Saturday 29 January 2011

Stones at Bashir

Sadiq al-Mahdi’s meeting with President Bashir on 22 January threw the Khartoum opposition coalition, the National Consensus Forces (NCF), back into disarray. To salvage their common line the leaders of the coalition met with Sadiq al-Mahdi on 25 January and issued a statement decrying the divisive tactics of the National Congress Party (NCP). The NCF leaders adopted Sadiq’s ‘national agenda’ as a basis for engagement with the NCP provided that negotiations take place with a joint NCF delegation. The statement, obviously a compromise by accumulation between the members of the NCF rather than a targeted political message, listed around ten pre-conditions for talks with the NCP, topped by the release of all political prisoners, the star among them the chief of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) Hassan al-Turabi, and the rollback of fuel and basic commodity prices. The PCP and the Communist Party seemed particularly wounded by Sadiq’s move. Siddiq Yusif from the Communist Party stated that the NCF was not obliged by any unilateral agreement between the Umma and the NCP, and the PCP’s al-Sanosi expressed his party’s disillusion at the Sadiq-Bashir rendezvous demanding the release of Turabi before any mention of talks. In concrete terms, the NCP has paralyzed the PCP by silencing its one-mind, Turabi, and wooed the Umma chief, Sadiq al-Mahdi, into an open-end flirt, and thus more or less hollowed out the wobbly NCF.
Acting apart from political party structures activists in Khartoum and abroad called on their fellow Sudanese to wage demonstrations against Bashir’s regime starting on 30 January. In Tunisian/Egyptian style the e-agitators busied internet social networks with messages prompting for a popular uprising. In a release to potential participants, one group advised demonstrators to put on sports gear in preparation for the hustle, and always carry a cell phone. Judging by the means and the message the constituency addressed I suppose are the young educated Sudanese who enjoy access to the internet and the possession of sports gear. These have grievances, true, but evidently risk more than their chains.
Both the political party opposition and the alternative ‘youth’ agitation seem to be oblivious to the question of constituency. The political parties take their public backing more or less for granted, and the youth groups suppose a default discontent with the NCP in the Northern heartland. Bashir bothered by the prospect of a mass revolt, a classic form of regime change in Sudan long before the Tunisian model, told a rally on 25 January “The day we feel that the people reject us we will go out to them in the streets so they can throw stones at us”. Rather than bluffing outright Bashir, I claim, was expressing the self-doubt of the regime at the current juncture. In the same speech the President reaffirmed his commitment to the implementation of shari’a, and declared the secession of the South a non-event. His bid remains the cultivation of a siege mentality in the rump North perpetually fearful of a threat from the South and suspicious of regional demands. The challenge before the opposition is how to overcome the construed contradiction between Bashir’s ‘people’ in the heartland and the pauperised of the peripheries, reified as ethnic communities, in other words de-ethnicisation.   


  1. Political parties everywhere engage in political games to maintain their positions.

    But the manner in which Sudanese opposition parties are side-lined only serves to emphasis the dichotomy of their position.

    The self-attributed "consensus" label by the NCF seems to be a disingenuous attempt to serve the constituents they abandoned in 2010 elections and merely an attempt to remain relevant - by an ageing elite bent on satisfying their own megalomaniac fantasies.

    Into this vacuum of opposition steps an impatient over-educated and under-employed young generation fed up of corruption, increasing income inequality and dynastic opposition parties.

    The truly inspirational revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are not an appropriate model for Sudan in its current fragile state. An overzealous youth are unlikely to heed this warning and the way the current administration responds to what seems to be a peaceful plea for reform will determine what the future holds. However, there is a real risk that upcoming protests will be mis-managed and then hijacked by a manipulative opposition.

    The real question for me is whether the will of the Sudanese people was reflected in the results of last year's elections? And if so, then why is the current administration pandering to the opposition instead of executing its mandate?

  2. The answer to that question in my opinion is yes and no. Yes I don't believe the results of the elections were manipulated. I think it was more fear of instability, of a new regime that will have power hungry empty pockets to fill, in addition to the evident weakness, inconsistency, apparent indecision and inadequacy of the opposing parties that steered the majority of the votes that led to the re-election of the NCP.
    As a youth who fully intends to participate in tomorrows peaceful protests, I would like to add that there is a risk, that is known and acknowledged, and as this is just the beginning there are doubts this protest will yield the same results it yielded in Tunisia and Egypt. As you said the NCP's response tomorrow will determine many things, however I still think it is due time for something to be done. We have to hope that the other parties do not attempt to claim the credit for our efforts tomorrow, although of course, they will.

  3. Thank you for responding to my post.

    While I am hesitant to extend this debate without Dr El Gizouli's express consent, I am very curious to hear from you - what in your opinion is the "something" the youth of Sudan wish to be done?

    Thank you.

  4. Thank you for the lively discussion. One point I agree with totally is that the survival of Bashir's regime is more a symptom of his adversaries to create a credible alternative than a signal of intrinsic success. I do not agree however with the liberal notion of 'something must be done' and now. I think if anything politics must be rethought in Sudan. There is a lot of doing going on but without any serious thinking to support it.

  5. I conceed this is not the optimal time for revolutionary attempts, but as I said before it is highly doubtful that anything of the sort will ensue.
    Ideally, what we want is to alert the government to our dissatisfaction and break through the state of reluctance that is gripping the nation. It's just a beginning, a foundation, if you please to build future resistance on.

  6. Hi Magdi - my first post here, though I've been following your excellent blog for a while. I'm intrigued by what's happening in Tunisia & Egypt right now and wonder what it might mean for post-referendum Khartoum... Sudan is covered so much worse by the usual media, so if you have any updates on today's demonstrations, I'd love about that.

  7. Hey Toni - I am not sure if we are about to witness regime change in Khartoum. Contrary to Egypt and Tunisia my guess is that Bashir is ready to share power with the opposition parties provided that his position is safeguarded. If the opposition parties can negotiate their way into power they are unlikely to support urban protests that they have next to no control over. The students on the streets are as much fed up with the NCP's corruption as they are frustrated by the parties' incapacity and inconsistency.

    At some obscene level the traditional parties - Umma and DUP - just like the NCP are also threatened by an unpredictable Khartoum.

    I just posted a note on today's demos.



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