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Former Sudanese PM Al-Mahdi proposes 'national agenda'

In an interview with Ahram Online, Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, former Sudanese prime minister and leader of the opposition Ummah Party, warns that Sudan will be subject to imminent dangers following southern secession

Asmaa El-Husseini in Khartoum, Wednesday 19 Jan 2011
Sadek Al-Mahdi
Former prime minister of Sudan Sadek Al-Mahdi.(AFP)
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Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, former Sudanese prime minister and leader of the opposition Ummah Party, claimed that southern Sudanese have voted for secession because of policies pursued by the regime of President Omar Al-Bashir, which promoted Arabist and Islamist ideas while denying diversity.

Furthermore, the regime also gave extremist currents the opportunity to operate in Sudan under an Islamist guise. Al-Mahdi asserted that while the country is under international custodianship, the regime has been using Islamist slogans to cover up its defeats.

The former prime minister called for a new constitution based on a civilian and democratic state and for the signing of a twinning agreement between north and south Sudan to contain the consequences of secession.

The legitimate demands of the Darfur population must be granted and the country should react rationally to the issue of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the former prime minister said.  

Al-Mahdi also warned that unless the Sudanese regime answers his demands, he would join the front that seeks to oust the regime.

Ahram Online: Was the secession of the south inevitable?

Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi:There are four historical reasons for this secession: firstly, the wasteland policy that the colonialists followed and that smacked of apartheid; secondly, the northern arrogance in dealing with the south; thirdly, the southern vindictive reaction to the north and finally, the selective manner in which outsiders dealt with the north and the south.

AO: You mentioned the historical reasons. What of the current reasons?

SM:There is no doubt that the regime [of Al-Bashir] is responsible for the grudges and bitterness that currently exist between the north and the south. This is so for three reasons: one is the policies of Islamism and Arabism that made the regime so intolerant toward those who didn't fit tidily into either of the categories; another is the policies of the regime’s allies – those pushing for ethnic cleansing and those pseudo-Taliban groups who accuse everyone of being an atheist. The third reason arose through the current government's adversarial foreign relations policies which led to the emergence of strong foreign lobbies that now embrace the south and detest the north.

These reasons, in my opinion, are behind the southern insistence on self-determination, which surfaced for the first time in north-south relations in 1993, eventually leading to demands of secession by the south. I have no doubt that the southern voter, when he or she went to vote, was thinking of the National Congress Party (NCP) and its policies and the policies of its allies who are religious extremists and advocates of ethnic cleansing.

AO:  Where does this lead?

SM:Unless there is a radical change, it will lead to a hostile secession that summons all the hostilities that exist in the region: in east Africa, in the Horn of Africa, in the Red Sea and in the Middle East. For these reasons, one cannot rule out a hostile secession. Because of the sad policies of the regime in Darfur, one can imagine a recurrence of the region's volatile tensions -- with some variations -- in Darfur. This recurrence is to be expected.

In other words, Sudan is facing major perils that are exacerbated by the fact that Khartoum is speaking in political tones that don’t recognise pluralism and diversity and is intent on implementing Sharia law in a vindictive fashion.

AO: How would this reflect on the situation in the north?

SM:Many areas in north Sudan will be subject to the same fate as the south. Sudan is based on ethnic and religious diversity. The religious diversity is based on Islam, Christianity and African religions. The ethnic diversity is based on five ethnicities: the Arabs, the blacks, the Nubians, the Nubian-affiliated and the Baja.

The secession of the south will not only undermine the country’s diversity. The number of blacks and Christians will become less in the north. This will mean that the remarks made by the ruling NCP in Sudan [vowing to create an Islamist state] will lead to the replication of all the factors that had alienated the south in the post-secession north.

Moreover, the regime is now encouraging pseudo-Taliban groups to invade the Sudanese political organ, as they are its allies and supporters. With their abilities and the support they receive from the global network of Taliban sympathisers, these groups pose a danger not only to Sudan but also to the entire region. Unfortunately, this is what is happening in Sudan.

As for our position, stated simply, we are putting forward a national agenda. This agenda calls for (A) a new constitution in Sudan to be based on the creation of a civil state in which legislation is both democratic and inspired by Islam. In other words, the laws applying to all Sudanese must be inspired by secular principles and those meant for Muslims must be inspired by Islamic principles, which is to say that the law should be multi-layered; (B) the signing of a twinning agreement between the north and the south to contain the negative impact of the secession and establish a regime based on interdependence in various areas; (C) addressing the Darfur crisis in a serious manner and granting the legitimate demands of the Darfur people, which are well known and don’t require further discussion; and (D) endorsing public freedoms and committing to human rights, introducing an economic programme and dealing rationally and realistically with the ICC issue. This is our national agenda.

AO: How do you expect the NCP to react to these proposals?

SM: Our proposals offer two options to the ruling party. Either it concurs with these demands, which would be good or it refuses. In my opinion, there is a lot of mistrust between governments and people throughout the region. If Sudan manages to solve its problems, it would present a positive example to its neighbours and countries all over the region -- showing them how to emerge from their problems through a national agenda that comprehensively addresses all the problems.

If the regime refuses, the result would be a hostile relationship with its southern neighbour, confrontation with the Darfur movements, confrontation with the international community, and confrontation in the Sudanese streets over economic problems.

We, as a political force and as the Ummah Party, will react by following a course of resistance. We’ll be marching, holding sit-ins and engaging in civil disobedience. The regime will be faced with many active fronts, including the front of the national struggle through which the Ummah Party will work.

AO: You have given the regime until the 26th of this month. Why this particular date, and what are your options?

SM:My position, as leader of the Ummah Party, is to call on the regime to accept the national agenda as it would bring salvation to the entire nation. If the NCP agrees, I will promote the idea of national salvation on the basis of this agreement. If the NCP refuses to cooperate, as of 26 January, I will either join the front that seeks to bring the regime down or retire from political work and dedicate my time to other intellectual, cultural, religious and international pursuits.

I chose this particular date because this date is loaded with historical significance, as it is the date of the liberation of Khartoum from the first waves of colonialism in 1885. This date also gives everyone a chance to reconsider their position. I believe that if the south goes for secession, as expected, it would either opt for signing a twinning agreement with the north or for hostility with it. It would be up to the NCP to either open up to other opinions or repress them. There is enough time for everyone to decide what to do. I will decide my position based on my assessment of the situation and my objective reading of these developments.

AO: What do you think of the recent call by Al-Bashir for a broad-based government?

SM:We are not discussing the formation of a government here. We are discussing a programme. We cannot discuss government unless we agree on a programme based on the national agenda first. The national agenda should come first and then the government, since the latter is a mechanism for implementing the agenda. To participate in a government that would continue implement current policies is out of the question. What matters isn't naming a government. Rather, what matters is the programme the government implements, which in my opinion must be the national agenda I am discussing.

AO: Your allies in the opposition refer to a deadline for facing the regime.

SM: I don’t think that they are referring to a deadline. What we want is to get everyone to read from the same page with regard to the national agenda. Up to this moment, it doesn’t make sense to speak about a deadline for confronting the regime. What we must discuss is how to unify the ranks. This is the duty we have right now, and only after we get it done can we discuss what must be done to implement the national agenda.

AO: The government and the police have issued dire warnings of the consequences of the opposition marching in the streets, saying that any civilian action would be repressed.

SM:Coming from them, that’s natural. It is to be expected that they would say such things. It is sad for Sudan to enter into these kinds of confrontations. But the way to emerge from present confrontations is not through threats and further confrontations. The current regime is to blame for tearing Sudan apart and destroying its unity and sovereignty. Sudan is at present under international custodianship yet the regime is still using Islamist slogans to justify its repression and cover up its failures -- including the failure to keep the country united. This is an illegitimate use of Islamic slogans.

One would expect them to make such threats, for all the tyrants who came before them did just that. It is time for them to wake up because 21 years of threats, hegemony and intransigence have made them reap a bitter harvest. If they have any sanity left, if they can think outside the logic of nails and claws, they would look for a solution.

AO: Why is it that the NCP thinks little of its opposition? Is it because it is too strong or because the opposition is too weak?

SM:This is the only way such leaders know how to talk. In his last days [former Sudanese president Gaafar] Al-Numeiri used to say that no one could remove him from power. He also said that the opposition was too weak and could not do much. All the tyrants say this.

AO: Do you have any hope for a deal with the NCP?

SM:If I don’t have hope, I wouldn’t wait till 26 January. I believe that there are sane people in the NCP who can see the dangers surrounding their country.

AO: Your daughters have been assaulted by the security forces, was it personal?

SM:I don’t think the assault was personal. What happened to my daughters was due to their participation in the resistance and they have paid the price for their actions. They’ve done what they believed in and there is a price to pay when you stand up for what you believe in. There is always a tax and those who want to defend their country and their religion are willing to pay it. Right now, our religion is being tainted and our country is being ripped apart.

AO: Recently, the Ummah Party has been trying to breathe new life into its mother party. What is this about?

SM:This is quite normal actually. They have participated with us in the past and made quite an effort back then. And now they are convinced that the national crisis calls for unity. That’s why they came back without any conditions. We have welcomed them unanimously and we believe that it is a step forward toward having a national stand.

AO: Where is the Darfur crisis heading in light of the ongoing coordination among armed movements?

SM:What took place in Doha was a dialogue of the deaf. The government pushed for an agreement that would have been an exact copy of the Abuja agreement. It is a flawed agreement, unacceptable to us and to the resistance in Darfur. The government failed to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Darfur population and its position fell short of what the Darfur negotiators expected. The negotiators were from one faction in Darfur, but they spoke on behalf of everyone else in Darfur.

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