Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
23 - 29 December 1999
Issue No. 461
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Bashir-Turabi confrontation escalates

By Mohamed Khaled

Despite reported mediation efforts to reach a settlement between Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and National Assembly Speaker Hassan Al-Turabi, the war of words between the former close allies continued to escalate this week. The fall-out between the two figures occurred after Al-Bashir decided on 12 December to dissolve the Sudanese parliament and announced a three-month state of emergency. Al-Bashir justified his move by claiming that Al-Turabi wanted to limit his powers and acted as Sudan's actual ruler. He added that Al-Turabi's policies over the past 10 years led to Sudan's isolation and ruined its relations with all of its neighbours.

Since then, Al-Bashir and Al-Turabi have been mobilising their supporters. Al-Turabi is the leader of the National Islamic Front (NIF) and secretary-general of the ruling National Congress Party (NC). Besides the regional support Al-Bashir won from his Arab and African neighbours; namely Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Eritrea and Kenya, the Sudanese leader also said in an interview with Al-Ahram on Monday that he wanted the leaders of the main Sudanese opposition parties to return to Sudan. He added that he intends for free elections to be held in mid-2000 with the participation of all Sudanese political parties.

Meanwhile, a 14-member reconciliation committee representing supporters of both Al-Bashir and Al-Turabi, was due to start talks in Khartoum this week to "discuss a formula for finding a way out of this crisis in order to preserve the unity of the NC and prevent the high-level schism from extending to the rank and file," said Mutasim Abdel-Rahim, Al-Turabi's representative on the committee. However, the talks were postponed on the same day they were scheduled to begin. "A new date for the talks has not yet been set," said Information Minister Ghazi Salah Eddin Atbani.

In recent statements, Al-Bashir said he was "conditionally" prepared to end his feud with Al-Turabi. "I accept this reconciliation, but with conditions, the first of which is that the decisions announced on 12 December to dissolve parliament and to declare a three-month state of emergency are irrevocable," he said. Meanwhile, Al-Turabi warned Al-Bashir of civil unrest and a possible military coup.

Informed sources in Khartoum disclosed that Al-Turabi's strategy for handling the crisis was composed of several steps. The first of these is negotiation through the reconciliation committee. If the talks fail, they are expected to be followed by the resignation of the ministers and top civil servants who are known NIF members and loyal supporters of Al-Turabi. This, in turn would be followed by mobilising popular protest through demonstrations and finally, if all other options fail, Jihad.

Many observers, however, doubt that Al-Turabi will resort to force, but instead will try to launch a political struggle against Al-Bashir.

Although Al-Bashir has managed to gain the support of the army and a substantial portion of the Islamists' leaders, he has also stated repeatedly that he had been a part of the Islamic movement since he was in high school.

Among the opposition the conflict is generally viewed as one taking place within the NIF ranks. A statement issued by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the umbrella organisation for opposition groups inside Sudan, described Al-Bashir and Al-Turabi's conflict as one that has nothing to do with the general population, rather, it is simply occurring among the "salvation people," a term which refers to the 1989 coup, called the "salvation revolution" by its leaders. The group's statement went on to warn the general population not to expect any positive outcomes from this conflict.

According to opposition figures, Al-Bashir's agenda revolves around the same Islamic project pursued by Al-Turabi. "The two men, Al-Bashir and Al-Turabi, are fighting within the same party and the same project. The ideology remains the same as well as the strategy. Accordingly, this will not result in any change," a leading figure from the Democratic Unionist Party told the Weekly.

Some observers suggested that Al-Bashir is now focusing on establishing himself in power. What is clear is that Al-Bashir is devoting considerable effort to competing with Al-Turabi for support from the Islamists. "The essence of the crisis is embodied in the nature of the authoritarian regime," Farouk Zakariya, spokesman for the Communist Party of Sudan told the Weekly. "Al-Bashir and his group are one of the components of the regime's crisis. The crisis is too deep to give any chance for reconciliation between Al-Bashir and Al-Turabi. The struggle over economic interests is adding more complications," he added.

"It is a true conflict which has become a reality in Sudanese political life. A settlement could not be reached through good-will efforts. Similarly, I don't think Al-Turabi will give up," Farouk Adam, a leading figure in the DUP and a member of NDA's leadership told the Weekly.

Regardless of the outcome of the conflict between Al-Bashir and Al-Turabi, the exchange of accusations between the two has already revealed many of the secrets of the history of the Islamic movement in Sudan. "I expect a series of exhaustive confrontations between the two rivals that will end up with the collapse of the whole experience," said Adam.

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