Third June last year a group of British experts on Sudan met in London to discuss Sudan -’Sudan in crisis’. Taking part in the closed meeting were officials from the ministries of defence and trade and industry, from the British aid agency, ODA (Overseas Development Administration), and assorted academics and experts from SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), and the institute of Commonwealth Studies.
As the former colonial power in Sudan, Britain continues to maintain an active interest in the politics of Sudan. London is also the centre of a worldwide CSI (Christian Solidarity International) campaign. CSI is supposed to work for the human rights of Christians in Muslim lands, but is actually a cover for the imposition of secularism in Muslim lands. In the event the Christian Solidarity has little to do with the legitimate rights of fellow Christians in Muslim countries, its campaign is directed against Islam itself. CSI is opposed to the fundamental right of Muslims to implement Islamic laws and ethics in their lands, under their sovereign jurisdictions and upon themselves.
Islam is unequivocal about the right of each person to his or her religion. The Qur’an declares there is no compulsion in the matter of religion. The Sudanese legal framework grants full religious rights to its Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant communities and allows each state assembly the freedom not to apply the Islamic Hudood laws if its majority does not want it. But that was not what the CSI wanted, it wanted the abrogation of Islamic laws and secularisation of Sudan and other Muslim societies.
The experts’ meeting in London seemed to take the view that John Garang’s faction of the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) was in no position to topple the Sudanese government. It also seemed to accept that even in the otherwise unlikely event of the SPLA capturing Juba or for that matter the entire southern region, it was not likely to hurt or weaken the ‘fundamentalist’ regime. It might on the contrary help the regime to consolidate further its hold on the north.
The problem was that the northern Sudanese opposition NDA (National Democratic Alliance), based in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, had not proved good either. It had failed to inspire even a serious murmur inside the country.
The experts believed the Sudanese ‘crisis’ called for a new strategy in order to destabilise Sudan and overthrow the fundamentalist’ regime.
The new strategy aimed at engaging and stretching Sudanese forces along the whole length of their border from Eritrea to Uganda and, besides recapturing a good part of the south Sudan, create an opposition belt in eastern and north-eastern Sudan across the Eritrean and Ethiopian borders. That would give a much needed boost to the NDA and hopefully force the collapse of the government in Khartoum.
There were three possible targets: Port Sudan, Kassala and Qadarif.
Some 200 km north of the Eritrean border, Port Sudan is Khartoum’s only lifeline to the outside world. With the Security Council having already passed resolution, banning Sudanese carriers from flying in or out of the country, the capture of Port Sudan would complete the economic and military blockade of the country. It only needed a small group of armed men to hold for a short while the sea and the air ports until the Eritrean/NDA forces, cruising already just outside the Sudanese territorial waters, would sail into Port Sudan and occupy it in the name of the opposition .
Kassala is 20km west of the Eritrean border and lies on the Khartoum-Port Sudan highway; taking Kassala would stop all movement of goods to and from Port Sudan.
Qadarif is a rich agricultural centre situated just opposite the Ethiopian border. Capturing Qadarif should not be difficult, but the political prize would be big.
These were all well-appointed targets. The Port Sudan operation was mounted in August 1996, but the Sudanese authorities were able to apprehend the saboteurs before they could move.
The Eritrean president, Isayas Afewerki, was very cross and told the NDA leaders to their face that he did not want an ‘opposition of hotels’, he said, he wanted the opposition of ‘trenches and gun’. He asked the ‘opposition of hotels’ to put all their forces under one joint command under the command of John Garang.
Each opposition grouping had its own separate ‘military wing’ and the NDA’s command vested in a Higher Military Political Committee headed by the former Sudanese army chief, Lieut.General Fathi Ahmad Ali. Fathi Ahmad Ali was the senior most and the only proper General in the opposition. He claimed to lead the Legitimate Command of the Sudanese Armed Forces.
It was not very honourable to demote General Fathi and put everyone under the command of Colonel John Garang. It was also impossible to ignore Afewerki’s orders. However, to be realistic there was little to command in the NDA. It was like the proverbial Dutch army; all generals, few soldiers. Between them the two major political components, the Ummah and the Democratic Unionists, plus the Beja Congress had no more than 300 people under their command. Abdul Aziz Khalid’s SAF (Sudanese Alliance Forces) had probably another 300 men under the arms.
So the NDA leadership council in Asmara met on 7 October 1996. The council chairman, Muhammad Uthman al-Mirghani, appealed to his opposition colleagues to install ‘a capable military machine’, admitting indirectly their own incapability. The council failed to give John Garang the joint command. Instead it referred the matter to a four-member committee comprising, al-Mirghani, Lieut. General Fathi Ahmad Ali, the NDA secretary general, Mubarak al-Mahdi (representing the Ummah party) and John Garang who had stayed away from the meeting. But two weeks later, the committee acquiesced, and agreed to give the joint command to the SPLA leader. John Garang was thus appointed chairman of the NDA joint military command and General Fathi Ahmad Ali given a hollow title, General Coordinator of Military Action. This time the meeting was boycotted by General Fathi.
The appointment of John Garang chief of the joint military command was actually a cover to bring direction and planning of the military action against Sudan in the hands of the NDA’s Ethiopian and Eritrean principals.
Evidently the plan seemed to be that the Eritrean troops would make the first move into Hamash Koreeb area. They were to be assisted by some elements of the former Beja Congress from the Handandawa sub-tribe. The Beja Congress has in the past been fighting against both al-Mirghani and al-Mahdi, but these Handandawa elements had recently been recruited into the NDA by an ex-army officer and committed communist, Brigadier Abdul-Aziz Khalid. Khalid himself had broken away from General Fathi’s Legitimate Command and formed his own Alliance Forces. At the same time with the Eritreans, the Ethiopians were to attack Kormuk, Qaysan and Chali and proceed to seize the main hydroelectric station at Al-Damazin.
While the Beja elements were supposed to hold eastern Sudan, John Garang and his deputy Abdul-Aziz Khalid were expected to march on to Khartoum. Students and popular forces will rise up. The fundamentalist military regime would collapse and John Garang and Abdul-Aziz Khalid would take power. They will disband the Sudanese army and police and replace them by the SPLA and Abdul Aziz Khalid Khalid’s Alliance Forces. Sudan would be declared a secular state and religion outlawed from public and political life.
The Islamists having been eliminated, the two sectarian politicians, al-Mahdi and al-Mirghani, would be made redundant and consigned to the dustbin of history. The Red Sea would become an Israeli canal, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda would be crowned emperor of the Great Tutsi Empire, extending over Rwanda and Burundi, east Zaire and south Sudan. The continent of Africa would have been saved from the ‘threat’ of Islam spreading out from Sudan.
That would be the ‘revolution’ the Sudanese communists had been dreaming about all their lives, but it was to come true by courtesy of the capitalist superpower! After the demise of the communist superpowerS the US had adopted the orphans of the ‘evil empire’, just as it had adopted the Nazis after the defeat of Hitler. The US has found a good use for unemployed communists to work as agents of American interests, especially in Muslim societies. But the ‘revolution’ was still-born.
The predicament of the two Syeds: everything went wrong. Never lucky, Sadiq al-Mahdi had been unlucky yet again. He had been helped into power as a ‘liberal’ and ‘enlightened’ Muslim in order to undo the ‘September laws’, their euphemism for Shari’ah laws enacted by Gaafar Nimeiri in September 1 98?i. But he was abandoned to his fate because he had been unable to deliver.
However, as he had been deposed by an Islamic instead of a secular regime, Sadiq, the great-grandson of the Mahdi, became useful again. He told Impact (8 May-11 June 1992) that the people in the West were now feeling sorry that ‘they [had] failed me’ and they realise they were now ‘in a worst situation’. ‘I am encouraged,’ he said, ‘whatever happened to me or my career, the debate is on.’
Sadiq suffered from a holy complex. His great-grandfather himself was innocent of this, but Sadiq seemed to believe that being the great-grandson of the Mahdi, he had almost a divine right to rule over Sudan. The problem was that he had held power on three different occasions but had failed to impress anyone.
The Sudanese Salvation revolution has tried to follow a course of consensus and consultation and, therefore, to accommodate, instead of to eliminate or exclude the differing voices in society. It was particularly indulgent of Sadiq al-Mahdi and tried to take a benign view of his complexes. Under any other political dispensation he would have been made to answer for corruption and maladministration while he was in power and spending time in a ‘correctional facility’, as they call it in the US. Or to face something more dire for his subsequent hobnobbing with foreign powers. Instead he was given a gentle rap on the knuckles.
But Sadiq was unable to reconcile to Sudan’s Islamic direction because he did nOt believe in consensus and consultation. He believed only in himself or in his foreign friends who played up to his ego by holding him as ‘an example for Africa’ (Mrs Thatcher) .
Still he was given the freedom to publish articles in newspapers, inside and outside Sudan, to make speeches, to snipe at the government, and even to do his plotting against the government. He even had a slot on the Sudanese television, but he did not know what to make of his freedoms.
Sadiq had the opportunity of directly challenging President Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir and fight the presidential elections (held last March). His friends in the diplomatic community were encouraging him to enter the contest and even offered to donate moneys for his campaign. They knew that he had little chance of winning, but believed a defeated Sadiq would provide them with an opportunity to ‘cry foul’ and create a big furore against the fundamentalist military’ regime’. But Sadiq would take no risk.
He wanted the opportunity to knock at his doors. The orchestrated insurgency in parts of south Sudan was causing a big drain on the Sudanese economy and making life ever harder for the average Sudanese, especially the fixed-wage earners in the urban areas. Sadiq hoped that one day, some day, the people would take to the streets, overthrow the regime and put him into power.
Privately he kept in close touch with the Asmara-based armed opposition, the NDA. His cousin, Mubarak al-Mahdi, was its secretary general and represented the Ummah in the alliance. Publicly, however, he rejected violence and tried to keep a safe distance from the NDA. Actually he had a problem with the NDA because the top job there had already been taken. The NDA was headed by his traditional Khatmiyyah rival, Uthman al-Mirghani. Sadiq does not want to be the number two man under any situation.
But suddenly he sneaked out of Sudan (5 December) and surfaced in Asmara (11 December 1996) to explain that he had fled because he feared the regime was going to hold him ‘hostage’ to put pressure on the opposition. His second wife, Sara, disclosed she and other members of the family had repeatedly advised him to flee to Eritrea to escape ‘harassment’ by the regime which incidentally showed that her husband’s decisions were not always made by him. But why flee to Eritrea and nowhere else when he had nothing to do with the armed opposition in Asmara while, according to Sara, her husband only advocated peaceful opposition? How much did he know what was being cooked in Asmara?
Sadiq confessed his ‘departure was part of a series of pressures’ to be mounted against Sudan. He had apparently been told that something ‘big’ was in the offing, but obviously he did not know enough. Unsure and in panic, he took his wife’s advice and decided to play safe from a safe distance. In Asmara, he did not join the NDA and tried to maintain a lateral relationship with the armed opposition and to keep his own distinctive position. So he talked about achieving a ‘quick bloodless revolution’, though in a week’s time, he gave up on his ‘civilian jihad’. ‘Armed struggle is possible and is dictated by the nature of the name,’ he now said.
However, there being no signs of any popular uprising either, Sadiq appealed to the Sudanese armed forces to rebel and ‘topple the corrupt regime that is ruling Sudan today.’ Desperate also to establish his own claim for succession vis-a-vis, the NDA, he said he was addressing them ‘as a prime minister elected by the people pending the election of another successor’. It is doubtful if anyone else in the NDA recognised him as Sudan’s de jure prime minister.
The two ‘Syeds’, Uthman al-Mirghani and Sadiq al-Mahdi, have landed themselves in an invidious situation. Sadiq and al-Mirghani are not comfortable with each other. President Mubarak is not comfortable with Sadiq, and he is pressing the two ‘Syeds’ to sign a Soviet-like treaty of ‘peace and friendship’, agreeing to Egypt’s hegemony over Sudan’s defence, security and the Nile waters. He also wants them to move their military and political headquarters from Asmara to Cairo. For his part, Mubarak is as uncomfortable with Asmara as he is with Khartoum.
Their-two regional backers, Isayas Afewerki of Eritrea and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, detest both ‘Syeds’ who had at one stage wanted to hand them over to the their Ethiopian dictator Mengistu in exchange for John Garang.
The Eritreans and Ethiopians are, therefore, trying to promote Garang and Abdul-Aziz Khalid as their candidates to take over power in Sudan. That is why the chief of the joint command, John Garang, had not taken the NDA’s political leadership, Uthman al-Mirghani, into full confidence about his invasion plans. As for Sadiq al-Mahdi, Garang has ridiculed him many times in the past publicly for his cowardice and his hypocrisy: speaking secularism with him and Islamic Shari’ah with Muslims.
The good news is that they are not going to form the government in Khartoum and as long as they remain in opposition, they can live together in their common hatred of the regime. The bad news, but only for the two ‘Syeds’, is that in their new wilderness, they are going to be more and more alienated from their own society. Sixty-five percent of the Sudanese population is below 25 and better informed about the affairs of its country than about the ancien regime which the two ‘Syeds’ aspire to revive.
Courtesy: Impact International, London.
Muslimedia - March 1-15, 1997