The long war Khartoum conducted against the people of the south diverted the attention of all but the most sophisticated observers. Journalists had a field day in describing the war as a religious war, Christian vs. Muslims. Few underlined the long standing cultural and social divide between southerners and northerners. Even fewer highlighted that the war was in fact a conflict for the control of resources. Yet, even this is not enough to explain Khartoum’s aptitude to violence.
In reality, Khartoum has long been at war with any group, no matter how small, that refuses to give in to the leading class’s dream of total control. When the war with the South had already taken a turn for the bad, which would eventually lead to independence, other conflicts popped up, like mushrooms in a wet night. Darfur, Kordofan, the Blue Nile, the minorities in the north east …
The departure of the South, the loss of the vast oil reserves and its revenues, brought Sudan to the brink. Its military has suffered humiliating defeat and dishonor. Stretched by the many internal conflicts, poorly equipped and worse led, Sudanese soldiers could little against the much more intense southern army. In the last clashes, Khartoum’s army had always to flee and lose ground. The economy is in free-fall, with food stuff prices spiraling well above the buying power of the masses. Khartoum has become a snake-pit. Those who benefitted from their alliance with President Omar al Bashir are now reconsidering their options to salvage their power and privilege in the event of Bashir’s demise.
Bashir, who took power with a coup, is aware of the delicate moment. When he was a young army officer fighting near Kadugli he was known for his evening beer binges. Today he wholeheartedly marries the Islamic cause. Embracing the Islamists and pushing for a stricter form of the Sharia Law seems the only way forward for him.
It might be too little too late. His backers are already trying to regroup, and there is little hope they are planning a democratic future for the country. Nafie Ali Nafie, Bashir’s Assistant and Deputy Chairman of the National Congress Party (NCP), was in charge of the feared military intelligence. He was behind the ethnic cleansing of Darfur, South Sudan and South Kordofan. He is not happy to sink with the ship and is trying to find new allies who would assure him power and impunity for his crimes. Vice President Ali Osman Taha is no better. His clique, which includes Islamist cells and hardliners from his Shaygia tribe, is pragmatic and ruthless. Taha is working behind the scenes to take control of the National Congress Party and take Bashir’s place. The only one still supporting Bashir are the military elite, but not the same can be said of younger officers. And we all know it is usually some of them who organize a coup.
It is not a surprise, then, that people in Khartoum woke up on November 22nd to see armored cars patrolling the capital. The military returned to the barracks before noon, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of those who hoped for change. The show of force ordered by Bashir went hand in hand with the arrest of top army officers and of Salah Gosh, retired general and former intelligence head. Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman said 13 people had been arrested over a plot which “targeted the stability of the state and some leaders of the state”.
The people of Khartoum hit the streets for months. The demonstrations died down after a number of opposition leaders had been arrested. The uneasiness within the army will be for now kept at bay, but certainly it will not die down. Bashir is rumoured to fight against throat cancer and finds it difficult to go abroad for treatment. On the one hand, while away he could easily lose control of the lever of powers. On the other hand, only a few Islamic countries are able to support him since he is followed by the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for war crimes he committed in the past years.
Sudan seems ready to split in smaller units. Darfur, Blue Nile and Kordofan could easily become independent states or aggregate with South Sudan. Other smaller regions may try to achieve greater autonomy. Yet, if a competent leader of the opposition would emerge, there is still time to unite civil society around a project of rebuilding the nation along the lines of a peaceful democratic change in Sudan. It will not be easy to cross over the deep scars of the past and find a common ground beyond ethnicity and religion.
On this, the international community can play a vital role. The opposition is not organized and uneasy with mass communication, two vital aspects behind the success of the Arab Springs. Two aspects the international community may want to support and develop. If a credible change would be offered to the Sudanese, they would embrace it. They do aspire to democracy and development; they yearn for the end of fighting and division.
Yusuf Al Tuwossilloh