Thursday, 20 December 2012

Sudan’s Hawa: the banat come of age

Hawa Jah al-Rasool, better known as Hawa al-Tagtaga, passed away on 10 December in Khartoum. Born around 1924 in northern Kordofan Hawa moved to the capital at the tender age of 14 years to begin the career of a popular performer and entertainer. Over the years, she became an icon of Sudanese womanhood and popular culture. Hawa made the Sudanese happy. She immortalized the key figures of the Sudanese anti-colonial movement in the simple ‘open access’ lyrics and tunes of the nas (common people), and earned a living from the dual function of dance instructor and singer at the weddings of the effendiya and the merchant class. 
Brides in the riverain heartland of Sudan were expected until very recently to perform established dance solos where the bridegroom takes only a marginal role to the examining eyes of female family members, friends and neighbours. Hawa and her team instructed brides in this domestic art and delivered the song and music associated with it. Sudan’s powerful, rich and influential sought Hawa’s services as a matter of prestige and she answered their generosity with the gratitude of the word. With her wealth of creativity and charisma Hawa was a performing spin doctor, capable of defining a gentleman’s reputation with the playful words of her memetic lyrics. 
Senior Ashigga politicians like Ismail al-Azhari, Sudan’s first post-independence prime minister, and the ‘handsome’ Mubarak Zaroug, foreign secretary in Azhari’s 1956 cabinet, benefitted greatly from Hawa’s propaganda as did Hassan Bashir Nasr, minister of defence and minister of presidential affairs under General Ibrahim Abboud. The two generals, Abboud and Nasr, expelled Hawa’s favourite politicians, Azhari and Zarouq, to imprisonment in a remote station on the Sudanese-Ugandan border where they shared the company of Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub, al-Tijani al-Tayeb and other long-term political detainees of the military regime. The colours of the flag that Hawa dressed in on the day of Sudan’s independence, blue, yellow and green horizontal stripes from top to bottom, did not survive the treacheries of Sudanese politics. The revolutionary regime of Jaafar Nimayri replaced it with the pan-Arab red, white and black tricolour in 1970. The army officers broke Hawa’s heart again when they incarcerated Azhari, the President this time, upon snatching power in May 1969. Azhari fell ill in prison and died shortly after his transfer to hospital in August of the same year. 
In recent years, Hawa was transformed into a classic. As veterans of the Graduate Congress passed away she became the face of the annual celebration, hosted on TV shows to commemorate the occasion and asked to speak of its champions. She was decorated by President Bashir and appeared on TV dressed in the colours of the vintage flag in support of the war effort when South Sudan took over Heglig in April this year. 
More important than the political utilization of her fame though is the moral and cultural legitimacy she bestowed on younger generations of Sudanese women singers who follow her tradition. The ‘girls’, dubbed by one famous TV show as ‘Hawa’s daughters’, became a popular feature of Sudanese TV stations, particularly in Ramadan. In their dazzling tobs and immaculate make up they swing the box with a display of femininity that truly gets the sheikhs going. One commentator in al-Intibaha said the ‘girls’ were the reason behind Sudan’s economic troubles. Allah decided to punish the Sudanese for acquiescing to such mockery and even enjoying it, he wrote. A group of Salafi clerics visited Insaf Medani, the Hawa incarnate crowned as the contemporary ‘queen of the daloka’, at her home in Khartoum North advising her to stop haram singing and dedicate her talent to the recitation of halal hymns. She reportedly responded with the amazing shrug of wonder that only women are capable of. Hanan Bulubulu, the Sudanese bombshell of the 1980s, was emboldened by the newfound recognition and vied for the chairmanship of the General Sudanese Union for Music Professions, the association of Sudanese singers. Her contenders included music professors with little in the way of a singing career to support their bid. As expected, she lost the vote but managed to fuel a heated debate that lasted for weeks on the ‘arts’ pages of the Sudanese press. What is at stake ultimately was the rift between popular culture and its subterranean sources and the authority of the establishment. Women like Hawa, Insaf and Hanan are the baraka of a good cause. Veterans of the Workers Welfare Association, the nucleus of the Sudanese trade union movement, recount with love and pride the names of Sabila Fadul and others, women of Hawa’s character. Sabila donated 15 pounds to the Association during the heroic thirty three days strike of the railway workers in March-April 1948, as can be read in a surviving register, heated her set of dalokas and together with a team of female apprentices accompanied the protest marches of the railway workers, drumming the way open for her ‘boys’.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Darfuri: death by definition

Four students were found dead Friday in a feeder irrigation canal of an experimental farm next to the main campus of the University of Gezira. The students drowned to death; their bodies carried no marks of injury, said the local police. Mohamed Yunis Nayel Hamed, Adil Mohamed Ahmed Hamadi and al-Sadiq Abdalla Yagoub were identified as Darfuris and the fourth al-Nu’man Ahmed al-Gurashi as a Gezira lad. Last week, the University of Gezira witnessed clashes between Darfur students demanding their exemption from tuition fees and student supporters of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). The security authorities upon invitation by the university administration intervened and arrested tens of the protesting Darfur students, among them the four found dead on Friday. The Vice Chancellor declared on Saturday the suspension of studies in the University of Gezira till further notice “in order to secure lives and property”. In their demand the Darfur students cited the Doha Document for Peace and Darfur (DDPD) signed between the government and the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) in May 2011. 
Article 14 of the DDPD deals solely with the Darfuri quest for higher education, the rite of passage to political emergence and national visibility, and is worth quoting in full: “15% of admissible seats in national universities shall be allocated for students from Darfur pursuant to the requirements of competition for 5 years; The people of Darfur shall be represented in the management of national universities and higher education institutions based on the competence and scientific qualifications specified by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research; 50% of admissible seats in national universities in Darfur shall be allocated for the sons and daughters of Darfur pursuant to the admission committee requirements. Meanwhile a mechanism or committee shall be constituted to examine the conditions of those affected by war to be exempted from university fees for 5 years; All students who are the offspring of IDPs and refugees from Darfur States duly admitted by the admission committee to national universities shall be exempted from educational fees for 5 years; The admission procedures for the children of IDPs, refugees and those affected by war shall be facilitated in the various localities in the States of Darfur.” 
To a Darfur student asking for the waiver of fees the paragraphs of the article are clear enough, providing five years exemption to the offspring of IDPs and refugees and a committee to consider the same for all those affected by war in the region. To the cash-hungry university administrator eager to purse fees at the beginning of the academic year the same paragraphs are rich with conditions that could be employed to rubbish applications for a waiver with bureaucratic pleasure. I can imagine requests for proof of IDP status, proof of Darfur origin, identification documents, and the wildest disputes over stamps, signatures, and due verification from local, state and national authorities. Once a Darfur student fails to establish in solid stamped and signed paper that she or he is the offspring of IDPs or refugees the waiver can be immediately dropped of course, exactly like most committees and commissions born out of peace agreements. 
The Vice Chancellor of the University of Gezira, Mohamed Omer Warrag, said today that the campus violence of last week could have been avoided had the relevant rules and regulations been diligently applied. Mr Vice Chancellor, reported students of the University, flashed an iron rod in his hand when confronting the protesting Darfur students in the company of a mix of security agents, police, and student supporters of the ruling party, regulations indeed! In a statement issued on Friday the Darfur Students Association in the University of Gezira held the university administration and students’ union responsible for the deaths and demanded the dismissal of the Vice Chancellor and the prosecution of the perpetrators. Immediate criminal responsibility for the deaths is unlikely to be established in a court of justice. Personally, I carry the memory of the late Mohamed Abd al-Salam Babiker, a fellow Khartoum University student and friend who died in the custody of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in 1998 answering for a wave of student agitation in protest against an upscale of dormitory accommodation fees. Thirteen suspects were identified and a police case filed, but justice was never done. Mohamed’s first folly was organisation, his second was that ‘he had no back’, the Sudanese expression for poor connections in the circles of power. Mohamed’s father is a tailor, his means of a production a single old-fashioned Singer mechanical sewing machine under a shade in the main market of Wad Medani. He had no ‘backed’ relatives to brag of or ask for money, not even a local sheikh of standing, and every good reason to protest the increase in accommodation fees. One of the gentlemen accused of killing Mohamed was promoted from security thug to diplomat. The four students found dead on Friday in a Gezira ditch are probably equally back-less. The definition Darfuri in that regard served in the police statement as a perverse justification for their death. Darfuris die anyway, don’t they?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Rift Valley Institute: Field Courses 2013

In 2013 the three RVI annual field courses will be held in Uganda. The Horn of Africa Course, established in 2008, covers Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia (including Somaliland and Puntland), and Northern Kenya. The 2013 Horn course will take place from 8 to 14 June; the Director of Studies is Ken Menkhaus. The Great Lakes course, now in its fourth year, covering Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), will be held from 22 to 28 June; the Director of Studies is Jason Stearns. The course is in English and French, with simultaneous translation. The tenth RVI Sudan and South Sudan course, covering all areas of Sudan, South Sudan, and the borderlands between the two, will be held from 6 to 12 July. The Director of Studies is Justin Willis. A course prospectus, containing further details on all three courses, can be downloaded here. Apply online here.

Another coup: the politics of temptation

The contradictions ravaging the Sudanese Islamic Movement (SIM) matured in the folds of its 8th General Conference into an antagonism between loyalists and dissidents, an antagonism that the state attempted to resolve by means of a purge. Media coverage tended to portray the first as ‘hardliners’ and the second as ‘reformers’, a mystification compounded by the drama of the foiled coup plot which landed Salah Gosh, Sudan’s former spy chief, and Brigadier General Mohamed Ibrahim Abd al-Jalil, the ‘emir of the mujahideen’ better known to his admirers as ‘Wad Ibrahim’, and their associates in detention. Instead of reaping the benefits of their political investment in reform rhetoric, meagre as they may appear, the dissident ‘Saihoon’ of the SIM and National Congress Party (NCP), a pregnant Arabic term that translates in this context roughly into ‘God-seeking wanderers’, were tempted by the presence of combat-hardened officers and paramilitary ‘jihadists’ in their midst to try their luck at a putsch, the routine folly of the notoriously self-indulgent and vicissitudinous Sudanese petty bourgeoisie. 
In the late hours of 21 November operatives of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) arrested their former chief Salah Gosh and his alleged associates, among them the celebrated Wad Ibrahim, a man who once commanded the President’s guard, the former commander of the Sudanese-Chadian Border Force Fath al-Raheem Abdalla Suleiman, and the senior military intelligence officer Adil al-Tayeb. Fingers were instinctively directed at Ghazi Salah al-Din, assistant to the President and leader of the NCP’s parliamentary caucus, as the suspected poster boy of the coup plot. Ghazi was the Saihoon’s revered candidate for the leadership of the SIM. He withdrew from the competition once it became clear that the loyalist camp had engineered a safe majority to drown the immediate demands of the Saihoon in the General Conference. The ‘democratic’ exercise did not satisfy the Saihoon’s ambitions. They accused the SIM leadership of swarming the conference with rustics from the provinces who did not know better, the standard argument raised by elite Islamists against the transformation of the SIM under the NCP from a closely-knit vanguard of predominantly petit bourgeoisie composition to a mass ‘tareeqa’ with little in the way of entry requirements and wide exit door. 
In defeat, the Saihoon announced themselves an inner-party platform of the NCP. They issued a statement under the name of the ‘NCP – Reform Platform’ pleading President Bashir to release the detainees. The Saihoon fulminated against the Minister of Defence, Abd al-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, asking for his immediate dismissal. The Minister, said the statement, was responsible for the poor performance of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF) in the Sudanese war zones and directly to blame for the failure of the army to respond to repeated Israeli attacks on the country. “We remain in expectation of the decisions you will make. Be assured that they [the detained officers] all love, adore, and respect you [President Bashir] but your minister of defence has left them with no other option,” concluded the statement addressing President Bashir. The Minister, complained the Reform Platform, forced the chief of military intelligence and other senior officers into retirement because they offered their advice and counsel, and is currently “creating problems with the commander of the Armoured Corps”. The demand for ‘reform’ with a popular and national scope unravelled to read like the imploring of a jealous lover anguished by an unforeseen spell of neglect. Indeed, the Saihoon could only remember their immediate effendiya concerns, positions in the SAF hierarchy in this case, when surprised by the counter-intrigue of the state apparatus. 
While Sudanese commoners went on with their daily lives recording the coup attempt as another instance in the long tale of petit bourgeoisie squabbles over control of the state, star dissidents of the historic Islamic Movement came out in defence of the ‘reform’ putschists. Abd al-Wahab El-Affendi, a Westminster University scholar and coordinator of its ‘Democracy and Islam Programme’, praised ‘Wad Ibrahim’ to the holy heavens. Wad Ibrahim is more popular in the officer corps than the Minister of Defence, he wrote. This is a man who still lives in a humble government-owned house, and does not possess a house of his own, a man unstained by corruption, he added. The same could have been said about President Bashir before he assumed office of course. To the great mass of the Sudanese the state-sponsored life-style of Wad Ibrahim, a salary and a government house and car and possibly government-funded Hajj, is the object of revolutionary envy, one severe enough as to ignite the rebellions that he excelled in combatting over the years of his career in the SAF. El-Affendi, as if by instruction, attempted in a terribly twisted argument to make the claim that Salah Gosh, a Sudanese Yagoda if any, was arrested together with the ‘noble’ officers led by Wad Ibrahim, in order to taint their “good reputation”. He then went on to make the argument for a “move by the army”, i.e. a coup, as the less costly route to effecting democratic change in the country. Either way, he concluded, whether an initiative of the army supported by the people or a popular movement supported by the army, the countdown of the regime has started. Well, when it took over power by the same putschist route in 1989 the National Islamic Front (NIF), the political cloak of the SIM at the time, traded the same alibi, ‘salvation’ by conspiracy. Petty bourgeoisie oscillation between the ‘path of the masses’ to use a preferred phrase of the late Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub, i.e. collective emancipatory action, and the fantasy of a swift short-cut to ‘genuine democracy’ led by a circle of ‘progressive’ officers could not be better illustrated. El-Affendi titled his piece “The army sides with the people (in advance)”.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Sudanese Islamic Movement: a parastatal tareeqa

When recounting the deeds of the Sudanese Islamic Movement (SIM) before the final session of its 8th General Conference in Khartoum’s Chinese-built Friendship Hall last Saturday the outgoing Secretary General and First Vice President of Sudan Ali Osman Mohamed Taha identified “the increase in the rate of religiosity” as its first accomplishment. Taha, a lawyer by training and devout bureaucrat by profession, borrowed from the jargon of state statistics to justify the maintenance of an organisation that has long lost its lustre as a political vanguard, an expensive feat indeed when one considers that the three days event came at a cost of around 1 billion Sudanese Pounds (over 226.5 million US Dollars) according to the conference spokeswomen, Sanaa Hamad al-Awad. Unaccounted for in this sum are the series of local and state-level mini-conferences held in preparations for the Hajj to Khartoum. The same Taha admonished the Sudanese a few months ago for spending beyond their means in order to show off among family and friends as he bullied parliamentarians from his own party into approving drastic austerity measures to counteract the loss of oil revenues in the aftermath of the secession of South Sudan. 
If anything the SIM was showing off among peers in the region and beyond, in what appeared like a second act of Hassan al-Turabi’s 1991 Popular Arabic and Islamic Conference, without Turabi. The ‘pious and religious’ of the ‘Arab Spring’ were all there to witness the facelift of the SIM: Rashid al-Ghannushi of the ruling Ennahda Movement in Tunisia, Khaled Meshal of the Palestinian Hamas, the General Guide of Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood Mohamed Badie, the General Guide of the Libyan Moslem Brotherhood Bashir Abd al-Salam al-Kebti, the Deputy General Guide of the Syrian Moslem Brotherhood Ali Sadr al-Din al-Bayanouni, as well as the Emir of the Pakistani Jamaat e-Islami Syed Munawar Hassan, and representatives of Islamic movements from Chad, Senegal and Nigeria among other countries, each of course in an entourage of followers and assistants. Syed Munawar Hassan for instance was accompanied by five others including his wife and women league leader of the Jamaat, Begum Aisha Munawar. The list of attendants was sufficiently ‘internationalist’ as to ignite the suspicion of Arab Gulf governments weary of the machinations of the transnational Moslem Brotherhood. A critical tweet from the Dubai Police chief Dhahi Khalfan Tameem suggesting that the brothers were in Khartoum to conspire against the sheikhdoms of the Gulf prompted the conference chairman, al-Tayeb Ibrahim Mohamed Khair, to issue a statement declaring that the SIM had full respect for the sovereignty of individual Moslem countries. Taha, however, could not resist the temptation of the international platform. After dwelling on the religiosity rate and other issues of Sudanese relevance he broke into a shrieking staccato of sloganeering in rhyme to stumble into “no to the United Nations”, “no to the Security Council”, “no to the international injustice council”, “Islam is coming”, “from Sudan coming, from Egypt coming, from Libya advancing, from Sri Lanka coming, from Nigeria creeping, from Somalia keeping pace, from all the Ummah…”. The Vice President’s voice broke a little before climbing up to a finale of prayer, President Bashir was apparently amused by the performance, and the conference delegates were enthralled. Rather than bring out the composure of the statesman Taha displayed the worn out fashions of his student career as Chairman of the Khartoum University Students’ Union (KUSU) during the ‘leftist’ seventies, a time when the SIM was a small pack of rustic youth angered by the ‘cosmopolitan’ vices of Khartoum. 
For a moment there Khartoum seemed like a Moscow of pan-Islamic revolution. The Hamas politburo chief vowed revenge for the Israeli attack on the Yarmouk factory as Gaza was being bombed, and Taha proclaimed the ‘liberation of Palestine’ a priority for an Islamic international in the making. The entire fanfare had a much more immediate function though, one limited to the maintenance of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and its Islamist base. At the mighty price tag above the post-Turabi state-administered SIM managed to secure a degree of regional legitimacy that placed it on par with ‘Arab Spring’ counterparts. Mohamed Badie and Khaled Meshal delivered Friday sermons in Khartoum mosques praising Sudan’s pioneering Islamic experiment, and President Bashir played host to Rashid al-Ghannushi, a man who has Turabi to thank for safe sanctuary and a Sudanese diplomatic passport during years of exile. A spiteful Turabi wrote an open letter to the ‘brothers’ from abroad renouncing the SIM of Taha as a fake and pleading for recognition as the legitimate and sole figurehead of modern political Islam in Sudan but to no avail. They dined, exchanged ‘pious’ jokes and posed with President Bashir while Turabi tended to his wounded pride at home, a general without an army or rather a disowned father. 
The magic of an Islamic international assembled in Khartoum to witness Sudan’s Islamic experiment impressed the delegates of the conference as much as it cost the treasury. Taha and Co wooed the floor into approving the draft constitution proposed by the last meeting of the SIM Shura (Consultative) Council, an inflated Central Committee of four hundred members, with no more than punctuation modifications. Over the past year, the Islamist rank has been consumed in a dispute over the relationship with the ruling NCP and the government, a rather dull remake of the conflict that ended with the break-up between President Bashir and Hassan al-Turabi in 1998/1999. Two leading figures of the SIM framed the dispute in clear terms shortly before the start of the Conference. Ghazi Salah al-Din, the ‘hope and change’ candidate of the younger ranks of the SIM, advocated in a brief article published in two Khartoum newspapers simultaneously for the autonomy of the SIM from the NCP and the government, a notion that one of his sympathizers phrased as “the liberation of the Movement from the state”. On the other end, the SIM veteran Ahmed Abd al-Rahman called for the dissolution of the SIM as such in the NCP and claimed wide support for the idea in the upper echelons of the ruling party. In formal terms, the conflict crystallized around two clauses in the draft constitution presented to the conference, one dictating the election of the Secretary General from the Shura Council instead of the General Conference, and a second clause that provides for the establishment of a ‘Supreme Leadership’ for the SIM composed of its committed members in the leadership of the government, the ruling party and the ‘special branches’, i.e. the security services. To Ghazi Salah al-Din and his supporters the first clause undermined the legitimacy of the Secretary General, and the second stripped the office of all authority. The General Conference voted in favour of both articles adding only the qualification ‘coordinative’ to the definition of the Supreme Leadership. Plainly put, President Bashir and his deputies in the government and the party, i.e. Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and Nafie Ali Nafie, as well as the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, and security and military chiefs, will continue to watch over the shoulders of the Secretary General lest Turabi’s ghost settle into his jellabiya. 
The motley Ghazi camp came out of the second day of the General Conference defeated and bitter. Writing in al-Intibaha, one of the Ghazi’s sympathizers dismissed the proceedings of the day as a ‘democratic’ fiasco, where numbers overwhelmed the merit requirements of Islamic shura. It was the women of the SIM, he complained, undeservingly granted equal votes to men, who tilted the count in favour of the two disputed clauses. Modernity, it seems, had caught up with the SIM rejuvenators where they hoped it would serve them better. Ghazi himself leaked to al-Intibaha the decision to withdraw from the competition for the general secretariat, an office he ridiculed as worthless with the Supreme Leadership weighing over its occupant. Elections for the Shura Council were held on the third day of the conference in a closed session that extended to the early hours of Sunday. The General Conference elected 340 members of the 400 strong Shura Council, the ‘mass’ complement to a safe core of sixty including President Bashir, his deputies in the Presidency and party, SIM members in the cabinet, and top ‘special branches’ officials. The new Shura Council convened the next day in the smaller, shabby al-Zubeir Mohamed Salih Hall in Khartoum to declare al-Zubeir Ahmed al-Hassan (b. 1955) Secretary General of the SIM, the only contender for the post after Ghazi Salah al-Din’s withdrawal, and one of three nominees favoured by President Bashir. Ghazi’s name was not written, to quote Adil Imam. An economist by education al-Zubeir cycled through the Sudan’s Islamic banks before becoming deputy governor of the Bank of Sudan and then Minister of Finance. He left the cabinet in the recent reshuffle and currently chairs the economic sector of the NCP besides his seat in the National Assembly. 
The new Secretary General of the SIM appeared the next day on the Blue Nile TV in the flowing white jellabiya and shoulder wrap of the pious Sudanese elder. He stroked a generous white-grey beard as he responded to the calibrated questions of a prudent host. Until a day before only an Ustaz, the title of the Sudanese effendi, al-Zubeir was now the ‘Sheikh’, a veneration that ranks him equal to the grand heads of Sufi tareeqas (brotherhoods). al-Zubeir defended the worth of his office against Ghazi’s critique, and went further. In rejecting the benign notion of coordination between the SIM, its ruling party and its government in the form of a coordinative Supreme Leadership the opponents of the new constitution were attempting to lift the Secretary General of the SIM above the President, he accused. The new ‘Sheikh’ said he was ready to engage Hassan al-Turabi towards the greater good of unifying the Moslems. Thanks to the 1998/1999 fracture in the Movement both the government and the opposition are currently dominated by Islamist forces, added al-Zubeir with content. 
Rather than “liberate” the Islamic Movement from the state the 8th General Conference consummated its ‘nationalization’ as it were. The rebirth and rejuvenation that Ghazi’s supporters wailed about would have required the heresy of a sectarian split (I depend here on Slavoj Zizek’s reading of T.S. Elliot), an adventurous and costly undertaking that neither Ghazi, who prides in being a Khartoum dandy, nor his core support base of state-spoiled young professionals, were ready to dare. The entire episode started with a memorandum, it should be noted, the plea of the ‘thousand brothers’, now a Facebook group chattering away their dissatisfaction.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

President Bashir: throat politics

It is a sign of the times that the principal political question occupying the ‘political club’ in Khartoum these days, in government and opposition, is whether the swelling excised out of President Bashir’s throat is benign or malignant. The President’s brother, Abdalla al-Bashir, himself a physician, told reporters that the results of the pathological examination of the presidential sample revealed a benign tumour while opponents on the blogosphere quoted ‘informed medical sources’ saying that the President surely has a cancer. 
The condition besetting the President silenced him to a considerable degree, quite a calamity for a political leader whose main distinguishing mark from his allies and contenders in the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) is his throat mechanics so to speak. The President, unlike many of the PhDs-laden NCP high guard, is capable of projecting himself as a man of the people. He is known for his bellicose and inflammatory speeches, often followed by a round of dance and stick waving in the grand styles of Sudanese riverain patriarchy, theatricalised of course to serve the purposes of state power. Over time, the President’s public performances have become a distinct genre of entertainment. Crowds are truly disappointed when for any particular reason he fails to drift from the script of his speeches or does not allot time for the show thereafter. The Minister of Defence, Abd al-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, began recently to emulate the President’s moves but has proved a much poorer speaker and a terrible dancer. Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, although he tries, is quite lame when addressing masses. Unlike President Bashir, who quickly shifts to colloquial Sudanese Arabic after the first few lines of religious jargon, Taha has failed to unlearn the classical Arabic that cadres of the National Islamic Front (NIF) insist on as evidence of their Islamic credentials following Hassan al-Turabi’s example. As an orator Taha sounds more like the provincial school headmasters of (old) Sudan whom people might respect but do not identify with. In that regard, Taha’s argumentation skills are only demonstrable behind closed doors, his strengths being a mastery of organization and bureaucratic intrigue acquired through years of experience stretching back to the time when he sat in Nimayri’s parliament, the People’s Council, following the ‘national reconciliation’ of 1977. 
Speculations about President Bashir’s health status fuelled a latent controversy over succession in the hallways of Khartoum power. The press toyed with the issue, various candidates were identified and Taha-cheerleaders went on the campaign, but only for a brief spell. The security authorities eventually barred newspapers from reporting on the presidential throat apart from the official statements released by the President’s press office, and pre-publication censorship was re-instituted to ensure compliance. The fuss inside the NCP however was too loud to control. The deputy speaker of parliament, Hajo Gasm al-Seed, told reporters that it was high time for the ruling party to name a successor for President Bashir. The NCP’s Amin Hassan Omer, usually disciplined when it comes to in-house disputes, told the Saudi al-Sharq al-Awsat that Taha was the most likely candidate to replace Bashir. When it became clear though that the President’s throat might not be the focus of ‘malignancy’ it was thought to be, the more cautious swiftly reversed the signs. Ahmed Abd al-Rahman, an elder of the Islamic Movement and the NCP, suggested that the President continue in office for another term, and additionally assume the leadership of the Islamic Movement. The Movement, he stated, should dissolve its separate structures and fuse totally in the NCP under the command of President Bashir. Ahmed Abd al-Rahman said this proposal had the backing of Nafie Ali Nafie and others in the party. Amin Hassan Omer, in a TV interview broadcast this Sunday, fudged words when asked to address the succession controversy. He delivered however an interesting statistic. Over five million people in total, he said, attended the grass roots conferences of the NCP in 2011, while just over five hundred thousand attended the Islamic Movement’s conferences. Amin steered clear of the ‘younger’ Islamic Movement and NCP ‘dissidents’, the memoranda writers of the past few months, a constituency he had sought to appease with a series of critical articles proposing a generation shift in the ruling party. 
Django, reckoned the NCP nomenclatura, still has the grit in him to strike again. The question, I suppose, is who will fetch the canes.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Yarmouk complex: Sudan in the world

Sudan’s Military Industry Corporation (MIC), established according to its website in 1993, has as its motto the phrase ‘for peace we gather all our effort’. The phrase mocks the fact that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) which grew out of the Egyptian-clad and British-disciplined Sudan Defence Force (SDF) has been consumed throughout its history in battling insurgencies within the country’s territories. Ghazi Suleiman, once a regime-critical human rights lawyer and today a loud enthusiast for President Bashir, did not mince words in spelling out the esprit de corps of the SAF officer class with reference to the envies and passions of his own social milieu, the educated effendis of the professions. An innocent-looking TV presenter asked Ghazi over Eid whether there was anything he regretted during his rather dramatic life of political zigzags. Ghazi, priding in his frankness, said he regretted the decision to enter the law faculty of Khartoum University instead of joining the army. Had I been an officer, he said, I would have surely managed to pull off a coup and realise my dream of becoming the country’s president, the uncontested Bringi (number one). 
Ghazi’s fantasy is shared by many an effendi, officers and civilians alike. In an address to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on 5 September this year Mubarak al-Fadil al-Mahdi effectively invited his interlocutors to back a coup plot against President Bashir, justified as is the habit with the necessity to facilitate the leap to democracy. “The army could be the conduit for transition, as happened previously in Sudan, and recently in Egypt and Tunisia”, said Mubarak, another president hopeful whose political ambitions are perennially thwarted by the superior clout of his cousin and chairman of the National Umma Party Sadiq al-Mahdi. The perpetuation of Sudan’s civil wars stems in part from this investment in the power of guns to short-circuit political struggle. Combine Ghazi’s officers and Mubarak’s marketing strategy and you arrive at the elemental features of effendi political projects, shared by the rulers and their contenders: self-referential with little regard to the people to be ‘saved’, ‘liberated’, ‘delivered’…etcetera, and extraverted, whereby external anchor is sought to compensate for the deficiency in domestic legitimacy. 
With that in mind it might have been cheaper for Israel to solicit the cooperation of the security-military establishment in Khartoum rather than bomb the Yarmouk complex, in particular that a history of joint ventures is not lacking. Jaafar Nimayri, Sudan’s president between 1969 and 1985 and President Bashir’s role model, partnered with Israel without as much as a whimper in Operation Moses which involved the air-lift of Ethiopian Jews or Falashas to Israel via Sudan in 1984. In recent years Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) evolved into a trusted subcontractor of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the ‘war on terror’, delivering “important, functional and correct” information in the words of a State Department official in 2005. President Bashir’s government, handed over Carlos the Jackal to the French with a price-tag attached, offered to ship off Osama bin Laden to the Saudis and then to the Americans, and transferred al-Qaeda suspects to the mercy of the CIA with little discretion. Israel was apparently compelled by domestic political concerns and wider geo-political constraints of its anti-Iranian zeal to strike at Khartoum rather than bargain. In that sense, Israel and Iran were text-messaging in missiles over Sudan’s territories, and Khartoum but a screen. 
President Bashir, the proverbial naked king, picked up the Palestinian wrap to cover up his exposed ‘defences’ in a televised meeting of the Council of Ministers the day after. Israel, he said, targeted Sudan because of its position against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Nafie Ali Nafie, ran off with the mantra. Sudan will not be deterred by Israel’s aggression from supporting the Palestinian cause, he told a function of the ruling National Congress Party. The claim is to say the least hypocritical. The commitment of the ruling elite in Sudan to the Palestinian liberation struggle is as sincere as Ghazi Suleiman’s human rights antics, convertible if priced. Short of allies to support its counter-insurgency campaigns President Bashir’s government picked up weapons wherever it could find them, Iran being one provider. The bill, it seems, included space for Teheran’s military to operate in, much like the readiness of the government to rent off thousands of acres of agricultural land in the country to any foreign investor able to flash some cash. Ali Mazrui developed the concept of 'multiple-marginality' to define Sudan’s predicament, a notion that could well be employed to grasp its multiple-dependencies, and consequentially the promiscuous foreign policy of its effendi rulers. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Post-Bashir: the sheikhs and the officers

The Sudanese Islamic Movement (SIM) held a series of conferences at state and sectorial levels over the past few weeks in preparation for its awaited general convention in November. Ahead of the conferences the Movement announced a rule barring state governors from competing for the leadership of the organisation in their states. Only Osman Mohamed Yusif Kibir, the governor of North Darfur, distinguished himself by ‘accepting’ the nomination of the Movement’s Shura (Consultative) Council in his state, and was thus announced Secretary General of the SIM in North Darfur for a second term. As governor and chairman of the North Darfur chapter of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) Kibir unites in his person the three h’s in NCP/SIM jargon, the hakuma (government), the hizb (party) and the haraka (movement). An envious NCP official from the region told a press conference in Khartoum on Saturday that Kibir’s command of the three h’s amounted to “religious and moral corruption”. Hassan Bargo, in charge of the Chad file in the NCP during the height of the Darfur conflict i.e. a manager of Khartoum’s support to Chadian rebels, dismissed the SIM’s conferences as mere “window dressing”, and called on the leadership of the organisation to allow for a generational shift at the top in order to avert an ‘Arab Spring’ in Sudan. Hassan Osman Rizig, the Deputy Secretary General of the SIM, said Kibir will eventually be forced to choose between the hakuma and the haraka, and cannot enjoy the pleasure of the power polygamy. Whether Rizig can enforce the constitutional pedantry of the SIM high office in Khartoum on al-Fasher’s sultan is the wrong question I suppose. Rather the issue is whether the regime can afford a fracture of fragile power in al-Fasher between the three h’s. Like most Sudanese Kibir and Bargo find it hard to grasp the subtle difference between the NCP and the SIM since up the ladder only the jellabiyas change.
The clamour around the November conference nevertheless is not without substance. The incumbent Secretary General of the SIM, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, also the First Vice President and the Deputy Chairman of the NCP, declared to the conference of the SIM women sector that he is not interested in another term at the helm of the Movement. Time has come for elders like himself, he said, to withdraw to advisory functions and allow a younger generation of leaders to manage the affairs of the SIM. Conveniently enough, the proposed constitution of the Movement sets a two terms limit for election to the office, an exact fit to Taha’s occupancy of the post. As Taha, the perennial deputy, announced his intent to slip out of the jellabiya of the SIM’s Emir unidentified sources in the NCP told in-house journalists that a consensus was emerging in the party to nominate Taha for presidential office in the 2015 elections, a proposal that the SIM’s second in command, Hassan Osman Rizig, did not deny. Rizig, cautious not to step on toes bigger than his, said the NCP general conference was the only platform where such a decision could be met. Meanwhile, Taha’s cheerleaders in the Khartoum press went on early campaign, popularizing the notion that the deputy’s moment has at last arrived; who else but the loyal Taha deserves the top jellabiya? The immediate drive for the succession stir is the open secret that President Bashir’s health is compromised. A spokesman of the Palace in Khartoum said the President had a throat surgery last August in Qatar but was in good health. “All rumours that his health is not good are baseless”, affirmed the spokesman without offering further details. Notably, the presidential uncle, al-Tayeb Mustafa, wrote in support of a Bashir exit in 2015. “It is in the interest of the President, after a quarter of a century of rule, to rest in dignity at the end of his current term, away from politics and its whirlwinds”, he concluded after listing the immediate duties requiring President Bashir’s attention: oversight of the implementation of the Addis Ababa agreements with South Sudan, securing Sudan’s borders and bringing an end to the rebellions in South Kordofan, the Blue Nile and Darfur, stabilisation of the political and economic situation in the country in preparation for a new era of good governance and peaceful transition of power. Well, judging by his 1989 coup statement President Bashir and Co had a quarter of a century to do the same.
The Taha cheerleaders, it seems, are consciously ignoring the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) establishment, the ‘old Sudan’ political party jealously guarding the throne. At President Bashir’s side two senior officers have survived the habubs of the NCP-SAF alliance safe from plane crashes and early retirement. These two gentlemen - Bakri Hassan Salih (Minister of Presidential Affairs) and Abd al-Rahim Mohamed Hussein (Minister of Defence) - are unlikely to surrender ultimate authority to the NCP/SIM bureaucracy without at least a fair bargain. If Taha and his captains find it difficult to discipline Mr Kibir into abiding by the SIM’s rules then the tanks at the SAF headquarters are surely not going to follow their command whatever the jellabiyas they happen to wear.

Monday, 8 October 2012

South Sudanese labour: refill the ‘kambo’

Sudan's major grain producers, the landowners of Gedaref, complained bitterly to the press this week of an acute shortage of labour and warned of yet another failed agricultural season. The local farmers’ union in the state reportedly lobbied the central government to sanction the employment of Ethiopian guest workers in order to save the season without much success. In Gezira and North Darfur the state authorities seconded school children on vacation for service in the fields, a desperate measure that fell short of demand. This year government failure has resulted in a self-inflicted drought on the two Niles; up to 85% of the cultivated area in the Gezira and al-Managil extension suffers from a shortage of water declared a parliamentary committee this week after three visits to the scheme. Why and how are questions that the controversial and eloquent Minister of Agriculture, Abd al-Haleem al-Mutaafi, has eluded in sessions of parliament as well as during an inspection ride where he was accompanied by a television crew eager to record his ‘frank exchange’ with angered farmers. 
The Gedaref landowners in particular are a formidable constituency. In 2010 they managed to force their favourite, Karamallah Abbas, on the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) as a candidate for the gubernatorial elections. Karmallah, the farmers’ union leader turned governor, soon became a reason for concern at party headquarters. He played his own game and challenged the dodgy arithmetic of financial allocations to the states, to be quelled out of office in May this year after a memorable clash with the Minister of Finance Ali Mahmoud Abd al-Rasool. The daily al-Tayar was banned from publication partially as a punishment for its enthusiastic coverage of Karamallah’s try at dissent. In a last interview he told Howeida Sir al-Khatim, the journalist who made his story news, that he might contemplate running on a National Umma Party (NUP) ticket considering his Ansar heritage. The election to fill the post, due after sixty days from its vacancy, is yet to take place. The National Elections Commission argued itself out of the constitutional inconvenience by blaming the bad weather as it were; once the rainy season ends and the crops are harvested, it pledged, the vote will be held. In his interview Karamalla said he feared becoming a second Malik Agar, a governor at large, a stunt that obviously did not play in his favour. 
There are two immediate reasons for the shortage in labour this season. The first, said the Secretary General of the Gedaref Farmers’ Union Abd al-Majid Ali al-Tom, is the loss of South Sudanese labour as a consequence of secession. The South Sudanese in (north) Sudan, congruent with a long history of exploitation extending back to the time when slavery constituted the dominant relation of production in Sudanese agriculture, provided a large chunk of the ultra-cheap labour force on which the profitability of agricultural production in Sudan’s technology-poor and labour-intensive fields relied. The sugar plantations of Kenana, al-Jineid and Sennar, their recent ambitious follow-up in the White Nile State, the grain fields of Gedaref, and the chronically dysfunctional Gezira Scheme all depend on a nominally seasonal supply of labour drawn from migrant populations, predominantly from the Sudanese war zones. The qualification seasonal however refers only to the terms of employment; the people in question, the ‘jango’ in colloquial tongue, are established ‘squatters’ albeit denied the title and inhabit the notorious ‘kambos’ (sg. kambo) of Sudan’s agricultural belt, the makeshift settlements that twin the villages and towns of the riverain heartland as shadow doubles, excluded from service provision but resources for sustained police extortion, targets for the occasional punitive raid, and theatres of pleasure on the cheap. The talented novelist Abd al-Aziz Baraka Sakin injected the kambo into the imagination of the Khartoum intelligentsia with his masterpiece ‘al-Jango, nails of the land’ and a collection of short stories titled ‘A woman from ‘Kambo Kadees’. Both works have been banned by the responsible authorities despite the fact that the novel earned its author the 2010 ‘Tayeb Salih Prize’ offered by the independent Abd al-Karim Mirghani Cultural Centre but circulate in a digitalised samizdat format. 
Apart from the romanticisation around revolutionary promise the kambo and its inhabitants attracted no further interrogation from the Khartoum crowd, exception being to my knowledge the 1982 PhD thesis of Tayseer Mohamed Ali ‘The Cultivation of Hunger: Towards the Political Economy of Agricultural Development in Sudan’. Tayseer formed a duo with the ‘Free Officer’ Abd al-Aziz Khaled in the early 1990s and established the Sudan National Alliance/Sudan Alliance Forces with an outlook to invest the ‘jango’ with a political-military mission. The Alliance registered minor military gains along Sudan’s eastern borders but eventually withered away after the two fell out in a dull repeat of a common scenario in Sudan’s elite politics i.e. the intellectual versus the military officer. Abd al-Aziz eventually returned to Khartoum after a presidential pardon while Tayseer established permanent base in Asmara. The jango were abandoned. 
A second reason for the dearth in agricultural labour this season is Sudan’s artisan ‘gold rush’. The Ministry of Mining reported this past month that the quest for gold kept an estimated five hundred thousand people busy spread over eighty locations around the country, many of whom are likely to be escapees from the penury of agricultural labour. With this background in mind, I suggest, it is possible to explain in part the willingness of the ‘rational’ NCP high priests to invite the South Sudanese back into the rump Sudan with the ‘four freedoms’ ensured, rephrased the freedom to sell their muscle power, conveniently this time around as ‘brothers’ with no citizens’ claims to burden the exchange. 

Monday, 1 October 2012

Hobsbawm died

A giant died today, the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm (1917- 2012). I am ever indebted to the late Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud; he introduced me to the works of this master.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Kiir and Bashir: brothers in oil

Sudan and South Sudan signed on Thursday a battery of eight agreements covering oil and other economic concerns, border security, monitoring and demarcation, the status of nationals in the other state, and trade next to other outstanding post-secession issues, and crowned the set with a global cooperation agreement worthy of the signatures of the two presidents, Kiir and Bashir. The governor of Khartoum Abd al-Rahman al-Khidir made sure that a jolly crowd welcomed President Bashir at the airport upon his return on Friday. The crowd, reported the press, insisted that the President deliver a speech after the spell of stick waving, and so he did. He spoke buoyantly of the ‘real’ start of peace between the two countries and a new era of cooperation and mutual benefit, pipeline-mediated and along a ‘soft border’ blocked to weapons and ammunition and open to the movement of people and goods. President Bashir told the crowd that he had a personal conversation with President Kiir after the signing ceremony and felt assured that his ‘brother’ Salva was sincere about implementing the agreements in good will. In his speech at the ceremony President Kiir also referred to his Sudanese counterpart as a ‘brother’. 
The brilliant South Sudanese essayist Stella Gaitano correctly identified the function of the ‘brother’ mannerism in Sudanese political discourse as a gesture of exclusion, the mark of the alien in the national corpus. She made the comment shortly before the independence of South Sudan in a warning to the people of Darfur when she noticed that the mainstream press had stripped the South Sudanese of the qualification and shifted its use to Darfurians. As a Khartoum-raised ethnic South Sudanese Stella lost her Sudanese citizenship with the secession of South Sudan, and wrote passionately about the experience of the double hijra of the South Sudanese in (north) Sudan, in her words “from a second class citizen to a first class foreigner”. Presidents Bashir and Kiir negotiated a settlement between two states, a categorical difference that sets the Addis Ababa summit agreements apart from the lengthy scriptures of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), but nevertheless a formal one. In fact, the baggage of the CPA is all around. The terms of the compromise remain the same: a trade-off between oil and security. Khartoum and Juba renegotiated the wealth-sharing formula of the CPA to correspond to the new sovereignty map of the territories under their control and capped the deal with the redeployment of their armies away from the border and the invitation of monitors to verify the process and record violations. 
The tactics involved in this recalibration of power relations are paradigmatic. Juba tabled the Abyei card with a declaration that a deal without Abyei was no deal at all, and Khartoum successfully retouched the dispute over Mile 14, a border area between South Sudan’s Bahr al-Ghazal and Sudan’s Darfur, to glow like an Abyei in the making. To its domestic audience and to the mediation the government of Sudan marketed Mile 14 as a ‘national hymen’ immune to compromise, the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle of security arrangements. It even invited ‘notables’ from the Rizeigat community in the area to present their case to the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP). When President Bashir and President Kiir arrived in Addis Ababa for their summit talks the negotiation teams had already hammered out the agreements that matter as it were. Abyei was left out in keeping with tradition; this time however with a new counterweight, Mile 14. What the two presidents agreed upon at the finishing line of the negotiations, with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) hustling them along, was a mutual and consensual trap, material for renewed conflict down the road if need arises. President Bashir rejected the AUHIP’s Abyei proposal, a referendum plus package, but agreed to shove the entire file to the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC), and simultaneously planted a secondary Abyei on the border. Mile 14 was granted special status in the security arrangements; the two sides agreed to withdraw their forces from the entirety of the twenty three kilometres long strip as compared to the ten kilometres of the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone (SDBZ) on either side. The administration of the area was ‘re-traditionalized’; the status quo of “joint tribal mechanisms for the resolution of disputes” between the Dinka Malwal of Bahr al-Ghazal and the Rizeigat of Darfur was to be maintained, said the security arrangements agreement. What this implies is the export of the Juba-Khartoum power game to this border area in the same fashion that Abyei has become an experimental ground for relations between the two countries. Neither side of course lacks experience in empowering proxy punchers to bruise the other as expediency requires. If the Dinka Malwal and the Rizeigat have managed to soften the border between them they are now invited to ‘nationalize’ the border under the injunction of the state.
The unwritten clause of the security agreement is presumably what Sudan’s Minister of Defence said to Radio Omdurman on Friday. He stated that the security arrangements determined specific modalities for dissociation between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the forces that once constituted its 9th and 10th divisions in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile i.e. the bulk of the fighting force of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in North Sudan (SPLA/M-N). The text of the 27 September security agreement makes no mention of the SPLA/M-N but it does renew the commitment of the parties to the 10 February 2012 memorandum of understanding on non-aggression and cooperation where they pledged “the cessation of harbouring of, or support to rebel groups against the other State”. The SPLA/M-N now faces almost the same challenges that the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) had to grapple with after Ndjamena and Khartoum arrived at a settlement late in 2009 that ended a long season of proxy war between them. Ndjamena expelled the late Khalil Ibrahim, founding chairman of the JEM, from its territory, and Sudan ordered Chadian rebels out of the country. Juba might not act all that dramatically but is very likely to pressure the SPLA/M-N to downscale its ambitious negotiation position. Yasir Arman, the SPLM-N’s secretary general, claimed in a statement released on Friday that the rebel movement controls more than forty per cent of the border, and is thus entitled to a say in the establishment of the SDBZ. “There is a need for cooperation with the SPLM-N”, he stated, and the “SPLA/M-N are ready to cooperate”. Yes, indeed. I wonder if President Kiir calls Yasir a brother.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Arab Spring: Turabi rehabilitated

Hassan al-Turabi, the veteran chief of the Sudanese Islamic Movement turned opponent to the long reign of his disciples under President Bashir, appeared yesterday on al-Jazeera to celebrate the rise of Islamic forces to power in the region. The ‘sheikh of freedoms’ as his party followers prefer to call him spoke with the comfort and vindication of a pioneer; his miscegenation of Islamic themes and ideals with Leninist principles of vanguard organisation delivered the “first Islamic state in the Sunni world” to use the title he conferred on the regime born out the 1989 coup d’├ętat orchestrated by the National Islamic Front (NIF), the political cloak of the Sudanese Islamic Movement at the time. 
Today, Turabi sits snugly in the opposition, eviscerated from power in 1999 after a drawn out struggle with President Bashir, a struggle that robbed him of his political achievement but not of his intellectual property. Thanks to repeated cycles of detention and house arrest Turabi can safely claim victimhood in President Bashir’s state, the regime he authored almost singlehandedly but that soon mutated beyond his control. Both men are eager to impress their Islamic credentials upon the winners of the Arab Spring. As Turabi the sheikh was debating the challenges of Islamic rule in Doha with Rashid al-Ghannushi, the Chairman of the ruling Ennahda Movement in Tunisia, Bashir the rayes, endowed last month with a Master’s degree from Sudan’s Gezira University for a thesis titled ‘Challenges of the Application of Sharia in Contemporary Societies”, was busy marketing himself to his Egyptian counterpart, the Moslem Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. 
The two heads of state, Morsi and Bashir, discussed the Nile water shares, said the spokesman of the Egyptian Presidency, and confirmed that “the position of Khartoum and Cairo regarding the Nile Basin crisis is identical”. To Cairo the 1959 Nile water agreement is sacrosanct; the colonial-era treaty grants almost the entire average annual flow of the river to Egypt and Sudan, to be shared at 55.5 and 18.5 billion cubic meters respectively. Ethiopia, acting alone and in partnership with the six other upper riparian states, has recently challenged the 1959 agreement demanding equitable utilization of the Nile between the nine countries that share the river thus precipitating a crisis yet to unfold with Egypt. Just this month Wikileaks released a document claiming that President Bashir agreed in 2010 to host an Egyptian airbase with the objective of launching a military attack on Ethiopia’s Grand Millennium Dam, the brainchild of the late Meles Zenawi, in case diplomatic efforts fail to deter Addis Ababa from pushing through with the project. The same Bashir however reportedly told the Ethiopian ambassador in Khartoum, Abadi Zemo, in March this year that Sudan will provide all the necessary support towards the success of the construction of the Millennium Dam. Judging by precedent Bashir has not strayed far from established standards of post-colonial Sudanese statesmanship. Abboud coyed to Nasser and agreed to drown Wadi Halfa under the lake of the Aswan High Dam for Egypt’s benefit; Nimayri followed Sadat’s lead to become the only Arab ruler to support the Camp David accords and make Sudan the second largest African recipient of US aid after Egypt; and Bashir himself initially camouflaged as an Egyptian stooge. Under pressure, and after his captains failed to assassinate Mubarak in 1995, President Bashir put a lid on Turabi’s pan-Islamic machinations in an attempt to appease the Egyptian Sublime Porte. As officers in the Egyptian-clayed Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) the three were well that the Governor General’s Palace in Khartoum had several keys, one of them at least in Cairo. 
Turabi possibly imagined himself the elephant in the room between Morsi and Bashir. The copyrights of political Islam in Sudan remain his, Bashir’s Master’s thesis notwithstanding. On the other hand, his relations with Egypt’s Moslem Brothers have long been burdened by the sin of his breakaway from Egyptian orbit in the 1960’s when he scoffed at the so-called educationalist and evolutionist methods of the mother organisation to launch the Sudanese branch of the Moslem Brotherhood onto an independent ‘revolutionary’ course. Along that path he rubbed shoulders with many a dissident Egyptian brother, Ayman al-Zawahiri to name one shining star.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Building protest in Sudan

A piece published in the September edition of the New Internationalist.

When Sudan’s Islamists staged their coup against the government of Sadiq al-Mahdi in 1989, they relied on militia formations from their student and youth wings to patrol the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and guard their freshly snatched power from the political establishment. Since then, the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has survived an arc of rebellions in the country’s peripheries, a fratricidal split in the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in 1999, and the breakaway of South Sudan to independence in 2011. The longevity of the regime has baffled both its opponents at home and the experts who follow Sudan’s affairs from abroad.
To achieve its breakthrough and maintain its grip on power, the NCP relied on a formula that unites a siege ideology of Arab Muslim identity, with sharia law as its grammar, and oil-greased patroage politics. But the loss of oil rent to the independent South Sudan dealt a considerable blow, precipitating an economic crisis that left the government ‘bankrupt’, according to the diagnosis of the country’s minister of finance. 
As the 23rd anniversary of the 1989 ‘Salvation Revolution’ approached this June, the NCP regime found itself battling an amorphous mass of protesters in Khartoum and smaller urban centres, mostly young women and men whose political memory registers no other ruler than President Bashir. Rather startled by the brazen show of defiance, Bashir, distinguished as the only incumbent head of state to be indicted by an international court, christened the protesters against his long spell in power ‘outcasts’. Opposition activists embraced the term, just as they plagiarized a jibe attributed to Nafie Ali Nafie, an NCP high priest who once likened attempts at regime overthrow to the impossibility of licking one’s own elbow, by turning it into a rallying cry for another day of demonstrations: ‘elbow-licking Friday’.
What is usually presented as one wave of anti-regime agitation draws from at least three distinct resources: an urban underclass struggling to eke out a living under adverse economic conditions; students and young professionals frustrated by the patriarchal lid on their political ambitions; and second-generation diaspora Sudanese tweeting for the homeland. Communication between the three constituencies is at best troubled, often requiring the mediation of an interpreter. The government’s security apparatus has ridiculed the fluent English-speakers of the third category as online ghosts and sought to contain the second with volleys of teargas, rubber bullets and streamed passage through its detention centres. The first, however, were received with live ammunition.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Sudan’s Islamists: the disavowal of politics

Ghazi Salah al-Din, the head of the National Congress Party (NCP) parliamentary caucus and a leading intellectual of the post-Turabi Sudanese Islamic Movement, doubted in a recent interview whether he would join the contemporary Movement, in its 2012 version, had he the opportunity. In a style reminiscent of the interview tactics of the late Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud Ghazi dodged the question by asking it to himself and refusing to answer. He told his interlocutor that the Islamic Movement was in an ambiguous situation that makes any judgement on its affairs quite difficult. The Movement, argued Ghazi, does not rule, has never ruled, and it is not clear whether it should rule at all. With this statement he apparently redeemed the Islamic Movement that he joined as freshman in Khartoum University of the baggage of twenty three years in power, a legacy that he seemed willing to shove over to the NCP as a the carrier of immediate authority. Ghazi dismissed ‘politics’ as such as the business of “villains”, a condemnation that he felt comfortable to pronounce from the armchair of the distanced intellectual. 
Ghazi’s brief interview is no journalistic coincidence. Separately, or may be not so separately, veteran members of the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF) who share the experience of combat against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) during the 1990s in what was then southern Sudan, have been meeting recently in Khartoum to reminisce about the ‘jihad years’ and debate the future of the Islamic Movement. One such meeting took place on 27 July in the Khartoum University mosque, famed as the headquarters of the Islamic Movement’s student wing. The attendants were mostly men and women who dedicated their twenties to the Islamist cause as students, lost friends and colleagues in the battlefields of Sudan’s multiple insurgencies, but were largely orphaned ideologically as a consequence of the 1999 feud between Hassan al-Turabi, the historical leader of the Islamic Movement, and President Bashir, the man who continues to rule with its emblem. One such figure is al-Naji Abdalla, today an emerging politician in Turabi’s PCP. Naji reportedly sobbed as he addressed the crowd. “A meeting of the mujahideen should not be an occasion for shedding tears without consideration of the future of the Islamic Movement…We come to you with open hearts and without any political agenda. We only seek the glory of the Islamic Movement and do not fear but Allah”, he was quoted saying. 
Naji was known to me and my colleagues in the student organisation of the Communist Party - the Democratic Front - as ‘the cooking-oil thief’. I am still to find out the background for this accusation, but I must confess doing my share in perpetuating it in speech and writing. As Naji’s adversary I had little opportunity to hear his ‘story’. Today, it seems, Naji, and Ghazi, are attempting to do exactly that: tell their story, and thereby seek absolution from the adventure of power. The basic contention against this mode of (disavowed) politics, i.e. story-telling, is that it reduces the objective reality of the exercise of power, the villain’s burden to borrow Ghazi’s depiction, to a subjective tale of virtue and sin, material for sympathetic understanding. This is a double fraud. History is no psychoanalysis couch, and there is no escape from its clutch to the bosom of a transcendental beholder.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Internship Programme at the London office of the Rift Valley Institute


The London office of the Rift Valley Institute (www.riftvalley.net) seeks graduate-level interns for two three-month periods: October to December 2012 and January to March 2013. The application deadline is Friday 14 September 2012. The intern announcement can be downloaded here or via the RVI website. The online application form is here.

The successful applicants will join a small administrative team managing the Institute's field research projects, publication programme and training courses in Eastern and Central Africa. They will assist in liaising with the RVI Nairobi office and maintaining long-term programmes such as the Sudan Open Archive (www.sudanarchive.net) and the Usalama Project (a field-based research project that documents armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo). They will work with the RVI Executive Director, the Programme Director and the Publications Manager, and with regional project officers.

There are no formal qualifications for RVI internships, but successful applicants are likely to have completed a Master's degree in a relevant discipline (arts, literature, social sciences, languages or information technology) and to have experience in – or demonstrable knowledge of – Eastern and Central Africa. Candidates need to be fluent in written and spoken English; fluency in French is also an asset. Other useful skills and aptitudes include:
  • event management and general administrative skills
  • text editing for publication
  • fluency in written and/or spoken forms of one or more of the languages of Eastern and Central Africa, notably Arabic, Swahili, Somali (and French, as above)
  • graphic design
  • IT skills including data management and website administration
  • scanning, digitisation and data entry
  • video camerawork and editing
The Institute seeks to develop talent in these fields. Former RVI interns now work as staff members of the RVI, for international NGOs and think-tanks, for indigenous NGOs in Eastern Africa, in academic research, and in government service in various countries.

The standard period of an RVI internship is three months, at least three days a week. The exact length of time is negotiable. Interns are unpaid, but receive a daily allowance for travel within London. Lunch is provided at the office. Applicants should live in daily travelling distance of London W11.

Important: Internships are open only to legal residents of the United Kingdom with the right to work. We are not able to consider candidates based in other countries. Opportunities for internship and employment in our Nairobi office and on field programmes in Eastern Africa will be advertised separately.

The application deadline for both internships – October to December 2012 and January to March 2013 – is Friday 14 September 2012. Interviews and trial days will take place from the beginning of September.

Candidates can apply online here. Contact Jacob Fodio Todd (recruitment@riftvalley.net) with problems or questions.

The Rift Valley Institute (RVI) is a non-profit research, education, publication and advocacy organization operating in Eastern and Central Africa: the Sudans, the Horn of Africa, East Africa and the Great Lakes. The Institute works with communities, institutions and individuals to bring local knowledge to bear on political and economic development. The RVI is an equal opportunity employer.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Abbo: who is the 'revolutionary'?

Instead of Sadiq al-Mahdi, the imam of the Ansar, it was Abd al-Mahmoud Abbo, the Secretary General of the Ansar Welfare Association, who led the prayer last Friday in Sayed Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi mosque in Wad Nubawi, Omdurman. For a few weeks the mosque became a refuge for the Girifna/ChangeNow crowd in their surge against the National Congress Party (NCP), an occupation that the National Umma Party (NUP) leadership tolerated but did not necessarily welcome, particularly when banners of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in North Sudan (SPLM-N) were hoisted above the heads of the protestors. Speaking from the pulpit Abbo distanced his flock from the agitation of the “alleged revolutionaries” as he called them and made it clear that the mosque was a site of worship and not a political platform. Bluntly phrased he told the protesters to camp elsewhere. 
ChangeNow had announced an arrangement with the NUP to organise a prayer for those killed in the Nyala demonstrations, eight people in the official count and twelve according to activists’ reports. Abbo denied any such coordination. ChangeNow responded with an angry statement blasting the NUP for failing to abide by the commitment to host the prayer attributed to a member of the party’s politburo, most probably its fiery chairwoman Sara Nugdalla, the daughter of the long bedridden Nugdalla, a veteran NUP figure with a hero’s record of resistance to the regime of President Bashir in the less confusing times of the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA). 
The criticism hurled against Abbo - online pieces ridiculed the man as a NCP stooge and a mere voice machine for Sadiq al-Mahdi - did not pass unchecked. The Ansar headman responded with a scathing criticism of the protest movement while acknowledging the patriotism and dedication of the sector of youth who continue to suffer under the NCP regime and had the courage to revolt against its rule. Cigarette stubs and snuff (tumbak) had been found in the mosque, he said. The two items are strictly prohibited in the teachings of the Mahdi, Sudan’s 19th century revolutionary, and are almost as haram as alcohol in the Ansar’s belief system, but belong to the standard effendi armour of Khartoum’s political class, old and new. From that premise Abbo defended the Ansar’s ‘revolutionary’ record. Revolt against injustice runs in our blood and is a constituent of our belief but the Ansar will not be told how and when to mobilise; the Ansar are fully aware of their national responsibility but will not participate in “immature acts” that could actually be in the benefit of the regime, he stated. In his piece Abbo introduced the category “thieves of revolutions”; people, he said, who “found pleasure in the news of fallen martyrs and were out to cash in on the sufferings of torture victims”. “A true revolutionary does not sit before a keyboard and mobilise from his house; a revolutionary does not insulate himself and enjoy the news of the revolution; we will not accept to be told when and how to revolt; we have witnessed these alleged revolutionaries and some of them probably entered a mosque for the first time in their life, instead of ending the prayer with the call for peace they shouted ‘the people want to overthrow the regime’, others slipped away and left the true revolutionaries to face their fate”, stated Abbo in a long pedagogic piece that finished with the line: “I have a moral responsibility towards those I represent, and I will do my best to achieve their goals and protect them from exploitation and oppression. We say to those who believe the Ansar can be led to sacrifice so that opportunists can climb over their corpses to power they will have to wait long. The nation is for all, all have to move, and we will join them until victory is achieved”. 
Abbo’s rant can easily be dismissed as an escapist attempt to cloth the NUP’s zigzag politics with a token of credibility. In doing so however his critics are doomed to miss the grain of truth inherent in his argument, namely the rift between the petit bourgeoisie effendi of Khartoum or the diaspora for that matter, ever endowed with a self-satisfied drive for leadership, and the nas (people) supposed to be led, depicted in the standard reading borrowed from the colonial dictionary as ‘backward’, ‘passive’, ‘complacent’, or stunned by false consciousness in a more recent development of the same outlook. Sudan’s British rulers developed a fantasy of the Ansar as jihad fanatics ever ready for battle, a fantasy that has survived in the mental world of the contemporary effendis sustained by the imagery of several Ansar incursions into Khartoum at the behest of the Mahdis, in 1954 to protest against the visit of Egypt’s Mohamed Najib, in 1965 to back the call for the prohibition of the Communist Party, and in 1976 as part of the armed attempt to topple Nimayri’s government. To this category belongs, of course, the Ansar’s post-colonial Karari moment, the deadly confrontation with Nimayri’s ‘revolutionary’ regime in Wad Nubawi and Abba Island in 1970. On all mentioned occasions Ansar blood soaked the political carpet. The collective agency of the Ansar is both revered, considering its supposed mass, and feared on the premise that an untamed religious bigotry forms its essential trigger. 
The contention however is that both the Mahdis and the opposition activists wishing to borrow their constituency and their mosque share in this reification of the Ansar as a remote-controllable undifferentiated crowd of believers, ever on standby to brandish their weapons and storm unconcerned into battle as they did against the troops of the Anglo-Egyptian conquest on the plains of Karari outside Omdurman on 2 September 1898. In the Sudanese nationalist narrative Karari is identified as a victory in the form of a defeat, but in the memory of my late grandmother for instance it is recorded as a katla, a term that translates best into ‘mass killing’. At least ten thousand Ansar were machine-gunned to death that morning. To dispel this false consciousness of the elite it is sufficient to consider the fashion in which the alleged organic formations of Darfur, a supposedly all-Ansar arena, continue to unfold and clash in a whirlwind of political adventures far divorced from the NUP’s agenda. 
In the 1940’s Sayed Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi invited effendis of an Ansar background to his alliance and launched the Umma Party, a political vehicle for dynastic purposes. The convenience arrangement offered the ambitious effendis a short-cut to power in the form of a guaranteed sectarian vote. The notion became an operational feature of Khartoum politics including the fascination with the ‘marginalised’ of the peripheries, the ethnic resource which if properly tapped could provide the Khartoum elite displaced by the NCP with the mass force to contest power. The algorithm has changed however; the nas are speaking for themselves, Abd al-Mahmoud Abbo as well.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Sudanese press after separation

'An overview of the Sudanese print media' in The Sudanese press after separation - Contested identities of journalism, a publication of Media in Cooperation and Transition (MICT) - Berlin.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Ayman al-Rubo: the politics of pollution

A frequenter of Sudanese universities, with the exception of the ‘beautiful and impossible’ Khartoum University, cannot miss the name of Ayman al-Rubo in rough print on cheap but countless posters next to stage names like Najat Gurza, Rasha al-Samrab, Hiba Jabra, Asha Bob, and many others. Al-Rubo holds the title of Sudan’s Keyboard King and Rasta General. A talented keyboard player he invented a Sudanese brand of hip hop tuned to the wildcat lyrics born of Khartoum’s underclass subculture and widely referred to as ghuna al-banat (girls’ song), a term that only compares to the pejorative notion of qadi nuswan (judge of women’s affairs) once employed by Sudan’s cosmopolitan elite to ridicule sharia judges in the ‘good old days’ when their mandate was restricted to family matters.
Rubo, an ecstatic performer, and the young women singers he accompanies with his keyboard and occasionally bass guitar, since his talents are multiple, do not feature in the acknowledged inventory of Sudanese music. Their creativity is judged across the spectrum to be degenerate as expressed in the blanket term ghuna habit (degenerate/corrupt song). The parallel is compelling with President Bashir’s dismissal of the protestors against his rule as ‘social outcasts’. Haidar Ibrahim Ali, a prominent Sudanese sociologist and avowed critic of the National Congress Party (NCP) regime categorized the “spread of degenerate girls’ songs” together with the resurgence of Zar, male singers who carry female names and illicit abortions amongst other phenomena as elements of a pathological underground culture which he described as flourishing under a hijab, i.e. hidden and covered up. This underground world, argued Ibrahim, is the complement of the official culture of exorbitant consumption masked by fetishist piety. What is dismissed, both in President Bashir’s reflex and Haidar Ibrahim’s critique of popular culture, occupies the position of the excremental excess that sustains the hierarchical order of the societal whole. 
The ideological map shared by the NCP and many of its opponents envisions society as an organic one or a multiplicity of organic components bound by language, ethnicity and religion. In that regard the NCP’s championing of Arab Moslem domination, the African identity flags carried by the insurgencies of the peripheries, and the harmonising proposals of the Khartoum establishment, i.e. a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural political order, share the same ideological coordinates. Sublated in these competing narratives is the class antagonism that constantly threatens the allegedly peaceful organic unity of the social body, be it the imagined community of pious Arab Moslems or the fantasized pre-conflict paradise of communal satisfaction and inter-communal conciliation in the peripheries. In fact, both the Islamic Movement and the liberation movements of the peripheries owe their emergence to this primary antagonism, the negative power tearing through the very formations they espouse. 
In his moments of frustration President Bashir provided the anti-regime protest movement with the blue-print for the emancipatory collective. Obviously, the street anger defied the President’s ‘objective’ social categories, the racial-ethnic-religious cartography of the country. Neither individual agents of ethnicity nor a combination thereof the demonstrators were rather the excess that overflows the sum. It is this extra, the part of no part, that al-Rubo and his girls approach in the eroticized fragmentary open access lyrics of ‘degeneracy’. One popular tune features something like a MacMichael list of Sudanese ethnic groups in the context of the vain search for the subject supposed to provide, the lover ready to lift the shameless implorer from the agony of need to the bright lights and big city of plenty. The ambiguity of the text invites the double interpretation of the egalitarian list as a series of failed promiscuous partners or prospective grooms. Does this not mirror the political fatigue in the country expressed most aptly in Mansour Khaled’s condemnation of the Sudanese elite as addicted to failure? President Bashir, I suggest, contributed the missing finale to this seemingly endless tune/list by proposing ‘social outcast’, a subjectivization of the enemy spread across the social corpus whatever its ‘objective’ disguise, to define the threatening nightly shadows that polluted the streets of al-Deim with their anger. Returning to al-Rubo and the girls, only the ‘social outcast’, the excess turned universal agent, will endure the tests of love. It is no coincidence, I claim, that al-Rubo’s associates, fellow performers and fans call themselves 'al-khafafesh' -  the bats - on Facebook.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Bashir: sharia shopping

Obviously challenged by the stubborn show of anger against their long rule in the heartland of the country the high priests of the National Congress Party (NCP) shifted gears from unashamed dismissal to defensive posturing with sharia. “What is happening is a struggle between the camp of sharia and the camp of secularism”, said Nafie Ali Nafie, the deputy chairman of the NCP last week. He was addressing a religious function in Khartoum to mark the holy night of mid-Sha’aban in the Hijra calendar hosted by followers of the late Sheikh al-Burai in Khartoum. President Bashir had the same to say on Saturday to an impressive crowd in Wad al-Fadni, a centre of Sufi preaching east of the capital. President Bashir borrowed class categories to buttress his message. We come from the people, the normal masses, not from the big families or the palaces, he yelled, a reference I presume to Sudan’s pseudo-aristocracy, the Mahdi and Mirghani families, and the Khartoum establishment of old. The country’s upcoming constitution, reiterated the President, will be ‘Islamic’ and “serve as a model for all the people who have aspirations to apply religion to all aspects of their lives”. He then announced the formation of a committee with generous representation of religious forces and Sufi brotherhoods to draft the new constitution. The President, it seems, thinks he can pull it off by emulating Jaafar Nimayri’s sharia gymnastics in 1983. The attempt, even as an oral phenomenon, is both a farce and a tragedy.
Separately, the President’s uncle, al-Tayeb Mustafa, advised his nephew to withdraw from the NCP and initiate a process of political reform in the country with free and fair elections as its endpoint. Thereby, he argued, the President could streamline an Arab Spring in Sudan without going through its risky pangs, the non-alcoholic beer of a revolution without a revolution. Power would be delivered to the people, and not to the NCP or any of the other political centres, concluded Mustafa referring to the success of the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. The NCP’s Amin Hassan Omer had a diluted version of the same to offer. In an interview with the Qatari newspaper al-Raya he declared the readiness of the ruling party to organise new elections in case the protests against the government expanded further, while cautioning that the Islamic Movement would in any case remain a permanent feature of the political landscape. 
The established parties of the opposition, meanwhile, fielded their ‘vision’ for a post-NCP future in a document titled the ‘Democratic Alternative’. The opposition parties imagined a three years transitional period governed by a caretaker cabinet and a presidential college with rotating chairmanship. Each but one of the seven signatories of the document would occupy the chairmanship for a period of six months. Yasir Arman, the Secretary General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in North Sudan (SPLM-N), responded with composed frustration to the opposition’s plans. The parties, he correctly stated in a press release, are simply repeating the bad habits of old by excluding the forces of the peripheries and the actual protesters ‘elbowing’ the regime from the kitchen of power in Khartoum. 
President Bashir’s underclass pretentions phrased in sharia-thirst and Arman’s criticism of the establishment parties bring to the fore the challenge of bridging the urban struggles of Sudan’s middle class internet-generation and the lot of the rural masses, fractured in turn according to common ideological depiction into the privileged acquiescent ‘Arabs’ of the heartland and the marginalised rebellious ‘Africans’ of the peripheries. One #SudanRevolts tweeter said it all when she labelled the lady tea-sellers and gentlemen rikshaw drivers in Omdurman as security informants in a warning to her fellow protesters.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The stir of the Sudanese mole - part one

The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has “almost become a conglomerate of quarrelling tribes and ethnicities not a national platform for integration and harmony to work for the good of the nation”, declared Amin Hassan Omer, a leading figure of the NCP and minister at the presidency, in a piece published in Saturday’s edition of the party’s mouthpiece, al-Raed, marking the twenty third anniversary of the 30 June 1989 coup that delivered power to the Sudanese Islamic Movement, at the time politically active under the banner of the National Islamic Front (NIF). Rather than celebrate the astonishing survival of the ‘National Salvation Revolution’ into its twenty fourth year of rule the “bankrupt state”, in the words of the Minister of Finance, was busy battling protestors across the country. Hordes of police and plain-clothed security agents cordoned off areas of the capital where trouble was to be expected judging by the experience of ‘sandstorm Friday’ the preceding week. 
The events of 29 June, dubbed ‘elbow-licking’ Friday by opposition activists, are well documented on social media outlets and received considerable coverage in the international press. The largest instance of mass action on the day took place in Wad Nubawi, Omdurman, where worshippers in Sayed Abd al-Rahman’s mosque marched out following the Friday prayers calling for the overthrow of the regime to face a drilled police force ready to counter their charge. The mosque carries the name of Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi, the posthumous son of the 19th century Sudanese revolutionary Mohamed Ahmed al-Mahdi and the late patron of the Ansar brotherhood and founder of the Umma Party, its political wing. Sadiq al-Mahdi, the Oxford-educated grandchild of Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi, doubles today as imam of the Ansar and chairman of the Umma Party. Abd al-Rahman Jr., Sadiq’s son, serves as assistant to President Bashir, the man who deposed the father from his second spell as Prime Minister in 1989. 
Wad Nubawi still carries the scars of an earlier and much bloodier confrontation with the coercive forces of the state. In 1970, al-Hadi Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi, Sadiq al-Mahdi’s uncle and the imam of the Ansar at the time, challenged the legitimacy of Colonel Nimayri, the Nasser-styled officer who overthrew Sudan’s second parliamentary regime in 1969. The Ansar were split in loyalty between Sadiq al-Mahdi, the younger modernizer, and al-Hadi, the older uncle and imam of the brotherhood. Sadiq al-Mahdi led a faction of the Umma Party against Mohamed Ahmed Mahjoub, the veteran Umma politician and non-Mahdi who enjoyed the support of al-Hadi. The feud between Sadiq and his uncle over leadership was one of the major destabilizing factors of the parliamentary democracy that lasted between 1965 and 1969. The lordly ambitions of Sadiq al-Mahdi earned him the premiership at the age of thirty six. A coalition of convenience joining Umma MPs who supported Sadiq’s bid for leadership and the National Unionist Party of Ismail al-Azhari voted Mohamed Ahmed Mahjoub out of office in 1966 to replace him with Sadiq al-Mahdi. Azhari, who served as Sudan’s first Prime Minister at independence, was happy to embarrass his foe, Mohamed Ahmed al-Mahjoub, with backstage intrigue. Sadiq al-Mahdi’s government collapsed a year later, in May 1967, when the pernicious Azhari changed track to forge a coalition with al-Hadi’s faction of the Umma Party, and the People’s Democratic Party of the Khatmiyya brotherhood, once Azhari’s allies in the National Unionist Party. Eventually, Azhari mended his troubled relationship with Ali al-Mirghani, the patron of the Khatmiyya, and the two parties united to form the Democratic Unionist Party in November 1967. The Umma Party entered the 1968 elections in two, one wing led by al-Hadi and another led by Sadiq, to suffer a considerable electoral setback. They reunited in 1969 but were robbed the pleasure by Nimayri’s 25 May putsch. 
The ‘progressive’ officers of the 25th May 1969 Revolution had it in their heads to demolish the sectarian forces of ‘reaction’ once and for all. The Khatmiyya chose to walk out of their way but the Ansar rallied behind al-Hadi acted otherwise. Sadiq al-Mahdi was briefly incarcerated and then shipped to exile in Egypt. His uncle, al-Hadi, withdrew to Abba Island, the Ansar stronghold on the White Nile. Fearsome of an Ansar rebellion Colonel Nimayri ordered the army to storm the island and arrest al-Hadi. Tens if not hundreds of Ansar were killed in the showdown. To crush the resistance of the Ansar fighter jets bombed Abba on 27 and 28 March 1970. Al-Hadi attempted to flee but was eventually gunned down by Nimayri’s troops across the Ethiopian border. Wad Nubawi was the site of a secondary episode of bloodletting on 29 March when the army clashed with the Ansar on the same stretch of ground that the protestors walking out of Sayed Abd al-Rahman's mosque shared with the riot police this last Friday. 
Informed by this experience as well as the tragedy of the 1976 trans-Saharan attempt to storm Khartoum and depose Nimayri by force of arms Sadiq al-Mahdi has since learnt to defer rather than invite confrontation with the coercive forces of the state. On ‘elbow-licking’ Friday he advised worshippers in Sayed Abd al-Rahman’s mosque to sit in their frustration with the regime rather than act it out in demonstrations. While the Umma Party’s politburo discussed an adequate response to Friday’s events Sadiq al-Mahdi met separately in the party’s Omdurman headquarters with the NCP’s Mustafa Osman Ismail, possibly dispatched by President Bashir to sort matters out with the septuagenarian Umma chief. Sadiq’s son, heir apparent, and President Bashir’s assistant, Abd al-Rahman, officially disavowed by the Umma Party, voiced his opposition to any protests that endanger state or private properties. He told the press on ‘elbow licking’ Friday while the constitution provides for peaceful protests the government will repress acts of sabotage according to the law. 
Obviously, neither the leadership of al-Mirghani’s Democratic Unionist Party, in compassionate coalition with the NCP, nor the leadership of the Umma Party, ever hopeful for a negotiated ‘delivery’ of power, are in a position to chart the unknowns of mass action against the NCP. Rather than despair the activists bracing to confront the NCP with ‘people power’ are invited to revisit the country’s revolutionary heritage. Yesterday, 2 July, marked half a century since the conception of the ‘mass political strike’ in Sudan as a decisive tool to rally and organise the forces of the nas (the commoners) in the pursuit of political and social transformation. The notion was introduced into the political armour of the nas by the Communist Party in a pamphlet released in August 1961, and provided the framework for the sustained organisation and agitation that culminated in the October 1964 Revolution that toppled the military dictatorship of General Ibrahim Abboud.
 
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.