Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Sudan in mourning

Gamal Nkrumah pays tribute to Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz whose untimely demise comes at a perilous political impasse in Sudan

Al-Ahram Weekly

Sudan mourned the passing of its most popular singer and sage Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz on Thursday in a hospital in Amman, the Jordanian capital. Abdel-Aziz died tragically young, yet he personified a secularist Sudan that was abhorrent to Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir who sticks to his vision of an Islamist Sudan.

Born in 1967, Abdel-Aziz galvanised the youth of the country ever since he embarked on his musical career in 1994. His rise to fame coincided with the imposition of strict Islamic Sharia laws after the coup d’état that propelled Al-Bashir to power, buttressed by the then chief Islamist ideologue Sheikh Hassan Al-Turabi and the now defunct National Islamic Front. Al-Bashir and Al-Turabi are today sworn enemies as Al-Turabi has reneged on his hardline ideologies and joined the opposition forces and founded his moderate — and he insists “progressive” —Islamist political party, the Popular Congress Party, as opposed to Al-Bashir’s more militant Islamist ruling National Congress Party.

Across the Sudanese political divide, the late pop star was hailed as a national hero. He was essentially the same in public and private. This reflects the extraordinary reverence with which Sudan’s youth in particular held him and even more importantly the way he never abused the political opportunities this granted him.

Meanwhile, Abdel-Aziz’s mortal remains were flown to Khartoum for burial on Friday. Fearing a popular uprising, the Sudanese authorities quickly buried him on religious grounds much to the consternation of Abdel-Aziz’s fans who wanted a far bigger farewell to their fallen hero. The Sudanese authorities reminded people that Islam enjoins as quick a burial as possible with as little fanfare as possible. 

The fans were furious, and even though many took to the streets singing Abdel-Aziz’s most famous hits, others were resentful of the Sudanese government’s handling of the affair. “And I learned a song to sing... The revolution starts now,” was the overriding sentiment of the mourners of the late Sudanese pop star.

While Abdel-Aziz pitched his ideas at the socialist, secularist and sentimental level, Al-Bashir only lays claim to one great truth — political Islam. He maintained, whether implicitly or explicitly, that Sudan contained two distinct nations — South Sudanese non-Muslims and the Muslims of the North — and that the two were incapable of living together.

Eventually, Al-Bashir’s rationale led to the splitting of Sudan into two nations. A secular South and an Islamist North emerged, and yet peace is still not within reach. The reason, partially, is that there are many in Sudan, like the late Abdel-Aziz, who refuse to accept such a division. It is in essence, they argue, political and not religious.

Abdel-Aziz sang for the poor and disadvantaged regardless of their creed or colour. That is why as many in South Sudan mourned him as in Khartoum itself. At the time of his death, Abdel-Aziz had more than 30 albums to his name and he had participated in musical festivals in Sudan, Arab and African countries as well as internationally. He was famous for his philanthropy and good works. Much of the proceedings of his musical concerts went to the poor.

Ironically, no sooner had Abdel-Aziz been laid to rest, when news of the collapse of peace talks between Sudan and South Sudan began to filter through. The talks intended to speed up the implementation of a cooperation agreement between South Sudan and Sudan broke down after five days of negotiations in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and under the mediation efforts of Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn. Apparently, the talks failed because the South Sudanese protested against the imposition of “new conditions and terms” by Khartoum.

“This undermines the credibility of the agreements,” a South Sudanese government statement read. Al-Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir had agreed on 5 January on a “speedy, unconditional and coordinated implementation”. This is the sort of behaviour that Sudanese opposition figures bitterly complain about.

Al-Turabi and Umma Party leader Sadig Al-Mahdi as well as leaders of the Sudanese Communist Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North warn that such intransigence on behalf of Al-Bashir will eventually lead to the balkanisation of Sudan, with peripheral and underdeveloped regions such as South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as Darfur opting out of Sudan, either to join South Sudan or to form independent states.

Already, local and international human rights organisations have been sounding alarm bells about the dire humanitarian conditions in much of Sudan and especially in the peripheral and underdeveloped regions of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. There are reports that the Sudanese army is now practising a scorched-earth policy similar to that it had perfected in Darfur a decade ago.

The African Union Chairperson President Thomas Yayi Boni of the Republic of Benin immediately flew to South Sudan for talks with his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir before heading for Khartoum. He had earlier visited Addis Ababa. “South Sudan and Sudan are part of the African continent. We need peace and stability in these two sister countries,” President Yayi Boni said in Juba.

However, it seems his words fell on deaf ears in Khartoum. Al-Bashir this week abruptly nullified a decision he issued last Monday by which he named Mohamed Al-Fath Beik as the new secretary-general of Sudan’s troubled tax agency. Al-Bashir’s arbitrary decree caused something of a commotion among the ruling clique in Khartoum.

Al-Bashir had sacked Mohamed Osman Ibrahim last week, ostensibly because of his poor performance. But observers believe that Beik’s reluctance to accept the position prompted Al-Bashir’s surprise fiat. Sudan is in an economic mess and coincidences such as Abdel-Aziz’s death and the failure of talks between Sudan and South Sudan only intensifies social disgruntlement and political tensions in the country.

The Sudanese opposition cannot evade a measure of the blame for the sorry situation in Sudan. Nevertheless, the opposition is now united in accusing Al-Bashir of instigating much of the problems facing the country.  And, their accusation has some merit.

The tragedy is that the Sudanese opposition appears to have little leverage in the corridors of power in Khartoum. Among the leaders of the opposition it seems that elections with real political power at stake had not quite been part of their standing. The inclusive sort of problem-solving is less likely to appeal to partisan elements within the Sudanese political establishment. The key player is still the army that is overwhelmingly loyal to Al-Bashir, and especially the upper echelons.

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