Sudan’s opposition Alliance of Freedom and Change (AFC) returned to the capital Khartoum after a two-day visit to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, where its delegation held meetings with leaders of the African Union (AU) and African ambassadors “to update them on the situation in Khartoum.”
The AFC delegation comprised opposition figures Wagdi Saleh, Hassan Abdel-Ati, Monser Al-Tayed and Moetaz Saleh, in addition to Deputy Chairman of the opposition National Umma Party (NUP) Mariam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi.
It also included Mona Arko Minawi, head of the Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi (SLA-MM) and Yassir Arman, deputy chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), militarily active in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.
Al-Mahdi, a physician, has been one of the “staunchest opponents” of the 30-year regime of ousted former president Omar Al-Bashir who toppled her father’s government in June 1989.
Since the onset of negotiations between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the AFC, the umbrella bloc that includes the NUP headed by Mariam’s father Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, the physician has been a member of the team negotiating with the TMC.
She did not take part in the latest round of negotiations that took place after communications were temporarily severed between the TMC and AFC, however. Sitting in her stead was Ibrahim Al-Amin.
“These negotiations are part of an attempt to break the ranks of the AFC,” Mariam Al-Mahdi told Al-Ahram Weekly in an interview from Khartoum. “But it is normal to change the members of the negotiating delegation, particularly if the talks take a long time, as is the case with Sudan.”
Like her father, she has been no stranger to jail and self-exile. But she has always preferred to stay in Khartoum to make fiery statements against Al-Bashir’s regime and take part in opposition activities over the past two decades.
With the eruption of the nationwide protests that toppled Al-Bashir on 6 April, Al-Mahdi ended her self-exile and returned from London, despite facing threats from Sudan’s security forces, according to family sources.
Al-Mahdi was not arrested when she arrived in Sudan, but she was later arrested along with her sister Rabah on charges of illegal protests. The sisters were fined, but they refused to pay.
Al-Mahdi told the Weekly that the AFC’s visit to Addis Ababa was “important. We met the chairperson of the AU Commission and a number of African ambassadors to put them in the picture about what is happening in Sudan.”
“The AU has suspended Sudan’s membership until authority is handed over to a civilian government. This is in line with AU agreements,” she said.
The AU also froze Burkina Faso’s membership following the overthrow of dictator Blaise Compaore in 2014 within the framework of the 2003 Protocol on Amendments to the Constitutive Act of the African Union. The AU had earlier granted the TMC three months to hand over power to a civilian government.
Al-Mahdi pointed to the “positive environment” in Addis Ababa that houses the headquarters of the AU Commission. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had also stepped in to mediate between the AFC and TMC, she said.
She accused the TMC of “stalling in handing over authority” to civilians. “We don’t want to end one period of authoritarian rule to be handed over to another one. We want a government of technocrats as soon as possible,” she added.
Regarding accusations made by the TMC that it was the AFC that was “stalling the negotiations,” Al-Mahdi said that “this is not true. We accepted Ethiopia’s mediation to resume the talks, albeit with conditions, such as investigating the dispersal of the sit-in [in front of the army headquarters in central Khartoum], the resumption of Internet services and freeing the detainees.”
“We suspended the successful civil disobedience out of a desire to build trust, offer our good will and show our commitment to the negotiations. The TMC has not responded to any of our demands.”
NUP head Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi had rejected the calls for a general strike and civil disobedience on the grounds that these were “escalatory measures” against the TMC, which he called a “partner in change.”
TMC Spokesperson Shamseddin Al-Kebashi said that elements from the armed forces had dispersed the sit-in “without receiving orders from general command.”
He said the army was intent on investigating their conduct and would punish them if they were found to have contravened orders.
Activists have pointed accusing fingers at the Rapid Support Forces (RDF) led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti). The Sudan Doctors’ Union said 118 Sudanese were killed in the incident, while the Ministry of Health put the figure at 46.
Al-Mahdi avoided implicating any specific party, saying “let’s leave it to a neutral investigating committee” instead.
She stated that she was coordinating with Saudi Arabia and the UAE after she and her father had received the Riyadh and Abu Dhabi ambassadors at their house in Omdurman.
“We want to establish interest-based relationships with all the countries in the world. We don’t want relationships between rulers that are then terminated with the end of their regime. We want relationships based on clear economic and political interests and relationships that don’t change no matter how governments change,” Al-Mahdi told the Weekly.
“Sudan has plenty to offer the Arab world and Africa, primarily in the economic field. We don’t want the aid we received during Al-Bashir’s rule. We want investments that will be to the benefit of all,” she added.
“Why is it that when Ethiopia offered to mediate, no one in Sudan objected, and then their voices grew louder when it came to Sudan’s relationship with Gulf countries? The Gulf countries, Egypt and Ethiopia are our neighbours. This is a fact no one can deny,” Al-Mahdi said.
“Everybody wants to end the state of stagnation, but any hint at holding elections within nine months or [anytime soon] is refused,” she stated.
Regarding news that the TMC could ask Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi to form a civilian government, Mariam Al-Mahdi said that “this can’t take place unless there is nationwide accord from the TMC, the AFC, and all the groups in Sudan. It is a big step that can’t be taken without a consensus.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Sudan’s message to the world