Sunday,19 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1225, (11-17 December 2014)
Sunday,19 May, 2019
Issue 1225, (11-17 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The Sudan call

Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir has arrested opposition leaders upon their return home from a meeting in Addis Ababa, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir’s formidable drive remains intact as he continues to treat the Sudanese opposition with contempt. The latter is also struggling to get its act together in the struggle against Al-Bashir’s rule.

Against this backdrop of political stalemate in the war-torn country, Sudanese security forces arrested Farouk Abu-Eissa, leader of the opposition alliance National Consensus Forces (NCF), and Amin Maki Madani, a human rights defender, after their return from Addis Ababa. While there they signed a statement called the “Sudan Call”, along with armed opposition Sudanese Revolutionary Forces (SRF) leader Minni Minnawi.

The Sudan Call is a turning point in Sudanese politics after the secession of South Sudan in a referendum in January 2009, when 98.83 per cent of the electorate voted for independence. It is designed to unify the Sudanese opposition parties, but though this may happen observers remain sceptical.

The head of the legal secretariat in the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), Al-Fadil Haj Suleiman, told reporters in Khartoum on Friday that Abu-Eissa and the leader of the National Umma Party (NUP), Sadig Al-Mahdi, would be prosecuted for signing the Sudan Call in accordance with Sudanese criminal law.

“The Sudanese government is playing with fire. We will defend our position in the Sudanese courts,” Al-Mahdi told the Weekly. The veteran politician and opposition leader has been living in exile in Cairo since the signing of the Paris Declaration on Sudan.

The Sudan Call is an adjunct of the 8 August Paris Declaration that supports African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) Resolution 456. The resolution calls for the implementation of confidence-building measures in Sudan, including the protection of political freedoms.

Despite the risks he is taking in arresting members the opposition, there are reasons to believe that Al-Bashir can ride out the current storm. The crucial question will be whether or not the Sudanese people will turn against their president.

Al-Bashir’s Sudan was burnt by the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and there is now a danger that Sudan’s political turmoil will prompt Al-Bashir to escalate his confrontation with the country’s neighbours, particularly with those who have given refuge to opposition leaders.

The Libyan government, now based in Tobruk in the northeast of the country next to the Egyptian border, has accused Sudan of arming Islamists in Libya, a charge Sudan denies. Libya expelled the Sudanese military attaché from the country after accusing Khartoum of flying in weapons and ammunition to Islamist militias in Tripoli, prompting fears of a widening regional conflict.

The Libyan government named the Islamist Libya Dawn militia in particular as a beneficiary of Sudanese largesse. In supporting the militias, Al-Bashir’s Sudan contravened international conventions on Libya as the country is still subject to the international arms embargo imposed in 2011.

Making a refuelling stop in the southern oasis town of Kufra, a Sudanese plane headed for Tripoli’s Mitiga airport, controlled by Libya Dawn, to supply the militias. There is now growing concern in both East and North Africa that Al-Bashir’s Sudan is aiding and abetting Islamist forces in the region, especially in Libya.

Sudanese opposition forces are also furious about Al-Bashir’s wasting of the oil wealth of South Sudan, which produced 75 per cent of Sudanese oil before the country split in two. Sudan is treated as something of a pariah state internationally and regionally, and the Sudanese president is wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Al-Bashir’s Sudan is closely aligned to Qatar, currently the principal investor in the country along with China. Its relationship with Saudi Arabia is precarious. According to Sudanese Investment Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail, Khartoum received financial support from Saudi Arabia following Al-Bashir’s official visit to Saudi Arabia in October.

Nevertheless, an undisclosed number of Saudi banks last February suspended dealings with Sudan. No reasons were given, and the Saudi authorities insisted they had nothing to do with the Saudi banks’ decision. Sudan’s once solid relationship with Iran has also now reached a low ebb.

The key question for Al-Bashir is whether or not he can get economic growth in Sudan back on track. Sudanese opposition forces claim that growth will bounce back after Sudan adopts a democratic system of government and ends its wars in peripheral regions such as South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur.

Sudan’s close relations with Tehran in the past have strained relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and perhaps this is one reason Sudan closed down the Iranian cultural centres in the country. The strictly Sunni Sudanese government is also ideologically opposed to Iranian Shia Islam and claims that Iran has been brainwashing Sudanese youth, luring them with money to adopt Iran’s Twelver Shiism. The term “twelver” refers to the belief in 12 divinely ordained leaders.

The sense of being taken for a ride is one of the chief grievances of the Sudanese opposition. It insists that Al-Bashir has betrayed Sudanese public trust, and the president’s lack of credibility might explain his mercurial economic policy.

Sudan is increasingly dependent on aid from the Arabian Gulf. But Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are closely monitoring Al-Bashir’s moves. The involvement of the oil-rich Arab Gulf states is not necessarily good news for Sudan.

The Sudanese opposition has chosen to make the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa a favourite venue for its strategic meetings. Addis Ababa has also hosted talks between warring South Sudanese groups.

While the Sudanese opposition forces view Ethiopia as their democratic ideal, they are less enthused about the Arab states, and there are worries about the political consequences should Al-Bashir be miraculously toppled.

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