A veteran politician and a figurehead who went back and forth between the halls of government and opposition, Mubarak Al-Fadel Al-Mahdi is nicknamed “the Bulldozer” by both his advocates and opponents.
In the 1990s, Al-Mahdi was the secretary-general of the Sudanese opposition bloc. He fiercely criticised the regime of Omar Al-Bashir before allying with the ousted president, before standing against him again, and then becoming a minister and a deputy prime minister in Al-Bashir’s government.
Al-Mahdi later broke his alliance with Al-Bashir’s regime and declared his siding with nationwide protests that broke out 19 December 2018.
Mubarak Al-Mahdi is currently head of the Umma Party which broke ranks from the National Umma Party led by his uncle Al-Sadek Al-Mahdi. The Bulldozer was nicknamed as such because he tipped the scales in favour of any party he sided with.
In the old days he walked government corridors as minister of trade and interior, and in the past few years he acted as an aide to Al-Bashir before holding the trade and investment portfolios and becoming deputy to the premier.
Mubarak Al-Mahdi believes that the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the opposition Alliance of Freedom and Change (AFC) each committed eight fatal mistakes that led Sudan to the current impasse.
He said the present problem is between the AFC and the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) on the one side, and the TMC on the other, along with remaining political powers that took part in the revolution but weren’t signatory to the Declaration of Freedom and Change that demanded the ouster of Al-Bashir.
The non-alignment between these groups playing on Sudan’s political field hindered the formation of a transitional government as a result of favouring partisan gains to public interests, as well as their lack of experience in matters of governance and the establishment of a transitional authority, he stated, before adding that issues of opposition and revolution are different to those of running the state.
“What made matters worse is that the AFC didn’t acknowledge the TMC as a partner in change. The opposition bloc was not aware of Sudan’s complicated security situation, such as the spread of militias and weaponry across the country and the fact that the leaders of the former regime were at large,” said Al-Mahdi.
“After four months of street protests, during which Sudan’s finest young men were martyred and more than 1,000 demonstrators were injured, the Sudanese people decided to resort to the armed forces. The people marched towards the army headquarters in central Khartoum on 6 April, demanding that the army take the protesters’ side, and the removal of Omar Al-Bashir and his regime. That the armed forces and other regular forces in Sudan ended up siding with the people spared the blood of the Sudanese and effected a smooth and peaceful transition of power.”
Al-Mahdi continued: “The TMC, comprising the armed forces and other regular forces, took over power, becoming an integral part of change in Sudan.
But the AFC wanted to skip this move, demanding the TMC hand over power solely to the alliance, to be in charge of the sovereign, executive and legislative aspects of the state, believing it was the party that single-handedly held the revolution.
At the time, the TMC had agreed to pronouncing the AFC a single representative or negotiator on behalf of the demonstrators.”
He added that the AFC presented a blueprint for the transitional phase to the TMC. “The AFC’s draft lacked a constitution that may govern the transitional period, thereby the draft lacked the framework within which the state bodies could function.
This is why disagreement occurred between the AFC and TMC on the formation of the sovereign council and its representatives.”
Al-Mahdi added: “The AFC came back with a flawed constitutional declaration, granting itself constitutional legitimacy — without being mandated by the people — to appoint the cabinet, government, transitional legislature and the sovereign council, stepping over the partner that uprooted the former regime and that presently has the authority in its hands based on emergency law. The alliance ignored the remaining political powers that supported and participated in the revolution.”
The result was that “the TMC rejected the alliance’s constitutional declaration and objected to handing over power uncontested to the AFC.
The [opposition alliance] revealed it lacked experience and knowledge of matters of governance and state, and proved its lack of unity as an alliance after its internal disagreements were out in the open.
“The AFC’s claim that it was in control of the protesters was proven false after the alliance failed to commit to its word with the TMC to reopen the railway tracks and crossovers above the Blue Nile.
The AFC backtracked on its pledges with the TMC and denied them when it was faced with the protesters’ rejection of these demands,” said Al-Mahdi.
The TMC, according to Al-Mahdi, committed eight mistakes and these are: “Suspending the 2005 constitution; leaving the leaders of the former regime at large; not arresting corrupt figureheads, allowing a number of them to flee the country; the lack of transparency regarding the fate of the removed regime leaders; inviting weightless political parties allied with the regime for deliberations; maintaining jail sentences against leaders of armed groups and not releasing their captives to ease the groundwork for peace, making matters worse by arresting a larger number of them before deporting leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North to South Sudan’s Juba; maintaining the infamous and unconstitutional public order law; and dispersing the sit-in.”
Al-Mahdi believes the latter mistake was the gravest, one “in which we lost the finest of our young men. Three of our Umma Party and Al-Ansar bloc were martyred during the dispersal of the sit-in which we strongly condemn. We demand a transparent and urgent investigation into the dispersal be conducted by our judicial bodies.”
On the other hand, Al-Mahdi believes the AFC committed eight strategic mistakes that weakened its position in negotiations, led to the eruption of disagreements within its ranks and shook its public image.
“The first mistake was the AFC’s refusal to admit the key role the armed forces and other regular forces played in the success of the revolution, sparing the blood of the Sudanese people and effecting change.
Based on denying the role of the military, the AFC refused to coordinate with the TMC as a primal partner in forming and exercising transitional authority.
“The second mistake was the AFC’s failure to present a plan for transition that is based on scientific, political and constitutional foundations. This is why priorities were absent during the AFC’s negotiations with the TMC. It was better to first agree on a constitution that guaranteed the authorities granted to transitional state bodies, before forming a cabinet that would hold in its hand the executive powers to achieve the demands of the people. This would be done in tandem with the kick-start of deliberations to form a transitional legislative council, and would be followed by forming a sovereign council,” said Al-Mahdi.
“The AFC didn’t commit to its word given to the other powers that participated in the revolution to develop its declaration into a charter that presented a detailed programme for transition, and that was the third mistake. The AFC had made this commitment during a press conference held at the National Umma Party headquarters two months before the fall of the Al-Bashir regime.”
The AFC’s fourth mistake was its “call to eliminate the remaining powers that took part in the revolution but didn’t sign its declaration, such as the opposing Islamist current. The AFC monopolised negotiations with the TMC, leading to the polarisation of the political stage between the Islamist and secular powers.
This drift was manipulated by counter-revolutionary forces to create sharp division between opposition blocs present on Sudan’s political arena,” Al-Mahdi added.
“The AFC ignored the fact that around 80 per cent of the protesters on the streets had no political affiliations, rather shared a spiritual revolutionary bond. The alliance also ignored that the demonstrators demanded the uprooting of the former regime, the arrest of its prominent figures, the confiscation of the money and assets they stole and the establishment of a democratic system that achieved freedom, peace and justice,” Al-Mahdi said of the AFC’s fifth mistake.
“Ignoring the streets’ demands, being consumed by the alliance’s internal fights and squabbling with the TMC led the AFC to be distracted from demanding the resumption of the 2005 constitution, amending it and speeding up the formation of a government. This was the sixth mistake. The seventh was ignoring the importance of issues of peace and living conditions that are vital to the people of Sudan, along with the economic reform programme to restore balance to the country’s economy and decrease inflation. The AFC also ignored the fact that upon us was the agricultural season, on which 70 per cent of the population thrives.
“The AFC’s eighth mistake was its escalatory measures.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 June, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Sudan’s 16 fatal faults