Cracks in the wall of Sudan’s opposition

Haitham Nouri , Thursday 30 May 2019

Civil wars and the failing call for a general strike add to the rifts within the ranks of Sudan’s Alliance of Freedom and Change, threatening the unity of the opposition bloc

Sudanese aviation professionals
Sudanese aviation professionals chant slogans as they rally in support of civilian rule at Khartoum airport in the capital on May 27, 2019 (Photo: AFP)

In the corridors of Sudan’s intricate politics, the Alliance of Freedom and Change (AFC) is witnessing increasingly difficult tests, with domestic and foreign pressures the consequences of which are almost impossible to predict.

The AFC is an umbrella grouping of opposition movements that signed a declaration on 13 January demanding the ouster of Omar Al-Bashir and his three-decade regime.

Following four months of nationwide protests, Al-Bashir was overthrown but cracks soon started to appear in the wall of the opposition.

Vice President of Sudan’s People Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) — part of the AFC — Yasir Arman arrived in Khartoum as part of a delegation comprising the movement’s secretary-general Ismail Gallab, to commence negotiations with the Transitional Military Council (TMC) to end the war in the states of the Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

It’s common knowledge a Sudan court sentenced Arman to death in 2014, but he was not stopped upon entering the country Sunday. It is also known that negotiations with the TMC are going to be a roller coaster ride, but what doesn’t appear clear is whether the SPLM-N — suffering from divisions within its South Blue Nile and Nubia Mountains ranks — will engage in negotiations with the TMC as being part of the AFC or in a separate course.

The SPLM-N file is not the only crack in Sudan opposition’s wall. The AFC’s National Ummah Party, led by Al-Sadek Al-Mahdi, issued a statement rejecting the two-day general strike for which the alliance called.

“A general strike is a weapon that should be used after it is agreed upon by everybody. We have to avoid such escalated measures that are not fully agreed,” the statement read.

The party stressed, however, that its rejection of the strike “doesn’t give the authorities the right to fire the employees” who respond positively to the call to strike.

The AFC on Friday had called for a nationwide strike to be staged Tuesday and Wednesday to press the TMC to hand over power to a civilian government.

The call was issued after negotiations between the TMC and AFC were suspended for the third time.

Al-Mahdi and his Ummah’s position on the call to strike does not depart from their previous stances. The Ummah leader warned against “provoking the military” since they were “partners in the process of change”.

The last elected prime minister, Al-Mahdi was toppled during Al-Bashir’s coup in 1989. He expressed his fears of a military coup taking place if “provocations against the military” continued.

Talks between the TMC and the AFC were first stalled in late April when the latter attempted to put pressure on the TMC to achieve its demands. Last week, the military suspended negotiations, demanding that protesters remove roadblocks they had erected on several Khartoum avenues before any talks could proceed.

The third time talks were suspended between the two parties was the result of disagreement over the formation of the sovereign council that the TMC demanded be headed by a military figure because of what the TMC said were the unstable security conditions in Sudan.

On the other hand, the alliance, spearheaded by Sudan’s Professionals Association (SPA), demanded the sovereign council — representing the most powerful authority during the transitional phase — be headed by a civilian figure and include limited military representation.

Sudan is enduring extremely complicated and harsh economic and security conditions. The economic situation didn’t improve with Al-Bashir’s fall, and the country is suffering the perpetual repercussions of civil war and the uncontrolled spread of weapons across its regions.

Sudanese writer Khaled Al-Tigani said the suspension of negotiations would not last for long because the two parties realise that the current situation forewarns of “losing important gains they achieved lately”.

Al-Tigani, who is close to the negotiations circle, added that “the two parties may compromise, meaning the AFC may settle for a sovereign council headed by a military figure with a majority of civilian members on its board”.

Meanwhile, Al-Tigani believes the call to strike is a weapon difficult to use, since it may add to the burdens of the Sudanese. But the failure of the strike to materialise, coupled with the divisions eating up the AFC, will further weaken Sudan’s opposition, eventually leading to the dismantling of the opposition bloc altogether.

“The situation could get worse if the TMC insisted on ending Sudan’s civil wars in a separate course, something which the SPLM-N doesn’t mind,” said Mohamed Al-Asbat, a Sudanese journalist. “By adding the position of the National Ummah Party on the strike, and the fact that other conservative movements may adopt the same position, we are looking at a clear picture of a disassembled opposition, even if it is not official yet.”

Al-Asbat referenced an analysis published in the US Foreign Policy magazine which said that counter-revolutionary forces had started functioning in Sudan, in reference to the Islamists allied with toppled president Al-Bashir and the conservative forces and state institutions in the same group.

“Defreezing Sudan’s syndicates, which were controlled by Al-Bashir regime, may lead to the abortion of the strike, and consequently the AFC’s weakening, making it much easier to be cornered,” said Al-Asbat.

The SPA was formed as an alternative to Al-Bashir’s Islamist-controlled syndicates. It comprises eight non-official professional groupings, including the committees of physicians, pharmacists and teachers, the Lawyers Coalition, the Journalists Network and the Engineers Association.

The AFC is worried the call for early elections by the end of this year, is one of the repercussions of its weakening. The alliance knows full well its liberal and leftist forces will not win in any near future elections.

Al-Tigani pointed out that the call for early elections “may be endorsed by a number of liberals and leftists who want to see the armed forces back in its barracks, and it looks like this demand is shared by increasing numbers of officers as well.”

Many Sudan observers believe the complete rejection of military elements on the sovereign council is not wise, particularly with the country’s increasing political and social tensions.

Sudan is suffering from famine in some of the Blue Nile regions, civil wars in its west, east and south, in addition to social tensions in areas of cultural diversity, and the spread of weaponry that can exacerbate civil wars and prevent peace and national unity.

Meanwhile, president of the TMC, Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, returned to Sudan after wrapping a tour in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in which the leaders of the two countries stressed the importance of Sudan’s stability and unity.

Al-Burhan’s deputy, leader of the Rapid Support Forces Mohamed Hassan Dagalo, better known as Hemeti, met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to reaffirm Sudan’s support of Riyadh in the fight against Iran and Tehran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi had given hundreds of millions of dollars to Khartoum to support Sudan’s economy, which has been ailing due to a liquidity shortage and the depletion of its foreign currency reserves, rendering the country unable to provide for its basic needs of bread, medicine and fuel.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 30 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Cracks  in the wall of Sudan’s opposition

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