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.  

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