercenaries, and announced their readiness to hand him over to the Khartoum regime once they capture him. Khalil escaped back into Darfur from his Libyan exile in September this year. He stated at the time that the JEM was keen to mend its relationship with Chad’s Deby. He never managed to I presume. Commenting on the news the political secretary of the National Congress Party (NCP) Qutbi al-Mahdi described Khalil’s return to Darfur as “suicidal”.
Last November the JEM teamed up with the SPLM in North Sudan to form the Sudan Revolutionary Front with the declared aim of bringing down the Khartoum regime by force of arms. The JEM attack on North Kordofan in the past few days was essentially the first operation of significance under the new umbrella. Short of arms and men Khalil Ibrahim defied Chairman Mao’s famous dictum by venturing into an area where support for his cause was by all means marginal in an attempt to generate the proverbial fish and water of an insurgency at one stroke.
Now that the recalcitrant Khalil is dead the Khartoum government might well agree to open the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur for renegotiation with the headless JEM. For those interested in the formalities of peace arrangments the situation seems opportune for a ‘comprehensive’ Darfur agreement. The JEM might not survive Khalil's death as a unified organisation, but its estimated 35,000 armed combatants will surely not dissolve into the sands of Darfur. 

Monday 12 December 2011

Bashir’s new cabinet: the blame of promiscuity

President Bashir’s new ministers took the oath of office on Saturday, thirty one cabinet and thirty five state ministers in number. The sixty six ladies and gentleman paraded in front of the cameras in their best outfits to be told by the President that they should better avoid petty squabbles and focus on getting work done. To describe the cabinet as new is evidently an exaggeration. All of President Bashir’s old guard preserved their portfolios, Bakri Hassan Salih for presidential affairs, Abd al-Rahim Mohamed Hussein for defence, Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid for the interior, Ali Karti for foreign affairs, and Osama Abdalla for electricity and dams. Awad al-Jaz, who vacated the ministry of oil during the interim period of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was reinstated in his den so to speak, and Kamal Abd al-Latif took over the mining portfolio. The newcomers of Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) were granted the ministries of cabinet affairs, commerce, and youth and sports, while the breakaway faction of the party led by the newly appointed presidential assistant Jalal Yusif al-Digeir, a long term ally of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), was rewarded with the ministry of international cooperation, al-Digeir’s former abode, as well as the environment and forests, and human resources portfolios.
President Bashir made a few interesting choices though; he picked Mohamed Abd al-Karim al-Had, a leading figure of the obsessively zealous Wahhabi sect Ansar al-Sunna as minister of telecommunications and information technology sparking fears that the internet service in the country might be soon shrouded with a tight hijab. Sanaa Hamad kept her position as state minister for information but lost her title as the youngest in the team. Bashir named the thirty one year old Azza Omer Awad al-Karim as state minister of telecommunications. How the Wahhabi minister will deal with the young attractive woman to his side and retain his religious credibility is a matter of speculation. The President did not miss to dispense four state minister posts to a complacent faction of the SPLM in North Sudan that declared its opposition to the armed insurrection led by Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu in South Kordofan and Malik Agar in the Blue Nile.
Khartoum’s established opposition proved no more inventive in its disapproval than President Bashir’s recycled cabinet. Kamal Omer, from the Popular Congress Party (PCP), said Bashir was not willing to give up real power, and the Communist Party’s Sideeg Yusif reiterated the proposal of an all parties’ conference. Much more original criticism of the new government however came from the ranks of the NCP itself, or rather its Islamist core. Al-Intibaha’s columnist Saad Ahmed Saad mourned the Islamic Movement’s project as it were, which he claimed, has been long diluted by the NCP’s promiscuity. Notably Saad identified 1997 as the date of the Movement’s “tragic” deviation. In that year, the regime, with the Movement still intact, tabled the controversial Political Alliance (Tawali) Act allowing for political association within an Islamic frame of reference. The Tawali law, like the 1998 constitution, was attributed to Hassan al-Turabi, the veteran leader of the Movement, and at the time the speaker of the national assembly.  
According to Saad, the Islamists’ share in the new cabinet does not exceed twenty per cent, and Islam’s share in the government is a meagre five per cent. The regime, he declared, failed in developing an Islamic model for the state, and eventually turned to its historical rivals, the sectarian parties, for political back-up. Following Saad, one could speak of the really existing Islamic state in contradistinction to a phantasm of a state ever deferred. If the new cabinet is too narrow to satisfy the established opposition it is too wide to ensure the Islamists of the actuality of their unquenchable desire. The reality of power in Khartoum, however, is a function of the ability and readiness of President Bashir and his captains to mete out the prizes of the state to an array of quarrelsome constituencies and peripheral power-brokers, who by and large do not share the fantasy of Saad and others. The Islamic Movement proper, although dominant, has been long reduced to merely one of these constituencies, and its cadres to faithful administrators rather than decision-makers. If the regime has failed to realize the Islamic project then that is the reality of the Islamic project, a discourse of power. 

Friday 2 December 2011

Bashir: the third sayyid

Jaafar (L) and his father Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani (R)

President Bashir issued a decree late Tuesday appointing his new team of assistants and advisors, the prelude to the announcement of the long awaited post-secession government. Jaafar al-Sadiq (b. 1973), the younger son of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) chief and Khatmiya patron Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani, and Abd al-Rahman (b. 1966), the eldest son of the National Umma Party (NUP) boss and Ansar imam Sadiq al-Mahdi, were named presidential assistants along with Nafie Ali Nafie, Musa Ahmed Mohamed and Jalal Yusif al-Digeir. As advisors the President picked Ibrahim Ahmed Omer, Ghazi Salah al-Din, Mustafa Osman Ismail, Ahmed Bilal Osman, Farida Ibrahim Hussein, Raja Hassan Khalifa, and Mohamed al-Hassan Mohamed Masaad.
The ladies and gentlemen of the Presidency took the oath on Wednesday in Khartoum. Speaking to the press after the proceedings Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi stated that he had accepted the President’s appointment in his capacity as an officer of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), and not a representative of the NUP or the person of the Imam. First Lieutenant Abd al-Rahman was sacked from the service in 1989 when President Bashir deposed his father, the prime minister. He was reappointed a colonel in the military sports branch of the army late in 2010. Jaafar, did not need such a twist; to his side stood his father’s right hand man, Mohamed al-Hassan Masaad, who was named presidential advisor. Jaafar left the Sudan in 1991 to study in London. He returned to the country in 2008 together with his father.
An Intibaha journalist described President Bashir’s choice of assistants in the following terms, “youth in the Palace but not from the NCP” reference being to the President’s pledge to empower the younger generation of the ruling party. Phrased differently, the ambitious and loyal middle ranks of the NCP are unlikely to be particularly thrilled with the President’s pick. The success of the Islamic Movement, and its current embodiment the NCP, is at a certain level a consequence of the slow but sure deterioration of the political and economic domination of the DUP and the NUP, Sudan’s two prominent faith-business networks. As an emergent power, the Islamic Movement invested considerable ideological effort in the discredit of the allegiances that bind a decisive mass of the Sudanese to the Mirghanis and the Mahdis. The ‘rebel’ educated sons and daughters of the Khatmiya and the Ansar flocked to the Movement attracted by its ‘modernist’ dispositions, fresh re-interpretation of Islamic scriptures, and transformative potential.
Today, the NCP is a mature hegemon, but nonetheless an exhausted one perked on the plateau of its power, and hence the ambivalent implications of President Bashir’s recourse to Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani and Sadiq al-Mahdi to buttress his legitimacy. Exactly because the Islamic Movement has managed to challenge the Mirghanis and the Mahdis on their own terms, faith and patronage, the two sayyids are no more in a position to recharge Bashir’s critically low batteries. The gesture of promoting the junior sayyids, Jaafar and Abd al-Rahman, to high office is dually abortive, a caricature enacted. The Mirghanis and Mahdis risk expending even more of their political capital, and Bashir is unlikely to gain much from bringing into his entourage two clueless novices dispatched for training on the job.  

Monday 28 November 2011

The DUP: tragedies and farces

Now its official, the Chairman of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani, told al-Sharq al-Awsat yesterday that his party will join the forthcoming cabinet of President Bashir, the promised ‘broad-based government’. The announcement of the new cabinet, according to President Bashir, will take place once the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) wraps up its third national convention.  
Mirghani stated that the two parties have managed over the past four months to hammer out a common programme as a basis for their coalition. Press reports in Khartoum claim that the DUP will be granted approximately one third of the positions in the national cabinet, more or less the same share that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) had occupied during the interim period of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), as well as a presidential assistant post, a generous cut of cabinet positions in the state governments, and of course a cohort of ambassador posts and representation in the judiciary.
It is highly unlikely that the DUP will survive this decision unscathed. Leading figures of the party declared repeatedly their rejection of a coalition with the NCP. Prominent DUP functionaries including the influential Khatmiya figure Hassan Abu-Sabeeb walked out of a meeting of the party leadership that reportedly approved the deal. To counter the resistant Khartoum block of the party Mirghani invited his captains in the states to deliberations in the capital and eventually pulled the party over.
The division between the fussy Khartoum intellectuals and the sly merchants of the Khatmiya brotherhood is arguably the defining characteristic of the party born out of the convenience arrangement between several factions of the Graduates Congress and the Khatmiya chief Ali al-Mirghani in the 1940s. The effendiya perceived the Khatmiya as an electoral vehicle, a cheap conduit to power, while the business web that constitutes the core of the brotherhood with the Mirghani family at its helm sought to tame the ambitious effendiya into submissive service. In 1956 the party that had just coalesced in 1952 under the name of the National Unionist Party cracked into two, the Khatmiya split with their own People’s Democratic Party while Ismail al-Azhari and his crew attempted an autonomous path sustained by the credentials of having presided over the country’s independence.
Eventually, convenience overruled, and the two blocs reunited in 1966 under the name of the Democratic Unionist Party in what was essentially a reconciliation process between the Khatmiya patron Ali al-Mirghani and Ismail al-Azhari mediated by King Faisal bin Abd al-Aziz of Saudi Arabia. Ali al-Mirghani died in 1968, and his prestige passed on automatically to his son Mohamed Osman. The effendiya commanded no ready mechanism to replace Azhari when he died in Nimayri’s detention in 1969. However, they found their hero in the person of Hussein al-Hindi. Like the young Sadiq al-Mahdi Hussein was an educated aristocrat who united in one the advantages of wealth and descent as well as the modernist inclinations so dear to Khartoum’s effendiya. His father, Yusif al-Hindi, was the patron of the Hindya brotherhood, the Khatmiya’s junior partner. From this position of merit Hussein al-Hindi advocated for the separation between the religious leadership of the brotherhood and the political leadership of the DUP, and consequently aligned himself with Azhari and his fans against Ali al-Mirghani and the Khatmiya notables during the 1956 split. Thus, Mohamed Osman inherited the leadership of the Khatmiya from his father Ali, and Hussein stepped in as the chief of the DUP following Azhari’s death.
The two men, Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani and Hussein al-Hindi, cohabited in contradiction. Nimayri’s 1969 coup was their moment of divergence. The Khatmiya patron preferred to appease Khartoum’s new rulers and allegedly nourished cordial ties with the young officers of the May revolution. In a statement published on 11 July 1969 Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani acknowledged the legitimacy of the new regime and announced his approval of its announced Arab nationalist ideology. Hussein al-Hindi, on the other hand, took the DUP into the opposition after consultations with the imprisoned party chief, Ismail al-Azhari. Hussain’s DUP constituted together with the Umma Party and Turabi’s Islamic Movement the opposition National Front. In exile, al-Hindi became the most prominent spokesman of the National Front and coordinated its catastrophic July 1976 military offensive against Khartoum from bases in Libya. Hassan al-Turabi and Sadiq al-Mahdi made their peace with Nimayri in 1977. Al-Hindi however preferred his London exile and eventually died a general without an army in an Athens hotel room in February 1982.
Two men had good reasons to claim Hussein al-Hindi’s political legacy, Ali Mahmoud Hassanein who served as his captain in Khartoum, and Zein al-Abdin al-Hindi, his brother and the patron of the Hindiya. It was the complacent Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani, however, who emerged as the chairman of the DUP when Nimayri’s regime collapsed in 1985, while Zein al-Abdin was named secretary general. The Khatmiya patron had caught up with the DUP, but at a considerable price. The performance of the party in the 1986 elections was the worst in its history. It won a meagre 63 seats in parliament out of a total of 234 compared to the Umma Party’s 100. One faction of the party that traces back to Azhari’s National Unionist Party rejected the dominance of the Khatmiya and fielded its own candidates. They did not win any seats in the house but they split the DUP vote sufficiently as to provide a welcome advantage to the National Islamic Front (NIF) in the graduates’ constituencies and the urban centres. The DUP’s share of the votes in Khartoum for instance dropped to 35 per cent from the 1968 level of 53 per cent.
The NIF turned the table on the whole lot in 1989. Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani, John Garang’s 1988 peace partner, became the chairman of the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) joining Khartoum’s chattering classes and the rebel SPLM. Mirghani shuttled between Jeddah, Cairo and Asmara in the hope that the regime would soon atrophy into oblivion. It did not; and Mirghani was eventually forced to sign a truce with the government in December 2003 known as the Jeddah framework agreement. By then there were at least two DUPs, an opposition DUP led by al-Mirghani and the ‘registered’ faction led by the secretary general Zein al-Abdin al-Hindi. The Hindiya chief had in 1996 signed a separate allegiance arrangement with President Bashir and secured a fixed quota of positions for his smaller flock and associated business network in the national government. Zein al-Abdin died in 2006 and the ‘registered’ DUP split further in an amoebic fashion. Apart from Zein al-Abdin’s faction several other DUPs emerged to challenge al-Mirghani's leadership. One such group was led by Ismail al-Azhari’s son, Mohamed, never much of a politician but allegedly a great guitar player. Mohamed died in a car accident in 2006, and his sister Jala succeeded him at one of many DUP tops.
Having agreed to join the cabinet of President Bashir Mirghani is likely to win back the loyalty of the ‘registered’ DUP that once formed around Zein al-Abdin al-Hindi, and simultaneously pit himself against several ghosts from the DUP’s recurring past. Among these Ali Mahmoud Hassanein stands out as the likely candidate to lead a new breakoff DUP. The man can boast a history of resistance to Nimayri and a consistent record of opposition to the NCP regime. In what seems like an attempt to re-enact the legacy of Hussein al-Hindi Hassanein chose a self-imposed exile in London and currently heads a fuzzy alliance named the Broad National Front that seeks to bring down the Khartoum regime, not a particularly imaginative name I presume.  

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Farewell Tijani

The veteran Sudanese communist leader al-Tijani al-Tayeb passed away today in Khartoum at the age of 85 years. Tijani was the editor in chief of the party's mouthpiece, al-Midan, and belongs to the founding generation of the Communist Party of Sudan. He survived the prisons and exiles of the successive Khartoum dictatorships and died struggling against one. Farewell Tijani, farewell.. 
In 1982, during the reign of Jaafar Nimayri, a military court in Khartoum sentenced al-Tijani al-Tayeb to ten years imprisonment. He was brought before the court after a two years "stay" in the custody of Nimayri's state security. Tijani went underground in the aftermath of the failed communist coup led by Hashim al-Atta and his comrades in 1971. Nimaryi's men caught up with him in 1980. 
I take the liberty here to reproduce below an English translation of his lengthy statement to the court published in the July 1983 edition of the Review of African Political Economy. Nimayri, eventually, did not last last the ten years of Tijani's sentence. In 1985 the regime crashed under the blows of the Intifada, and Tijani walked out of Cooper prison a free man. It is to the memory of this great communist, teacher, and friend that I share here his testimony of the party' s struggle. 

Mr President, and honourable members of the court! With this trial, once  again  I  join  the  long  queue  of patriots  who, since  colonial  times,  have  been persecuted for  their  political  beliefs  in  accord  with  fascist  laws. Fundamental human rights, e.g. the right to free expression, are transformed  into punishable  offences. Yet, no such harassment will deter our people from their struggle against repressive law. In fact, our fight for independence and our struggle against the colonialist's anti-democratic legislation  were  one and  the  same  coin. The  post-independence  struggle  for socio-economic  change  has  been  inseparably  wed  to the unceasing  fight  for democracy.  Undoubtedly,  the modern  history  of our  people's  political  and social movement  is  knit  together by  one  long  thread of  struggle  for democratic  rights  and  civil  liberties.  The  most  colossal  success  in  this  respect was  the October  uprising [1964]  which  demonstrated  the  resolve  of our  people  in pursuit  of democracy.
The present regime is  intent  on  obliterating  this  resolve. They  are institutionalising  their endeavour  through one man rule, the one-party system,  the famous State Security  Law, the foiled trade  union  laws, the state  controlled  media  and  various  other  methods  of repression.  Paramount among the means of  oppression are the  State Security Law and  the notorious State Security Organisation  (SSO). These are  the  regime's vehicles  for  inflicting  unprecedented  maltreatment  of citizens;  they  infringe on one's right  to personal  freedom,  confiscate  his right  to a  livelihood, arrest  him indefinitely  without  trial and subject  him to physical  torture. Peaceful  demonstrations  are  fired  upon with  live ammunition,  with  intent to kill. The  citizen  is denied  his basic  legal  rights.  No political  detainee  can be released  on parole  and, even before  investigation  starts  with  him, he is treated  as  if  he were convicted. Physical and psychological  torture  are invariably  used  to squeeze  information  and  confessions  out of detainees.
Moreover,  as  evidenced  by my  case,  the  political  detainee  is often  the  object of a media  campaign  full  of lies  and  slander,  without  giving  him  a chance  to defend himself. Following my arrest,  the regime-controlled  newspapers published  a  series of  statements  by SSO officials accusing me and the Communist  Party (CP) of  being agents for  'foreign circles'. On the 20th of August  (1981)  El Sahafa  published  an  interview  with  the chief  of the SSO, quoted from  an  Egyptian paper, in  which he  reiterated  the  regime's allegation  that  'the  communists have  always  been  receiving their instructions  from  abroad'. As  a  patriot who  has  uncompromisingly dedicated  his entire  life to his country  and people, I find  these  allegations slanderous,  cheap  and  cowardly.  These  lies, however,  failed  to materialise among  the accusations  with which  the prosecution  panel have faced me inside this court. Obviously,  they have failed to  find a  single shred of evidence  in the hundreds  of CP documents  presented  before  the court.
Any  judgment  of the CP would  not fail to perceive  its positive  role  in the history  of Sudanese  nationalism.  The CP is in fact the only party  in this country  completely  innocent  of  foreign  allegiance.  Rather  than  tutelage,  it is  friendship  that binds  the CP to  the progressive  movements  the world over. It has global  relations  built  on parity, mutual  respect,  solidarity  and joint struggle  for the  joint noble  goals.
The  aforementioned propagandistic  paper describes the  CP  as  'the outlawed party'. Isn't this tautology clear evidence  for  the absence of democracy?  Parties  are banned  in favour  of the one-party  system  decreed by the regime's  constitution.  The state  party,  the Socialist  Union  (SU), is claimed  to be an alliance  of the working  people  -  a format  which  unifies the people in place of  party  rivalries.  In reality,  these are self-defeating arguments,  for the SU  is by no means  a popular  alliance.  It  is  just another class-oriented  party,  speaking  for  the  interests  of the state  and  commercial bourgeoisie.  It  is a deformed  institution  at  the beck  and  call  of its boss,  the head  of  state.  The  recent liquidation of  its  leading bodies and  the appointment  of a new  central  committee  by presidential  decrees  are  further evidence  of its precarious  and  rickety  nature.
Independent  of  the SU, the Sudanese  people  actually  proceed  to conduct political activities  of which  the SU is never  capable,  notwithstanding  its facilities. Recent  proofs of this are  the all-out  railway  strike,  the Darfur uprising  and  the nation-wide  uprisings  of December  1981-January  1982.
There  are, however,  some parties  which  are allowed  some degree  of open political activity. The  repressive  laws  and  machinery of  the  regime deliberately  turn  a deaf  ear  to those  activities.  These  are  mainly  the Muslim Brotherhood  and the Islamic Republicans.  The head of  the regime  has declared  in  the meeting  of the Central  Committee  of the  SU  of 22 June  1982 that political  parties  have  also reappeared  in the Southern  Region.  Add  to this the fact that the leaders  of  some other  rightist  parties  actually  move about with relative  ease thanks to  the matrix of  economic and social relations  that  bind  them  to the state  commercial  bourgeoisie  in power.  The regime,  to all intents  and purposes,  is fully aware  of  the activities  of  the Muslim  Brothers.  These  parties  are  being  tricked  into  coming  to the  surface to be contained,  manipulated  and  eventually  crushed.
Obviously,  the only object of  strict  illegality  is the CP. No wonder  it is singled  out  in  this way,  for  it  is radically  different  from  the  other  parties.  It is  the  only party that never entertained  compromise  with the present dictatorship.  Experience  has  shown  that  the attitude  of any  regime  towards the CP is an indication  of  its attitude  towards  democracy.  It is axiomatic that  the victory  achieved  in October  1964  by our  people  was not merely  in deposing  a military  dictatorship  but  in restoring  democratic  rights.
Another  allegation  levelled  at  the CP and myself  is 'the  attempt  to sabotage national  unity'. The evidence  produced  by the prosecution  is the equation 'the CP  calls for power to  be put in  the hands of  the working  class, therefore  the CP is instigating  class  antagonisms!
How  simplistic  and  naive!  The  prosecution  counsel  speaks  for  a regime  that identifies  itself with the  interests  of  a minority. It has usurped  power through  the use of  force, and it subjugates  the absolute majority  of  our people  by means  of repression.  It reaps  the  toil of the masses  and  plunders the  resources  of the  country,  heeding  nothing  but  their  narrow  interests  and those of their  imperialist  masters.
It  is in  fact  true  the CP's  long  term  strategy  pertains  to the  slogan  of power to the working  class. But  it is far from  true  that what would  ensue  in the circumstance  would  be class  antagonism.  If we ever  achieve  such  a success, power  will  lie with  the broadest  sector  of the masses  -  the majority  rather than  the minority.  Government  would  be not by  repression  or subjugation, but  by  the willful  consent  of the  absolute  majority  of our  people.  Only  then can we enjoy real national  harmony  and unity. The working  class  is not exploitative  and  it  is only  the  national  unity  built  around  the  interests  of the workers  that can transcend  the parochialism,  chauvinism,  and religious strife  that  bisect  our  society.
It is worth mentioning  that  the working  class movement  has always  been conscious  of the vital need  for unity. Experience  has shown  that unifying the  ranks  of  the  workers often  results  in  colossal  successes and achievements.  That  is why  the adversaries  of the working  class always  try untiringly  to sow divisions  within  its ranks.  It is also common  knowledge that the working  class cannot ultimately  eradicate  capitalist  exploitation without  aligning  itself to the broad masses. Unity  is vital  for the working class  in  its struggle  for the twofold goal of  securing  the interests  of  the workers  and  the overall  interests  of the nation.
The modern  history  of this  country  is  illuminating  about  the working  class's quest for unity. The workers  have always  come to  the assistance  of  the peasants,  the students  etc. in their  struggle.  The massive  solidarity  on the part  of the  trade  union movement  with  the police  force  strike  of 1951  bears testimony  to  the positive attitudes  of  the working  class. The workers' movement  was even  in alliance  with  the national  commercial  bourgeoisie during  the struggle  for economic  and political  independence.
The CP  identifies  itself with  the  ideology  of the working  class. That  is why the CP  is an  incarnation  of national  unity,  as  it spreads  all  over  the  country, cutting  across  tribalism,  sectarianism,  regionalism  and religious  divisions. The  programme  of the CP suggests  solutions  for  the problems  of the whole Sudan,  by no means  favouring  one sect  or region  or social  grouping  to the others.  It  is  the  only  party  in Sudan  whose  leaders  are  composed  of workers, women, Southerners  and  intellectuals  who come from different  religions, tribal backgrounds  and all the regions  of  the country. They have been democratically  elected, not  appointed by  a  presidential  decree or  an ordinance  from the leader of  a  sect. The merits  that qualify them for leadership  are their dedication  to  the struggle  and their  ideological  and moral  integrity.
Moreover,  the CP  is well known for  its broadminded  and undogmatic approach. We played  active  roles in all the nationalist  and anti-colonial fronts, even  those  that  included  bourgeois  parties. We were  a party  to all political groupings,  co-ordinating  efforts or  fronts that endeavoured  to unify the masses, starting  from the Front for  the Struggle  Against  the Legislative  Assembly  in 1948  until  today.
One  of the most  outstanding  achievements  of the CP  in  the  field  of national unity  is its theorising  for and handling  of the issue of Southern  Sudan.  It was  the  first  party  to adopt  the  'special  status'  concept,  as early  as  the 1953 pre-independence  elections, in  recognition of  the  objective differences between  the  two parts  of the country.  During  the 1955  mutiny,  the CP was the only  party  that  did  not succumb  to the  emotions  of revenge  and  call  for bloody  reprisals.  We  provided  a cool and  objective  analysis  of the  situation, calling upon the government  and the  (Northern)  army  to  exercise  self- control. We demanded  the rescinding  of the death  sentences  issued  against the leaders  of the mutiny  and we appealed  for magnanimous  treatment  of the convicts.  In  its Third  Conference,  which  convened  six months  after  the mutiny,  the CP came  forward  with  the slogan  'regional  self-autonomy  for the  South'.  That  was  an  utterly  unprecedented  achievement  in  the  history  of Sudanese  politics.
The CP was unmatched  in issuing  a daily English  paper  called Advance, addressed  to the Southern  readers,  since 1958.  It has also  issued  a series  of publications  in English  tackling  the problem  of  Southern  Sudan, always calling upon our Southern  brethren  to  align  themselves  to  the Northern
movements  of the working  class  and  democratic  forces  in a unified  struggle for a national  democratic  Sudan.
The CP's efforts  culminated  in the Declaration  of 9 June 1969,  which  was extracted  from  the CP's manifesto.  The Declaration  was broadcast  by the Minister  of Southern  Affairs,  the  late Comrade  Joseph  Garang  (who was  a member  of the CP's Politbureau  until he was executed  by Nimeiri  during the counter  coup of  22 July 1971). The CP's  ideas on  the problem  of Southern  Sudan were embodied  in the Declaration,  as evidenced  by this quotation:
“We deem  it of paramount  importance  that a democratic  and socialist  movement  should  be allowed  to develop  in the South  as a prerequisite  for the realisation  of our aspirations  of progress  both  in  the North  and  the  South.” 
Only  when  the  progressive  movement  matures  in  the South  can  we  be  assured  of a  lasting  application  of the  principle  of Self-Autonomy,  and  that  is the most  powerful  antidote  to the colonialist  intrigues  currently  going  on in the South. The  regime  started  in 1969  by adopting  the CP's programme  for  the South. No sooner  had  they  staged  their  counter  coup  of 1971  than  they  reneged  on everything  they declared  on 9 June 1969. That accounts  for the series  of crises  ravaging  the South  at  the moment.  The  realities  of the  situation  in  the Sudan  look like  the following:
1. National unity  is jeopardised  primarily  by the present  anti-democratic policies  of  the regime.  National  unity  cannot  thrive  except  in democracy, and the free will of  the Southern  people cannot be realised  except  in a democratic  atmosphere.
2. Because  the  regime  follows  a capitalist  path,  the  problem  of the South  as a region  that needs  special  care  is sustained.  Capitalists  are motivated  by nothing  except  quick  profit. The  traditional  sector  is henceforth  subjected to ruthless  plunder  on the part  of the  imperialists  and Arab  finance  capital in  collaboration  with the  local compradors.  Regions  such as the South suffer from the neglect of  long-term  projects  in  favour of  short term investments  that bring fast gains for  the  investors. Our resources  have waned,  in  the  process and  the  already existing social and  economic structures  have  been obliterated.  Consequently,  development  continues  to be  uneven  between  the  various  regions  of Sudan,  and  the  Southern  situation in particular  has gone from bad to worse. Likewise,  the capitalist's  foul intervention  has  created  other  problems  along  the 'Savanna  Zone', where the indigenous  nomadic  tribes have been frustrated  by the phenomenal spread  of mechanised  plantations  owned  by urban  compradors  and Arab princes.  The  regime  has drawn  a veil of secrecy  upon  the news  of the  tribal wars  going  on currently  in the 'Savanna  Zone'.
The regime's  propaganda  machinery  explains  all these problems  away  in terms  of administrative  complications.  They preach decentralisation  as  the remedy. As  a matter of  fact,  the regime  is  capitalising  on  the under-development  of such  regions  as  the South  to consolidate  its dictatorial  grip.It  is the  same  old  tactic  of divide  and  rule;  that  is why  they  have  done  littleto reconcile  the warring  tribes  along  the 'Savanna  Zone'. And from  that, not from  the working  class  nor  the CP, the  real  menace  to national  unity  is posed.
Mr  President  and members  of the court. Another  accusation  I and  the CP are  facing  is 'opposition  to the  government'.  According  to the  prosecution, this  is against  the law. The right  to oppose,  like the right  to support  any particular  regime,  should  have  been  an automatic  and  irrevocable  right  of all citizens. Confiscating it runs counter to human nature.
The  experience  of  our  people  shows that  a  serious and  deep-rooted opposition  will  be  impossible  to eradicate  by force. The  objective  causes  of such  an opposition  are  related  to the distinctions  between  the  various  social forces  in the society. Contradictions  are  natural  and  inevitable  in a multi-class  society.  Add  to that  the ethnic,  cultural  and  religious  divisions  within our own society. What  a great  pity  the Sudanese  people  have  always  been denied  the opportunity  to  air those differences  in a healthy democratic atmosphere!
Nor is the present  regime  the first  to be opposed. Since  the first days of independence  the bourgeois  parties  have been involved  in conflicts and squabbles.  Simultaneously,  consciousness  grew  of another  contradiction  - that  between  all bourgeois  parties  and  the  classes  they  represent  on the  one hand,  and  the masses  of workers,  peasants  and  revolutionary  intelligentsiaon  the other. The former  tried to  perpetuate  the colonial political andeconomic  structures,  while  the  latter  aspired  to translate  independence  into better  living conditions  for the masses. The progressive  camp wanted  to participate  in  the  building of  a  new Sudan by means of  a  national democratic  revolution  that paves  the way  for socialism.
In the aftermath  of the October  uprising,  two major  programmes  came  to the surface,  one adopted  by the national/democratic  forces  and  the otherpropagated  by the forces  of capitalist  development.  The first  called  for a democratic  constitution and  the  liberation of  the  economy from  the dominance  of  foreign capital pursuing  following a national/democratic path  of development  and  an anti-imperialist  foreign  policy.  The  latter,  that of  the  reactionary bloc,  called  for  a  presidential  republic and  the curtailment  of  democratic  rights as  a  precondition  for  imposing the capitalist  path  of development.
When the present 'May' regime first came to power it adopted the programme  of the national  democratic  forces. However,  it did  not  take  the leadership  long to renounce  it in a dramatic  reversal  that antagonised  the progressive  forces  who had  found  the  regime's  programme  favourable.  The differences  with those forces grew when  the regime  started  to confiscate freedoms.  By July 1971,  the political  turbulance  reached  a crescendo  when the national  democratic  forces  within  the  army  staged  a coup  that  lasted  for three days. Their defeat at the hands of  the present  regime marked  the beginning  of  a reign of  terror. The leaders  of  the July movement  were summarily  court  martialed  and  three  of the  leaders  of the CP were  executed. Hundreds  of communists  and  democrats  were  detained  and  dismissed  from their  jobs.
The  counter revolution unleashed  in  the wake of  July  1971 laid  the foundations  for the capitalist  path, thereby  achieving  the most  important goal  in the rightist  programme.  Total  lack  of democracy  descended  on our country. The trade  unions were  transformed  into puppets  and all parties and organisations  were  completely  banned.
Mr  President  and  members  of the  court.  Eleven  years  have  elapsed  since  this regime  came  to power.  On  the  economic  level  we  still  export  the  same  crops, among  which  cotton  is  still  predominant. We  import  the  same manufactured  goods. If there  is change,  it is for  the worse.  The  regime  has encouraged  the  influx  of foreign  monopoly  capital,  namely  from  the Arab countries,  the multinationals,  and  neo-colonialist  institutions.  The  country is drained  of  foreign  exchange  while  indebtedness  to the IMF  and  foreign commercial banks has  exceeded $5  billion.  The  loans  were actually squandered  on  ill-conceived  projects,  on augmenting  the  bureaucracy  of the SSO  and  the SU and on luxurious  and ostentatious  installations.
Bad  planning,  impetuousness  and  inefficiency  are  rampant  throughout  the economic  sectors. Productivity  has deteriorated  to  the lowest ebb in our modern  history.  The downward  spiral  in the balance  of payments  and  the chronic  deficits  in  the  budgets  have  been  worsened  rather  than  remedied  by the  accelerating  taxes,  loans  from  local  and  foreign  banks  and  finance  from abroad.  In short,  the country's  economy  is in shambles.  The  five-year  plan has been abolished. The trend  is  just to  encourage  foreign  investment, irrespective  of  the  fields which the  foreign investors  choose  for  their activities. Curbing of  government expenditure  has  resulted in  mass unemployment,  and of  course no alternative  employment  has ever been considered. Thousands of  people are  left  with no  alternative  but  to emigrate.  The  government  has  embarked  on a plan  of weakening  the  public sector. Their objective is  its  ultimate disintegration,  with  a  view  to transferring  the profitable  projects  to the private  sector. Our  people bear the brunt  of these  policies  by having  to cope with  the  ever  rising  direct  and indirect  taxes. They  suffer  the  consequences  of the  inflation  in the  form  of ever  soaring  prices  and dwindling  incomes.
Economic activity  is  in  the hands of  neo-colonialism  and the parasitic capitalism.  A plethora  of non-ethical  channels  for quick  wealth  have  been opened  up  by  the  regime  for  a  close-knit  elite.  Our  society  is  beset  by corruption, graft and malpractice of  all types. The atmosphere is rampant with the moral disintegration and the scandalous behaviour of ministers  and government officials.  The majority of  our people,  on  the other hand,  live from hand to mouth, even worse. They are deprived of  facilities in the fields of  housing,  sanitation  and education.  They  live  in horrible conditions  of dire poverty and epidemics.
The  regime's  foreign  policy  is  one  of  relinquishing  the  country's independence and jeopardising its sovereignty and territorial  integrity. The regime has aligned itself to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the US.  I would like to make three points  in this respect.
1. The  regime  has  been  producing  quixotic  noises  about  an  impending Soviet invasion through neighbouring countries. Everybody knows that the Soviet Union  has no  geopolitical  stakes  in  our  country and  it has  always been  the  noble  friend  of  our  people  and  of  all  the  Arab  peoples.  The imagined  invasion  is merely the  regime's  pretext  for  backing  away  from non-alignment and falling onto  the lap of American imperialism. The head of  the  regime has  shamelessly declared  that  his  regime  is  a  pawn  of  the American  led alliance directed against the peoples of the region. The US has now been offered naval, air and other facilities in the Sudan, to be used by the  Rapid Deployment  Force  (RDF)  to  subjugate  the  Arab  and African peoples and to  protect American interests.
2. The regime has signed a military pact with Egypt according to which any internal  turmoil  in  either  of  the  two  countries  is  tantamount  to  foreign invasion. Under the circumstance the other signatory should come  in with instantaneous assistance, even if not asked to do so. The regime has recently signed a 'treaty of economic and political integration' with Egypt. It is to be viewed in the light of  the American hegemony over both Sudan and Egypt. Within this context,  joint military manoeuvres were recently conducted on Sudanese  soil  by  American,  Egyptian  and  Sudanese  troops  (Operation Bright Star).
3. The regime has always been outspoken  in its support of  the Camp David Accord.  It  is  now  more  forthcoming  than  ever;  following  the  fierce Zionist/imperialist  attack on the Palestinian and Arab people,  the regime  is no  longer shy of  fully assuming it's  role as an American puppet.
Our  independence was priced at heroic sacrifices, and our people have never ceased  defending  it.  They  defeated  all  the  post-independence  American attempts to turn Sudan into a client state, c.f.  the Middle East Alliance,  the Eisenhower Plan,  the American Aid Project and the Islamic Pact. Yet,  the regime deliberately oblivious  of  this history, has  transformed our country into a tunnel through which military aid is syphoned to other puppets in the area e.g. Mobutu of Zaire, the French-backed  regime of Central Africa and Hussein  Habre  of  Chad.  Our country  is  involved  in  aggressive activities against Libya, Ethiopia and Southern Yemen. Our role as supporters of the Arab  and African  Liberation movements  has  been  reversed. The  regime flagrantly violates  the principles of  non-alignment.
Mr President and members of  the court.  I was asked in a previous session about  the CP's  position  concerning the so-called  'national  reconciliation'. The  CP has  issued  a number  of statements  on  the  issue  of reconciliation.  As you know, the campaign  for the so-called  'national  reconciliation'  was a consequence  of  one of  the regime's  political  crises.  It was a fake slogan designed  for  local  consumption.  If they  were  in any  way  genuine  the  regime should have accompanied  their offer with the restoration  of democracy. They  failed  to do that.
The CP was not intransigent  as regards  the dialogue  with  the regime. We were actually  involved in  preliminary  talks with some of  the regime's leading  figures. We asked  them  a vital question  to which  we have  hitherto received  no answer. What would happen  to our negotiating  team  if  they emerged  from  under-cover,  took part  in  the  negotiations  and  failed  to arrive at an agreement  with  the regime?
The reconciliation  was a thinly  veiled  attempt  by the regime  to mark  time and  distract people's  attention from  their  economic dilemma. Their promises  to rescind  the anti-democratic  laws were  just a camouflage  for further  repression.  Five years after the reconciliation  was launched,  the country is  still  under emergency  laws. At  this moment 250  political detainees  are  languishing  in the abodes  of Kober [Cooper Prison in Khartoum],  Port Sudan  and Medani. Some  of them  have  been  in detention  for 3-7 years,  without  trial. Political prisoners  are still tortured, and only two weeks ago one  of  them was physically  tortured  in my hearing.
Mr President  and members  of  the court. Our  country  is in the crux  of a crisis. We  appeal  to all  the patriots  of Sudan  to rally  round  two slogans,  if we are  to salvage  our country:
1. The abolition  of all fascist  laws  and  the release  of political  detainees.
2. The  recovery  of our  identity  and  national  sovereignty  by  condemning  the
Camp  David  Accord  and  withdrawal  from  all  treaties  and  pacts  with  the US
and Egypt.
Achieving  these  two objectives  will  pave  the way  for building  the Sudan  of the future. We  can  then proceed  to achieve  the following  strategies:
1. The erection  of a democratic  society  on the firm  foundations  of a just and democratic  constitution  that  safeguards  civil  liberties  and  basic  rights. It  should  guarantee  the  independence  of the  judiciary  and  restore  the  rule  of law.  Legislative authority should  rest  with  a  democratically  elected parliament  to which  the  executive  authority  should  be  answerable.  The  head of the  state  should  have  limited  mandatory  powers  vis-a-vis the  sovereign's ceremonial  activities.
2. We should  once again  revert  to our positive  role among  the Arab and African  progressive  movements.  We  should  follow an  independent  foreign policy built  on vehement  opposition  to neo-colonialism,  on the one hand, and cordiality  with  the socialist  and non-aligned  countries  on the other.
3. We must release  our economy  from  the fetters  of  foreign monopolies. We should  begin by an urgent  action programme  to salvage  the services' sector  and parastatal  corporations.  Another  urgent  priority  is a new  fiscal policy and a  development  programme  that  should aspire to  uplift the sufferings  of the masses.  The wage  structure  should  be revised  so that  the highest  salary  should by no means  exceed  tenfold the lowest. The basic commodities  should  be made  available  at stable  and affordable  prices.
Simultaneously,  we  should  embark  on a  long  term  development  plan  whose primary  objective  is redressing  the  uneven  development  between  the  various regions. Closely connected  to  this  is  the gradual modernisation  of  the traditional  sector.
Mr  President  and members  of the  court.  This  is not my  first  time  to be  tried for my political  convictions.  I have been  involved  in our people's  struggle since my very  early  days. I have  not been  stimulated  by any  individualistic tendency  to make  the above statements.  I find no gratification  except  in welding  myself  to the whole  which  is  the Sudanese  revolutionary  forces  and in claiming  no gratuity  for  that. I realise  myself  only  through  identification with  the values  and aspirations  of my people's  struggle.  I identify myself with  the heroic  history  of our people, and  I am a product  of that history.
That  is why  this  trial  is not  intended  for  me  alone.  It  is a desperate  attempt on  the part of  the despotic May regime  to  uproot the movement  and obliterate  the history which I  represent.  This will prove an  intractable mirage.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Kurmuk: the limits of liberation

A triumphant President Bashir landed in al-Kurmuk on the first day of Eid al-Adha, 6 November, flanked by his defence minister and his security director, and, of course, the crucial minister of presidential affairs, Bakri Hassan Salih. The four gentlemen were then joined by a second cohort of military personnel including the caretaker governor of the Blue Nile and the force commander of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in the state. The President and his entourage entertained the SAF contingent that had subdued al-Kurmuk, the major stronghold of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in North Sudan (SPLM-N), and declared the town ‘liberated’. While under the control of the SPLM the town was also referred to as ‘liberated’. The area and its inhabitants suffered the two variants of ‘liberation’ several times during the course of the 1983-2005 civil war. The first cycle was in November 1987 when the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), under the leadership of the late John Garang, managed to gain control over the town and its less famed neighbour, Gaisan. In the same year the SPLA mounted its first sustained campaign in South Kordofan after it had signalled its military presence in the region with the 1985 surprise raid on al-Gardud. At the time, Sadiq al-Mahdi was the master in Khartoum presiding over a coalition government that joined the National Umma Party (NUP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). In parliament, the opposition National Islamic Front (NIF) headed by Hassan al-Turabi grilled the NUP over the military defeat in Kurmuk. Exasperated, Sadiq al-Mahdi’s captain, the late Omer Nur al-Daim, told the house, so what if al-Kurmuk fell, Berlin fell, not a particularly felicitous parallel I suppose. Similar to today’s al-Intibaha the NIF press back then, al-Raya, al-Sudani and Alwan, ridiculed the hesitant peace efforts of the NUP and the DUP as mere ‘capitulation’ to the SPLA and whipped up public support for the war effort.
The SAF armed with Libyan weapons managed to reclaim al-Kurmuk in December 1988. The town continued to be the object of competition between the SPLA and the SAF until the former managed to ‘liberate’ it again in 1997. This time around, there was no opposition in the parliament to grill the government of President Bashir and Hassan al-Turabi over the defeat. The event was largely ignored. When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005 al-Kurmuk was still under the control of the SPLA. The April 2010 elections delivered the governorship of the Blue Nile state to the SPLM’s Malik Agar. Later in the year, he declared the transfer of the state capital from al-Damazin to al-Kurmuk. The decision was never implemented, possibly due to stiff resistance from Khartoum and the lobbying of the Damazin merchants and big landowners. The pro-SPLM Khartoum newspaper Ajras al-Hurriya professed that al-Kurmuk, the state capital to be, would soon become “Africa’s Dubai”, a regional hub of commerce and tourism. Well, it didn’t.
True to custom, President Bashir promised the few civilians who were there to attend his Eid al-Adha address in al-Kurmuk beside the troops that rehabilitation and development under government aegis would soon soothe the war wounds of the town, now that it has returned to the bosom of the nation.  In the heat of the moment, President Bashir told his troops to bring in Malik Agar alive and threatened South Sudan with war in case it continues to support the rebels of the Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Instead of haraka (Arabic for movement) the President kept saying hashara (Arabic for insect), to the delight of the audience. The SAF, he declared, has crushed the hashara for good, probably not I presume.
The President, well informed by his experience as the SAF commander in Mayom, Upper Nile, in the 1980s, probably has a better grasp of the virtual invincibility of guerrillas in the Sudanese war zones. He controlled Mayom once, but only Mayom. The SAF today has Kurmuk in its grasp; so what, Omer Nur al-Daim could have asked.    

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Khartoum’s jihad ghosts

Recently Sudan Television resumed airing its notorious propaganda programme fi sahat al-fida, sloppily translated ‘in the fields of sacrifice’. The weekly thirty minutes programme accompanied the jihad campaign of the 1990s against the insurgency of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) and went off air in 2005 to mark the respite of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Throughout that period the programme provided the audience of Sudan TV with a visual experience of the war effort of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF). On a weekly basis viewers were bombarded with video footage of the fallen martyrs and their fellow combatants, brandishing their AK-47s, reciting the Quran, shooting at the enemy through the bush, and celebrating jihad in song and verse.
Once the death toll in the riverain heartland crossed a critical threshold the programme lost its initial allure. An entire generation of the Islamic Movement’s student cadres had bled their lives away on the sacrifice fields of those years. To replace this committed vanguard, the voluntary pioneers of the PDF, and maintain the thrust of its war effort the government initiated a compulsory military service, al-khidma al-ilzamiya, targeting primarily school leaving youngsters. Military service was made a condition for university admission, and coercion replaced voluntarism.
The doctrine of jihad was seriously tested when the Islamic Movement split into two camps, the ruling National Congress Party headed by President Bashir and the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) led by Hassan al-Turabi, the veteran chief of the Movement. In the initial phases of the split it was not necessarily evident that President Bashir would eventually win the round, but win it he did. Hassan al-Turabi, revered by the mujahideen as the sheikh of the Islamic Movement in both a religious and a political sense, declared the jihad he once championed a non-jihad and the esteemed martyrs merely dead. How could he otherwise? John Garang, whom sahat al-fida repeatedly condemned as a communist atheist racist conspirator on a crusade to defeat Islam, became virtually overnight an ally of the old sheikh when the SPLA/M and the PCP inked a memorandum of understanding in 2001. A year later the NCP and the SPLA/M signed the Machakos Protocol. When the implementation of the CPA took off in 2005 the PCP refused to take part in the process arguing that the 14 per cent allotted to the opposition parties in the national legislature was unsatisfactory. Turabi, now a victim of the regime, shed off his jihadist credentials and became the ‘sheikh of freedoms’. The believers of the Islamic Movement were shocked twice, once when Bashir humiliated Turabi out of power and gaoled him time and time again, and twice when Turabi ridiculed the jihad years as a mistaken adventure.
Stained by a dirty power struggle that compromised the jihad legitimacy of the 1990s both the NCP and the PCP were obliged to reframe their shared working ideology. The PCP refashioned itself a liberal force with the face of Islam and the NCP nourished the chauvinism of the riverain heartland highlighting Islam as the defining component of a distinct (North) Sudanese identity.
I watched a single episode of the 2011 sahat al-fida. The martyrs on display were borrowed from the 1990s and the message was embarrassingly particular with no universal Islamic reference to support it. Instead of the jihad chants the soldiers of the SAF plagiarized a slogan of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The Defence Minister visiting the troops in al-Damazin shouted ‘crush them’ and they replied ‘kul al-guwa al-Kurmuk juwa’ (all the force into al-Kurmuk) a rephrase of the JEM’s ‘kul al-guwa Khartoum juwa’ (all the force into Khartoum). Officially, Khartoum has not declared jihad in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and the term was conspicuously absent from the commentary. This time around it’s bombing pure and simple, counterinsurgency with no added value, no collaborating angels and no heavenly breezes to lure the martyrs. Actually, only First Vice President Taha used the term jihad to depict the SAF campaign against the forces of the SPLM in North Sudan, possibly enacting his role as the successor sheikh of the Islamic Movement within the NCP. Otherwise, President Bashir and the top officials of the ruling party have largely refrained from legitimizing the military drive in religious terms.
The notion is too explosive I suppose; a precarious terrain to re-probe unshielded. Internally the NCP’s religious authenticity is challenged by the more doctrinaire fringe movements in the field. Some of these forces even consider the NCP regime itself a legitimate target of jihad considering its subcontractor role in the US war on terror. This October Khartoum set free members of a jihad cell led by a certain Osama Ahmed Abd al-Salam, a biochemist, who were arrested in August 2007. Abd al-Salam and his accomplices reportedly established a domestic workshop to develop explosives in al-Salama, Khartoum. Their activities were uncovered when an accidental blast aroused the attention of their neighbours. They allegedly repented their radical views after an extensive counsel with team members of the prominent Wahhabi circle, the Sharia Clerics League, featuring the media-savvy Abd al-Hai Yusif and Ala al-Din al-Zaki. These gentlemen supply the government with fatwas on demand and function as the NCP’s extended arm to its fuzzy right flank so to speak. The Clerics League declared members of the SPLM and the Communist Party infidels and instructed Allah-fearing Moslems to refrain from dealing with them in any form whatsoever. In fact, it is Abd al-Hai Yusif and his fellow sheikhs who have usurped the Islamic authority of the NCP in client mode. This bond of convenience notwithstanding the Clerics League recently diverged from the declared position of the NCP government regarding the situation in Syria. The League together with the Just Peace Forum (JPF) organized a demonstration in Khartoum in support of the Syrian opposition on the grounds of Islamic solidarity, effectively defying the pro-Assad stance expressed by President Bashir.
Although Bashir repeatedly affirms his commitment to shari’a this claim is increasingly being questioned not only from the secular opposition but within the wider Islamic camp. The proposed constitution of the JPF and allies is an attest to this shari’a thirst as it were. For Abd al-Hai Yusif and fellows, let alone Abd al-Salam and partners, there can never be enough shari’a. 

Monday 24 October 2011

Gaddafi’s corpse

Muammar al-Gaddafi, the last to fall in the series of Nasser-inspired officers who snatched power from the colonial era monarchists of the Arab world, was lynched last week by the combatants loosely assembled around Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) in his hometown Sirte. The TNC Chairman, Mustafa Abd al-Jalil told a rally celebrating the ‘liberation’ of the country that shari’a will constitute the major source of legislation in the new Libya. Any laws that contravene shari’a will be scrapped, he added.
In Sudan not a single political force distinguished itself by refusing to dance around Gaddafi’s corpse. Of particular interest was the contest between the two wings of the Islamic Movement, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) to claim the greater joy at Gaddafi’s demise. Al-Intibaha ran a lengthy editorial the day after excelling in Schadenfreude, and adorned its pages with photographs of the slain colonel. The NCP’s Nafie Ali Nafie told the press that Gaddafi was a mighty thorn in Sudan’s back. He had granted crucial support to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) in its formative years and supplied different factions of the Darfur insurgency with safe havens and arms. Mustafa Osman Ismail, President Bashir’s foreign affairs advisor, stated that Gaddafi’s demise is a lesson to all tyrants! The death of the colonel, he hoped, would pave the way for a lasting peace in Darfur. The PCP issued a celebratory statement titled “The Demise of Libya’s Pharaoh”, warning Sudan’s rulers of a similar fate in case they insist on rejecting the demands of the people. Even Sadiq al-Mahdi, ever conciliatory, had no mild words for Gaddafi. He argued that the manner in which Gaddafi died corresponded to his tyrannical rule.
It is fair to state that neither the Islamic Movement nor Sadiq’s Umma Party had ever registered any qualms over Gaddafi’s favours in times of need. After his fallout with Nimayri the Libyan colonel had provided the Islamic Movement and the Umma Party, at the time allies in the opposition National Front, with training, arms, and finances to bring down the Khartoum regime. The two recruited a formidable militia with Libyan support and attempted in July 1976 to storm Khartoum after a long trek from bases in Libya. They did not succeed in overthrowing Nimayri but did succeed in dispersing firearms in the wasteland of Darfur, at the time a mere side-effect of the power politics of the Khartoum elite that went largely unnoticed. Payback came when Sadiq al-Mahdi was elected Prime Minister following the 1985 uprising against Nimayri. Gaddafi generously supported the Umma Party’s electoral campaign and the Umma chief, once in power, allowed Gaddafi to operate in Darfur as a sovereign. At the time the Libyan leader was embroiled in another episode of the lengthy Chadian-Libyan conflict, and needed Darfur as a corridor and a recruitment ground for operatives against Hissène Habré. Darfur was swept into political-military dynamics in the region and beyond, if not globalised so to speak as a distant theatre of Cold War drama. Darfur’s ever grumbling war has certain roots extending to this episode of militarisation. Both the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) led by the pro-Turabi Khalil Ibrahim and the pro-government Abbala militias famed as the Janjaweed list among the beneficiaries of the Gaddafi logic. Incidentally, they shot at each other. 

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Sadiq's hand

Upon the secession of South Sudan last July President Bashir declared his intent to form a ‘broad-based government’ in the rump (North) Sudan possibly with the participation of the main opposition forces. Since then the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has been engaged in extensive negotiations with the two larger parties in the scene, the National Umma Party (NUP) led by Sadiq al-Mahdi and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) led by Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani. Conscious of the inevitable economic and political repercussions of secession the NCP wished to secure its hold on the Sudanese heartland through an alliance by engulfment with the two sectarian mass parties or at least one. Apart from spurring the breakaway of yet another DUP faction the talks with the two major parties did not yield any results of immediate interest to the NCP.
According to the Vice President, al-Haj Adam Yusif, the NCP had made a most “convincing” offer to the opposition, as much as half the seats of the cabinet. Despite the declared rejection of the offer by both the NUP and the DUP Yusif remains hopeful. He told a conference of his party in Atbara “the [opposition] parties still have the opportunity to join the government at any time irrespective of the composition of the coming cabinet”. President Bashir himself acknowledged the deadlock in his address to the National Assembly on 10 October. He made the rhetorical claim that NCP and the opposition had reached a consensus over “national concepts” and certain “commonalities regarding the preservation of the country’s unity”. On a more aggressive tone Qutbi al-Mahdi, the chief of the ruling party’s political sector, told reporters on 5 October that the opposition faces the choice between cooperation with the NCP and collaboration with the enemies of Sudan, the Western powers, Israel, and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Nafie Ali Nafie, the NCP’s Deputy Chairman, resumed the flirt when addressing the closing session of a conference of the ruling party’s political sector attended by the NUP chief, Sadiq al-Mahdi, and several senior DUP politicians on 11 October. He stated that the participation of the opposition parties in such a function of the NCP is a consequence of the “constructive dialogue” between the two sides.
The NUP and the DUP had apparently bargained for more than a share in the cabinet. The NUP had a name for its bride wealth, Sadiq al-Mahdi’s ‘national agenda’, a list of demands under the theme of ‘the transformation of the party-state into a nation-state’. The DUP, not so much plagued by concerns of intellectual prestige, chose a more frank approach. The party’s negotiators simply stated that the NCP’s offer was far less than the due of the historical party of the national movement. They demanded the allocations of positions to the DUP extending right through the government structure, from the presidency to the localities. 
Sadiq al-Mahdi at least was obviously reading from his 1977 diary. In that year the NUP chief and President Nimayri agreed on the terms of what became known as the ‘national reconciliation’. Sadiq al-Mahdi returned from years of exile to assume a leading position in Nimayri’s Sudan Socialist Union (SSU) next to Hassan al-Turabi. The two men had allied against Nimayri in the opposition National Front generously hosted by Libya’s Gaddafi. Exhausted by their disastrous July 1976 military attempt at Khartoum from their Libyan base the two chose to join the man they could not beat. Turabi made the best of the unexpected turn of events. The rapprochement with Nimayri is identified in Turabi’s history of the Islamic Movement as the period of ‘reconciliation and development’. The Islamic Movement grew into the state machinery as it were. Sadiq al-Mahdi was less fortunate. Incapable of adaptation to the realities of the ‘one party state’ a frustrated Sadiq eventually resigned from the SSU’s politburo to grumble at home while Turabi developed the definitive disorder of army politics, an infatuation that eventually cost him his power and his Islamic Movement.
Informed by this experience Sadiq al-Mahdi resisted the NCP’s passionate overtures secretly hoping that a repeat intifada might sweep the regime away.  Sadiq is equally anxious that such a popular outburst might even endanger the authority and standing of the established parties, his own included. The wise NUP chairman wants the Aristotelian gold, a negotiated hygienic transfer of power through the means of a constitutional conference and an electoral process. The anti-Mahdist Sadiq, I fear, does not have the sufficient credit to make such a long call. 

Saturday 8 October 2011

State Islam according to al-Intibaha

Late in August the Just Peace Forum (JPF) led by al-Tayeb Mustafa had cuddled up to the extra-Turabist if not the anti-Turabist forces of the Islamist scene in Sudan, the Wahhabi Ansar al-Sunna, the remnant non-Turabist Moslem Brotherhood, the aggressive Moslem Clerics Association, the Moslem Forces Union, and a set of even smaller groups, to form the single theme Islamic Constitution Front (ICF), an umbrella format akin to the Kauda alliance, but arguable more focused. Beginning on 3 October al-Intibaha, al-Tayeb Mustafa’s toxic newspaper, started publishing a draft constitution for the rump Sudan crafted by the ICF brothers in faith. Pushing the contestation of Islam and the state forward as the ultimate political question in the country the text reads like somebody’s fantasy and by definition another’s nightmare.
The draft, in the tradition of Sudanese precedents, begins with a series of definitions: “Sudan is a united Islamic state that exercises sovereignty over all the regions within its territory, and where the dictates of Dar al-Islam apply”; “Islam is the religion of the state, a faith, a path and a way of life”; “Arabic is the official language of the state”; “Sudan is part of the Moslem Umma and a member of regional and international organisations”. Sovereignty, according to the draft, is exercised by Allah alone, while shari’a rules supreme and the Umma enjoys political authority, three variations on the theme of the ultimate source of political power in Islamic jurisprudence. After fitful experimentation with the same abstractions Hassan al-Turabi has lately declared society sovereign, the implied condition being that Moslems constitute a majority. To qualify shari’a for his rediscovered passion for parliamentary democracy Turabi argued that the elected representatives of the nation may choose to uphold or drop articles of shari’a at will, since the consensus of the Umma constitutes in itself a source of legislation next to the Quran and the traditions of the prophet. The revisionist Turabi of today would probably rubbish the constitutional propositions forwarded by the JPF et al as an instance of infantile Islamism, further evidence of the chronic decay of Moslem societies.
To illuminate the abstractions above one has to read further into the draft constitution. Legislative authority in the Islamic state of Sudan is the due of an elected shura (consultative) council; the members of the council are nominated for election from five colleges: scholars of shari’a, specialists in the natural sciences, professionals, leaders and notables, and individuals with considerable experience and knowledge. To qualify for membership of the council a nominee has to be Sudanese, at least thirty years old, of sound mind, of fair standing, capable of ijtihad, and of reasonable opinions, in addition to satisfying the conditions of inclusion in one of the five colleges as stipulated by law. The draft details ‘fair standing’ with the qualifications of Moslem, male, sane, and evidently pious. The head of state is elected by popular vote from three nominees not younger than forty years old handpicked by the shura council. The draft lists the same set of conditions for the office of the president with the addition of the necessary power to confront the enemy and wage jihad, as well as sound organs and senses. 
Essentially, the Islamist margin is spelling out its version of a WASP oligarchy so to speak, free of camouflage. Naïve as it may appear the ICF’s draft transpires of the post-colonial quest to mould the state rather than reject it. The ICF is demanding a state with which a fantasized pious Moslem can easily identify. The irony being that power, albeit congruent with an imagined tradition of Moslem statehood, has to be guarded from the same Moslem plebeians by an elite corps of shari’a fellows, distinguished effendiya of the professions, and revered notables. In the absence of a credible left capable of transcending the divide between urban and rural struggles in Sudan this utterly modern frustration with the shortcomings of the state as it exists cannot but translate into ethnic fission in the peripheries and its Islamized rearticulation in the heartland.
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.