Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Sudan’s deadend

Al-Sadeq Al-Mahdi, leader of Sudan’s opposition Al-Umma Party told Asmaa Al-Husseini that Islamist rule in Sudan has failed

Al-Ahram Weekly

Al-Sadeq Al-Mahdi ,who is the imam of the Sufi sect Al-Ansar and former Sudanese prime minister — his second term as prime minister ended in 1989 when his government was overthrown in a coup led by Colonel Omar Al-Bashir.

Al-Mahdi offered to mediate between the different Egyptian political forces, government and opposition. He is well esteemed by both sides and his liaison was much appreciated by all concerned.

He urged the Sudanese regime to allow other Sudanese forces to participate in a broad conference to draft a fair and comprehensive peace plan for genuine democratic change. Otherwise, Sudan will be exposed to grave dangers and perhaps a repetition of the Syria’s mayhem. Omar Al-Bashir was unresponsive to his appeals and conditions have worsened since then. Al-Mahdi warned that if the regime does not take action, the alternative will be a sweeping popular revolution, strikes on the streets and escalating protests everywhere.


What is the truth about the recent coup attempt after which several senior army and security figures were arrested, including former intelligence chief Salah Qosh?

I don’t have enough information on this matter, or whether it was a coup or sabotage or settling scores. Those who were arrested were the core of the Salvation regime, and if they are accused of a coup then it is the end of the regime. This is clear evidence of what has been said for a long time, that the ruling regime in Sudan is malfunctioning and has internal problems.


Where is the ruling party heading especially after reports of internal conflicts about the successor of President Al-Bashir?

The ruling party is suffering serious problems and dictatorships that resolve their problems using force alone will find themselves facing problems that can only be resolved with force.


Wasn’t the recent eighth conference for Sudan’s Islamic Movement (SIM) in Khartoum an opportunity to renew blood and correct course?

I don’t think they resolved anything; it was a failure. They did not deal with any issues honestly and spent $1 billion of public funds on an extravaganza that resulted in nothing. Everything was funded by the state which is a huge waste.


What do you think of the outcome of the conference?

They did not allow any reformist visions and did not undertake the needed reforms. They spent money on publicity without any glimmer of hope; they squandered a real opportunity to admit their mistakes and turn over a new leaf. If reformers were given a genuine chance at the conference there would not have been an attempted coup, and there would have been a transformation inside the ruling party and the country.


Some people have criticised statements by the Arab Islamic leadership that participated in the conference, and appeared to support the ruling regime in Khartoum. What’s your opinion?

Islamist movements in general are full of compliments and I doubt these leaders say the same thing behind closed doors. Arabs generally like to give compliments rather than stick to principles, and it is likely that they advised them behind closed doors. When the banner of Islam is raised, emotion overtakes logic among these movements. For example, Sheikh Youssef Al-Qaradawi talked about democracy and human rights, but when he was asked about a military coup imposing the rule of Sharia, as is the case with the Salvation regime in Sudan, he said: if it is a white coup like in Sudan, then yes.

The same thing applies to Islamist movements that supported the distorted application of Sharia by Sudan’s former president in 1983.


There were reports that you urged Sudanese nationals to occupy Sudanese embassies?

Not true. I did not call for the occupation of embassies. What I said was that we demand a new regime that is based on a special complementary relationship with the South; ending the war in Darfur based on a declaration of principles that goes beyond Doha and achieves peace; and the need to resolve the problems of South Kordofan and Blue Nile by responding to the people of these regions within a united Sudan.

As for Abyei and other border regions, these cannot be resolved just through the regimes in Khartoum and Juba. The people there must be involved because any other solution will fail; a committee of the wise from both countries should be formed.

In our vision of a new regime we have mapped out new constitutional bases and a roadmap for political, economic and social reform to save the country. Our goal is for the people to support this project by consensus, including the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). Then we would hold a broad conference, without excluding anyone, to reach an agreement on a new system, similar to what happened in South Africa, Chile and Spain.


And what if the NCP rejects this plan?

If this proposal is rejected, I would call for sit-ins in public places and in front of embassies, but never for occupying embassies. It would be impossible for me to say something like that because I believe that anything that is achieved through violence triggers counter-violence which could result in a similar scenario as Syria. We want to utilise ways that avoid violence and foreign interference — those are our red lines.


Some of your recent moves seem contradictory, such as signing a deal with the armed revolutionary front and then firing your deputy Nassereddin Al-Mahdi for joining that front?

I signed a deal with the revolutionary front to make the strategy a political solution, which complies with Security Council Resolution 2046 that stipulates a form of mutual consensus with those who are carrying arms. What we need is comprehensive consensus that avoids the shortcomings of all previous agreements.


Why did you sack your deputy a few months after he joined the revolutionary front?

He joined the revolutionary front without consulting Al-Umma Party and its apparatus. Therefore, the party issued a statement on 14 August that this was a unilateral step by him and does not represent the party. Since he was my deputy, they left it up to me. In turn, with due respect to his stature, I did not want to take any measures until I met with him. I gave him a choice to remain in the front or resign from his position in the party or that I let him go. The last option was the choice.

No self-respecting party like Al-Umma could allow its deputy leader to join another front or party without approval for the move. The same thing happened to Abdel-Rahman Al-Sadeq Al-Mahdi, my son, when he decided to join the regime.


Have you given up hope on your repeated calls for a broad conference that have come to nothing?

No, I have not lost hope and believe we are continuously moving forward with the support of many parties. There are many in the ruling party who agree with us, and the world community is saying there is no other solution. I believe our path isolates two camps — those who want to continue monopolising power and be stubborn, and those who want to overthrow the regime by force and use violence. Both would destroy Sudan.


Did the government pressure you about your recent deal with the revolutionary front?

Khartoum knows our position. We demand political and regime change and we will not back down.


SIM held its eighth conference recently. What is your evaluation of their 24 years in power?

The coup on 30 July 1989 in Sudan labelled “Salvation” failed to achieve its main goals or reach a peace agreement that championed an appealing unity, peace and democratic transformation. Instead, it did not achieve peace or unity or transformation. Regime policies in Darfur caused normal problems to evolve into troubles that razed Darfur and made it an international issue, and the leaders of the country are now being pursued.

The fact is, the Sudanese regime is corrupt and corruption has spread across the country. It is no longer safe and there is no national unity; the economy is worse than ever after they entirely relied on oil which they did not consider would disappear once the South seceded.


What was your message in your speech to the SIM conference?

I asked them to admit their failure not only in managing the country but also in handling Islam, which they have distorted.


There are many criticisms of you by armed movements because you refuse the overthrow of the regime using force?

I believe that if there is confrontation then chaos will occur, and I want democratic transformation similar to the one in South Africa. I frankly told President Al-Bashir this on 24 March 2011, and acknowledged that while he does have influence in Sudan conditions in the country and international pursuit of him block him from exercising his role as president. This is paralysing Sudan which needs to move to cancel its debts, have sanctions lifted and cooperate with the world community.

I suggested that an alternative president could be chosen as a consensus president, not a partisan or divisive one who is accepted by all parties. I proposed he invite eight people to participate in choosing his successor among three candidates he nominates. The panel would include Mohamed Othman Al-Mirghani, Hassan Al-Turabi, Mohamed Ibrahim Naqd, Malek Aqar, Al-Tijani Al-Sisi, Moussa Ahmed and myself. These represent the entire Sudanese political spectrum.

I also proposed a national programme that the alternative president would be in charge of implementing after we reach an agreement with the Security Council on a consensus plan that achieves accountability and stability through hybrid courts, not the International Criminal Court. This would create a mechanism for conciliation and justice, similar to South Africa.

I even presented him with a handwritten proposal so the plan is documented.


What was his response?

There was no response. In fact, conditions worsened, and thus the need for an alternative regime is even more dire now.


There were many rumours that you wanted to be the alternative president or that you wanted a deal that would qualify your son Abdel-Rahman, the assistant to president, for this position.

As for myself, I would never take a position that I was not elected to. As for Abdel-Rahman, I was surprised that he was chosen as a presidential aide. At the time, I declared that he does not represent me or Al-Umma Party, and he declared the same. This was not in preparation for any future assignment for him, but there were rumours to this end. No one can control that.


What is your opinion of your son’s performance as assistant to the president?

Abdel-Rahman’s political and activism background enabled him to make positive changes from within the salvation regime. He has focussed his efforts on prioritising peace; preparing for talks with political forces; and the need to resolve problems without violence. His performance is exemplary and admired.


What was your advice to him before he joined the regime?

I said we do not agree that he should not take that path, but if you are able to make a positive impact then the people of Sudan will be grateful for it. Otherwise, you are responsible for your decision and I warned him that the regime could use him as one of its tools.


Why did you not take a more hardline position and stop him?

I could have but I found that he was convinced. Since 2000, he felt there must be a way to cooperate with the regime. He was genuine in his conviction.


Today, how do you view the future of Arab Spring revolutions that you strongly supported?

The only thing that is encouraging is that the people have been liberated, freedom is now sacrosanct, and the people are now hypersensitive to tyranny and any form of foreign control. What is holding Arab Spring revolutions back is that revolutionary and organised forces do not have a vision, and therefore there is chaos in Arab Spring countries.


What is your opinion of the performance of Islamist movements that rose to power in those countries?

My criticism of most Islamist movements is that they are more focussed on fundamentalising religion instead of modernising it considering the age we live in, and seem mostly oblivious about the era we live in. Meanwhile, secular movements have a strong sense of our modern age but are largely oblivious of the consciousness of the nation.

These two disconnects cause many problems, and experience will force Islamists to become more responsive to the age and modernisation while secularists will be forced to realise that it would be impossible to ignore the consciousness of the nation. This exchange of awareness will have a positive influence. If there is freedom and people continue to believe in their abilities and avoid foreign control, Arab revolutions will head towards a new dawn.


Many suggestions and edicts by Islamists terrify people, how do you view them?

Yes, there have been some stunning declarations and there are those who are engrossed in non-priority issues.


Are they a true expression of Islam?

I am currently writing a biography about the Prophet Mohamed, and the reason is because I found that most attacks by Orientalists on Islam and the prophet are based on sources that portray the prophet as an aggressive, sensual personality, and subject to partial deification. I felt the need to exonerate the prophet of this.


How can Arab revolutions avoid failure?

I simply believe there are principles that must be adhered to. They include national unity, freedoms, democracy, respect for Muslims and Christian religious references, and development which addresses unemployment, poverty, and deals with the outside world with dignity and a just peace. These are vital principles because they embody the aspirations of the Arab people.


Economic conditions are a key factor in current tensions, how can they be resolved?

Countries in the region suffer from flawed distribution of economic resources, and the world is not giving Arab Spring states the needed funds to save their people. I propose the creation of an Arab Fund financed by Gulf states to assist Arab citizens, like the US did when it gave Germany $1 trillion after World War II. West German also gave East Germany $1 trillion; and Western Europe gave large amounts to Eastern Europe. If Gulf states are able to do this, it would be great.


How would Gulf states play this role when they are very worried about these revolutions?

There is indeed fear in Gulf countries about Arab revolutions, but they should understand that awareness and mutual understanding between leaders in Gulf countries and Arab Spring states is necessary for cooperation, and they are not going to threaten each other.


There are serious concerns that the entire region is being pushed into a Sunni-Shia conflict. How can this be avoided?

The issue of Iran must be dealt with and there must be integration between Sunnis and Shia. We must realise that Iran wants to play a role in the Middle East, like Turkey. Perhaps in the future, when Arab states are strong there will be cooperation between all three, and we will not enter into conflict. They must all reach a consensus about the future of the region away from the US umbrella.


In light of Israel’s recent assault on Gaza, what are the new factors at play in the conflict with Israel?

After the fall of the tyrants who supported it, Israel now finds itself confronting the masses themselves; no matter what happens they will not change their position. Evidence of this is that during the 2008 assault on Gaza they were almost entirely ignored, but today Arab and Islamic forces are very responsive. This implies there has been a great shift in the situation; Gaza is no longer Israel’s playground to do as it pleases in. Israeli might think that instability in Arab states serves its interests, but it should remember that it was once the ally of Iran, Turkey and all Arab tyrants, and today it is confronting Arab masses who have a moral position against Israel.


What are the prospects for resolving the Palestinian problem in light of these transformations?

If Israel is wise, it will make a very fair offer to the Palestinians that they cannot refuse. However, if they continue their current policies and reject the two-state solution this will hurt them. The number of Palestinians in historic Palestine is far larger than the Jews, and Israel very simply would have no other choice but a multi-ethnic country or a fascist state based on apartheid like South Africa. The longer Israel takes in reaching a solution, the less favourable conditions in the Arab world will be.

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