A Brewing Spring in Sudan

Originally published on Muftah.org.

 

In 1989, the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation, led by then Lieutenant General Omar al Bashir, took over Sudan in a bloodless coup. Almost twenty-four years later, after Bashir’s indictment by the International Criminal Court, it is invigorating to see the Sudanese regime, nicknamed Inqaz (Arabic translation of salvation), self-detonate.

This unraveling of Bashir’s government is invigorating. We, Sudanese, are a nation that revolted and ousted two regimes in the past, in 1964 and 1985. It is, as such, only natural to expect this generation to stand up for its violated rights.

This sense of excitement is, nevertheless, an uneasy one. As the regime folds in upon itself, factions are breaking off, and criticisms about the regime’s divergence from Islamic rule are emerging from within the highest tiers of government. Disturbing alliances against Bashir are also being forged between political movements, rebel armies, and other established political parties.

President Bashir and his top aids have a way of discrediting anyone who does not support their thinly religiously infused policies. “Free masons,” “infidels,” and “communists” are terms leveled against anyone who dares oppose how Bashir and his entourage run the state.

Politics greatly impacts a society, and the policies adopted by Bashir’s government have mishandled critical social issues, including education, health, and basic human rights.

The month of April was a pressure cooker for the Bashir regime with events bringing armed conflict from Sudanese militia movements closer to the center of power in Khartoum. Only through social unity and the overcoming of differences can the people of Sudan ensure that violence does not once again overtake the country, and that real political change will manifest itself in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Imploding Super Organism

In Sudan, chaos has reigned since January 2013. On January 5, the New Dawn Charter was signed in Kampala by a wide spectrum of political parties, and civil and armed movements going under the name of the “Revolutionary Affront Group.”

The Charter expressed the common goal of toppling the National Congress Party (NCP), which is led by President Bashir, whether through peaceful and/or armed means, and to replace it with a representative, cross-cutting transitional government for a four-year term.

Amid frantic threats by the ruling government and the swift arrest of some signatories, the regime appeared amusingly weak and desperate.  Although some signatories attempted to water down the alliance between armed and unarmed political movements and despite questions about whether the Charter favored religious or secular tracks, the Charter reflected the ruling NCP’s party utter isolation from the rest of the political scene.

Social Discontent: The Case of Prof. Ibn Ouf’s Children’s Hospital

Sometime in February 2013 news broke that Sudan’s infamous Minster of Health, Mamoun Himeda, had played a perilous game. Under the pretense of pursuing a more decentralized health system for the country, the Minister ordered the closure of the free children’s hospital founded and run by the famous and respected Professor Jaafar Ibn Ouf. While various motives for closure have been debated, some suggest that the move benefited the Minister’s own private hospital, just one street away.

Dr. Ibn Ouf established the children’s hospital with monetary and in-kind donations from Sudanese and non-Sudanese donors in 1977. A new hospital was opened in 2002, again without the assistance of the Sudanese government.

While Sudan’s peripheral town, cities, and regions are in dire need of more developed health care systems, before this development occurs, closing down the most sought after children’s hospital is a grave mistake

A plan for decentralization was not specified, and outcry over the inability of other public hospitals inside Khartoum to make up for the shortfall led to popular dissent on the city’s streets. Many sit-ins were arranged, which Professor Ibn Ouf himself joined. An appeal against the closure was also recently filed by the respected human rights lawyer, Nabil Adeeb.

An Unequal Presidential Amnesty

Then came April.

On April 1, Bashir issued a presidential pardon for all political detainees during a speech at the opening session of parliament. With the exception of some highly popular New Dawn charter signatories (such as Al-Wasat Islamic party leader Yousef al-Koda) and a youth activist arrested at a peaceful demonstration at Khartoum Bahri hospital, many political prisoners remain detainedsparking various campaigns for their release.

Soon thereafter, on April 17th, Bashir issued another presidential pardon, this time for seven Sudanese military officers who participated in a failed coup attempt in November 2012.

The coup was led by former spy chief Salah Gosh, who did not receive a presidential pardon and remains in prison. The seven officers Bashir did pardon had been convicted, jailed, and sentenced to varying prison sentences for their role in the attempted coup. The longest sentence was five years, and was given to Brigadier Mohamed Ibrahim.

The convictions themselves were strange. Compared to former Sudanese President Gaafar Nimeri, who tried and executed those who were involved in or supported the July 1971 coup, Bashir’s government allowed the officers to live, giving them relatively short jail sentences.

Most of the detainees are part of the Saihon mujahedeen fighters or are veterans of the South Sudan war. Saihon is a faction of young regime members that has blatantly voiced its opposition to the regime’s current doctrine, which it claims has taken a sharp detour from its original Islamic values.

Saihon’s criticisms of the regime rang loud, particularly after it received support from Bashir’s then-advisor (as of early April 2013) Ghazi Salah El Din Attabani. Attabani openly made what Bashir believed were snide comments about the constitution permitting two presidential terms (which Bashir will reach at the end of 2015). Although Bashir announced in March 2013 that he is not running for a third term, Attabani implied this may not be the case, pointing out that the constitution can be amended if the ruling party sees fit for Bashir’s regime to continue.

Ultimately, Attabani was relieved of his duties as head of the party’s parliamentary meetings for his independent declarations criticizing the party and support for reforms proposed by other groups.

At the April 1 parliamentary session, Bashir also announced his interest in having a dialogue with the country’s unarmed and armed movements. The call culminated in a first round of talks between the NCP and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM –N) in Addis Ababa on April 23. Since 2011, the SPLM-N has been at war with the Sudanese government in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

The April 23 negotiations failed fabulously and were suspended on April 26 after the parties failed to reach an agreement about the current humanitarian crisis and other political and security arrangements.

One day later, on April 27, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) entered Umm Rawaba in the Sudanese state of North Kordofan. The SRF is an assortment of armies, including the SPLM-N, the Darfur Justice and Equality Movement, as well as factions of the Sudan Liberation Movement, one of which (SLM-MM) is led by Minni Minnawi and the other (SLM-AW) by Abdel-Wahid Mohamed Nur.

The government was quick to condemn the attacks and blame the SRF for posing a substantial security threat to civilians in a total of three states. The SRF’s decision to enter Umm Rawaba could be seen as an attempt to flex its muscle, in time for the next round of talks between the government and armed rebels in Addis Ababa.

Soon thereafter, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) claimed (with rancor) that they had evicted the rebels and reopened the highway connecting Khartoum and El Obeid (the capital of North Kordofan state).

Amid mixed reports from the government about the ransacking and pillage of Umm Rawaba and nearby towns, the SRF issued a statement to the central government threatening to move toward Khartoum, a few hundred kilometers away.

Although the parliament has asked the Minister of Defense on two occasions to explain the situation, he has delayed doing so.

SAF’s response – or lack thereof – to the attacks and vague explanations of these incidents have created fear and apprehension about the SRF’s threats to enter the capital.

April’s Socially Rooted Dissent

With the armed conflict between the rebels and the government potentially inching closer to Khartoum, things may seem bleak for those of us who would claim our heritage with another bloodless revolution. Still, the social struggle rings loudly in Khartoum

A day before the Umm Rawaba event, a protest raged in the Um Doum area in east Khartoum. The peaceful protesters and inhabitants of the Om Doum neighborhood had received news that their lands had been sold by the government to a Gulf investor. Various negotiations with officials to reclaim their lands had failed. With no other options, the people took to the streets.

With spanking new cars and trucks, riot police surrounded the protestors and launched an offensive with tear gas (one protester claimed the gas came from Iran), rubber bullets, and live ammunition. After a siege lasting several hours, brutally cut off from the world, the police raid on Om Doum ended in the death of one martyr, a 17 year old boy named Mohamed Abdel Bagi, with injuries suffered by 30 others.

Striving To Be Heard

It is a deeply shameful fact that the Sudanese media has abandoned the truth, whether because of coercion from the state security apparatus or for other reasons.

Through the country’s inept media outlets, the average Sudanese is exposed to a superficial array of news items about music, corporate events sponsored by multinational and large local firms, religious shows, and vague reports about the daily struggles of the Sudanese people. The aim of this sort of media coverage is to create a perfectly-imperfect lattice of skillfully organized events to numb the Sudanese people to the grave realities they face.

Although the events mentioned above made headlines in Sudan, news reports were hollow and organized to present the developments in a nonchalant way. Media outlets misrepresented the scale of dissent leading to the silent protests in front of Ibn Ouf children’s hospital, did not address the real story behind the Gulf investor’s acquisition of lands in Om Doum, and failed to provide detailed reporting on events in Umm Rawaba.

Radio, television, and newspapers in Sudan have either abandoned reality or been forced to shut down or play along with the regime’s perfectly-imperfect charade. Satiating and fueling this local media blackout is the fact that mainstream and independent news sources abroad are unable to access information on the ground in Sudan.

It is no wonder, then, that Sudanese, inside and outside the country, have shifted their interest and trust to “alternative media” sources. Facebook and Twitter accounts, blogs and citizen journalists have exploded and become the primary trusted news source for many Sudanese.

These platforms interact very closely with their audience. People send pictures or videos of silent sit-ins or protests, as well as a plethora of news and commentary, to these alternative outlets.[1] Platform administrators even publish bone-chilling accounts from anonymous audience members every now and again.

Amid this storm of confusion and propaganda by the state and, at times, by (misinformed?) international news sources, another alternative news source has come in the form of communiqués by various political parties, their reformist factions, rebel movements and armies, and even people from affected areas like Um Doum. These communiqués aim to dispel inaccurate information that is easily dispersed because of the heavy media blackout.

Conclusion: Rightfully Peaceful

Since I moved to Sudan after the end of the June/July 2012 protests, I have felt that the liquid is about to brew and spill over. The anger and frustration is palpable. Walking down the streets of Khartoum, Medani, El Fashir, or elsewhere, your skin pricks with the anticipation of a popular uprising.

Before we are dragged into another cycle of anger, small to medium sized unorganized peaceful protests, crackdowns on activists, and hollowing depression, we must come together and organize a strategy and methodology for regime change.

Sudan is at a pivotal point, with an armed offensive sweeping towns and border areas, inching closer to the regime in Khartoum. The only way to stop yet another unending cycle of war leading to utter destruction is to mobilize mass peaceful protests to claim this revolution as ours.

The coming, inevitable revolution will be personal to each one of us. While our reasons for supporting the revolution may vary, the fact remains that it is a social, political, economic, and absolutely humanitarian revolution against the failed super organism that is Inqaz and its systemic, destructive rule.


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