Sunday,25 June, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)
Sunday,25 June, 2017
Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Sudan back to square one

Despite the announcement of a “national consensus” government in Sudan, little has changed in the internal face-off of political forces

Sudan back to square one
Sudan back to square one

Sudan has once again returned to square one even though Khartoum announced a “national consensus” government in compliance with the recommendations of the national dialogue that began in 2014 with several opposition parties and armed movements. The cabinet includes 73 members, including 31 government ministers and 42 state ministers, as well as Prime Minister Bakri Hassan Saleh who also serves as vice president.

General Saleh is the only officer who participated in the June 1989 coup, that ushered in incumbent president Omar Al-Bashir, who is still involved in politics. Sudan’s parliament adopted amendments in December that created the position of prime minister since it was eliminated in 1989. The last prime minister was leader of Al-Umma Party Al-Sadeq Al-Mahdi.

“Soon after Saleh was named prime minister, disappointment spread across Sudan,” according to Sudanese journalist Fayez Saleik who lives in Cairo. “He is a devoted Bashir loyalist and not a consensus figure, as recommended by the national dialogue. The dialogue called for a consensus figure and a technocrat government or a cabinet that includes good opposition representation. But this did not happen.”

The powers in Khartoum see things differently, however. Saleh told a news conference before being sworn in by Bashir that “the cabinet includes 12 doctorate holders, four of whom are professors as well as a substantial number of engineers.”

Waleed Sayed, political science professor at International University of Africa in Khartoum, believes “this government is a combination of technocrat and national unity because it includes professionals as well as opposition figures.”

The cabinet includes six members from opposition parties, namely the Popular Congress (founded by late Islamist leader Hassan Al-Turabi in 1999 after splitting from the regime) and the Sudan Liberation Movement (an armed group in Darfur), and an offshoot of Al-Umma Party. Opposition figures were chosen for the ministries of industry, investment, trade, health, human resources and international cooperation.

“The participation of the opposition in government is disappointing for many,” declared Saleik. “The national dialogue recommended the opposition should hold 50 per cent of seats in central and local governments and parliaments.”

Some 40 parties and 30 armed groups participated in the dialogue and made public nominations of their candidates for government. “This broad participation indicates the seriousness of the dialogue and not that they nominate candidates for positions. Participation is still open for the national parliament, and local governments and parliaments,” according to Sayed.

Saleh announced during the news conference that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) had “in the spirit of consensus” conceded six key ministries and the same in state ministers. The NCP’s partner in power, the Original Democratic Unionist Party, also conceded one state ministry, and they were all replaced by opposition figures.

It is likely the opposition will participate in parliamentary and local elections in the hope of redressing the balance of power in legislative bodies. The ruling party has 323 seats out of 426, while the Original Democratic Unionist Party has 25, a splinter group from the Unionists has 15 seats, independents have 19 seats and 40 seats belong to small parties.

Several major parties and key armed movements boycotted the dialogue and government. Umma Party’s Al-Mahdi withdrew from dialogue and left for Cairo for a long time, even though his eldest son, Major General Abdel-Rahman Al-Mahdi, is one of Bashir’s four aides. Bashir appointed four aides, including General Al-Mahdi and Mohamed Al-Hassan Al-Mirghani, the son of the leader of the Unionist Party Mohamed Othman Al-Mirghani.

Al-Umma Party refused to participate in government, but the faction led by Mubarak Al-Fadel Al-Mahdi (Sadek Al-Mahdi’s cousin) took part and he was appointed minister of investment. “This will deepen the fractures in Al-Mahdi family, their Ansar Sufi order and their party,” stated Saleik. “Some believe this is a distribution of roles, but I think it is genuine division.”

The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Sudan (Northern Sector) is also not included, although it is considered the strongest armed faction fighting in South Darfur and South Blue Nile. The two most important and strongest movements in Darfur (Justice and Equality, and the Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdel-Wahed Nour) are not included either. “The absence of armed groups from civil war regions means the war will continue as the economy deteriorates further,” stated Saleik. “This fake participation will put more pressure on the country’s limited economic resources. The regime will have to create hundreds of positions in Khartoum or provinces for those they view as opposition. This is a burden the citizens will have to bear.”

Sayed, on the other hand, believes “this participation will reduce the popularity of war and those participating in it, and thus make the country’s image better around the world. This would enable it to receive Arab, Chinese and Western investments.”

Bashir said there are Sudanese fighting as “mercenaries” in Libya and want to return to Sudan, but he demanded they be committed to the outcome of the national dialogue, and must choose between peace and war – which he asserted his government will win anyway.

Sudan supported the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen, and international observers viewed that as eagerness for Gulf assistance to Khartoum after it lost its oil resources once South Sudan separated in July 2011. Sudan was one of the largest recipients of Chinese oil investments, dam and infrastructure projects. “As a result of government efforts, it is possible to remove Sudan from the US list of countries that sponsor terrorism,” stated Sayed. “This means Sudan would return to the international fold.”

Sudan was removed from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism after 20 years, paving the way for lifting of sanctions against Khartoum. Washington’s condition was that Khartoum must be committed to combating terrorism and halt all such activities in conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa. The CIA told Congress that Sudan had met Washington’s requirements in terms of fighting terrorism. Nonetheless, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry regretted that Sudanese nationals were included in the Executive Order of US President Donald Trump banning certain nationalities from entering the US.

Despite these positive steps, Sudan is still in the grips of a civil war that seems unresolvable. The country is also in economic dire straits that will not be resolved by Gulf investments any time soon, especially since oil-rich states are suffering from the decline in the price of oil.

In time, Khartoum will need to become more open to the opposition, which was unable to defeat the government as much as the regime was unable to win the battle.

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