Sudanese opposition leader on prospects for popular uprising

Sudanese opposition leader Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi shares his thoughts on the continuing friction between the state and the splintered opposition movements that have yet to carry out an Arab Spring-style uprising.

al-monitor Umma Party leader and former Prime Minister Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi waves to the crowd, Oct. 15, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah.

Topics covered

umma opposition party, sudanese opposition, sudan uprising, sudan people's liberation movement, omar al-bashir, national congress party in sudan, national congress party, darfur

Nov 26, 2013

Former Sudanese Prime Minister and opposition National Umma Party leader Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi said the situation in Sudan is tense, and the regime is politically, economically and militarily besieged, suffering from international isolation and domestic division.

In an interview with Al-Hayat, Mahdi said, “It is likely that a popular uprising will oust the regime, that the Sudanese Revolutionary Front rebels alliance — which consists of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) and the main Darfur armed groups — will reach Khartoum by force, which will lead to a civil war, or that President Omar al-Bashir will approve a political settlement through a constitutional conference that ends up with a national government leading the country during the transition period.”

He said that Bashir and the regime’s leaders have shifted their stance from rejecting to accepting the nationalist principle of a government, constitution and peace. Yet, they did not prepare themselves to implement this shift, which pushes the opposition to exert additional pressure on the ruling regime.

Mahdi revealed the details of his disputes with his partners in the opposition alliance, and noted that if the alliance does not approve his proposals, he will support the formation of a new alliance, called the popular opposition parliament that consists of his party and other forces that believe in a new regime.

“There are six fighting fronts in the country that exhaust the military and security resources of the ruling regime, which has endured a severe economic crisis that could not be resolved through its austerity measures. Moreover, the majority of political forces are against the government, and eight groups have emerged from the ruling National Congress Party, some of which have become against it,” Mahdi stated. He pointed out that “Khartoum deals with serious international resolutions that have paralyzed its foreign activity, and have left it internationally isolated.”

On Bashir’s tendency to form a new government soon, Mahdi said: “The crises in the country are grave and are not regressing, and the formation of a government by the ruling party and its current partners will not achieve anything new in addressing the crises. This is because [the politicians’] names and faces will change, the seats of power will be exchanged, but the regime will remain the same, and the policies and prevailing approach will remain unchanged. Therefore, there will be just temporary solutions.”

What about the solutions?

Asked about the solutions to address the situation in Sudan, Mahdi said: “A new regime is required, through peaceful and tactical activity that brings about a popular uprising that would change the situation. Or instead, the ruling regime can act preemptively by organizing a conference that can be called a national constitutional conference or a round table to agree on a road map to achieve a comprehensive and just peace, and a complete democratic shift, as was the case in South Africa following the end of the apartheid era, which was known as the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA).”

On the opposition forces’ call for a regime change by force, Mahdi explained that some of his allies in the opposition alliance “support the overthrow of the regime, and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front rebel alliance seeks a regime change by military force, after it raised the demands’ ceiling from being local and territorial to overthrowing the regime.”

He said that “the alliance has a military force in [the states of] Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and has the potential for major armed activity. Yet, the composition of the alliance is selective and non-nationalist. If it attempts to overthrow the regime by force, it may fail to do so, which would give the regime an excuse for wide-scale oppression under the pretext of preserving security and stability. Moreover, succeeding in reaching Khartoum would be provocative for the Arab and Islamic members, and would result in a sharp polarization that will end up in a bloody civil war.” He noted that any forces that reach power by force will preserve it by force, which would result in to a new dictatorial regime in the country.

Concerning his experience with the government, Mahdi revealed that “he felt a shift in the position of the ruling regime after his last meeting with Bashir, whom he visited at his residence, and who agreed for the first time that the ruling powers should be nationalist, not monopolized or isolating anyone. He also agreed on the formation of a national commission tasked with formulating a new constitution and that peace should be achieved through a national mechanism.”

Mahdi attributed this shift to the “restlessness” plaguing the ruling party, the upsurge in armed opposition activity and the economic crisis, in addition to external pressures. He believed, however, that leaders of the ruling regime have not prepared themselves yet for the payment of the transformation dues. This requires further popular and political pressure to get them to do so through a political settlement or an uprising to change the situation.

Dialogue with the ruling party

Commenting on Bashir’s statement that dialogue between the ruling party and the Umma Party is on the verge of reaching an agreement, Mahdi said: “Dialogue with the ruling party is a step that is yet to reach an agreement. In the case of an agreement, it will combine a set of principles and a project that all of the forces will participate in, not only two.” He stressed that his party is not ready to enter into a government that is a new version of the current government, and that it will not accept anything but a transitional national government to achieve peace, reform the economy, adopt freedoms and conduct free and fair elections

Concerning the international powers’ positions toward Sudan, Mahdi said that the international community was keen on pushing toward putting an end to the civil war through a bilateral agreement between the government and insurgents in 2005, but to no avail. This spawned wars in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, thus convincing the international community of the failure of its vision and the uselessness of the method it followed. Consequently, it changed positions and opted for a comprehensive, rather than separate treatment of the problems plaguing the country. This enhances chances of reaching a comprehensive political settlement.

Differences with the opposition

When asked about the escalation of the previously hidden differences between the Umma Party and the opposition coalition (National Consensus Forces), Mahdi revealed that the intersecting views between the two “resulted from the fact that the [Umma Party] called for a new system, while others called for the overthrow of the regime through the slogans that cropped up during the Arab Spring: ‘The people want the fall of the regime.’ The Umma Party called for a presidential system, while other parties clung to a parliamentary system. The Umma Party called for a civil state that responds to Islamic aspirations through democratic means, while the coalition forces refused to talk about Islamism. The Umma Party proposed to restructure the alliance to address its sagging structure and establish mechanisms in the region and outside the country with a rotational administration, an executive apparatus, and the practice of self-criticism to evaluate its activity and change its name to the front of the new system, the front of democracy restoration or the front of democratic system and just peace.” Mahdi pointed out that these positions have been stalling for a year now, which paralyzed the alliance until it lost its form and became ineffective.

After the opposition alliance rejected the proposals that the coalition leaders deemed as conditions, Mahdi said, “This will lead to a state of polarization and will split the coalition, leading to the birth of a new opposition body.” He said that “he will put forth the idea of ​​the establishment of a popular parliament for the opposition including his own party, the forces that believe in his call for a new system and other forces that were not part of the opposition alliance.”

He staunchly criticized parties in the opposition alliance for becoming a platform of public relations for the Revolutionary Front rebel alliance, just like they served as a platform of public relations for the People's Movement for the Liberation of Sudan. The latter movement was headed by John Garang and was part of the former opposition coalition, the National Democratic Gathering, led by Mohamed Osman al-Merghani, who signed an agreement with the government after the end of the civil war in 2005 and participated in the [new] government.

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