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Sudan: The 3 New Messages Coming from Khartoum

Sudan: The 3 New Messages Coming from Khartoum

Monday, 29 April, 2019 - 05:00

In late August 1967, in the midst of the thick clouds of the Arabs’ heavy military and political defeat that shook Arab conscience and fate, the leaders of Arab countries met in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. Yes, from Khartoum, the city that has been in the news for weeks.

From there they issued a historic declaration, which was more like a ‘statement of defiance’ aimed at forestalling a total collapse caused by the defeat in what became known as ‘The Six Days’ War’. Its message was three simple NOs: “NO to peace, NO to recognition, and NO to negotiations”.

Of course, those three NOs have become a distant past. Moreover, now after the initial shock fizzled away, the Arabs realized that what happened was more than just a defeat; but rather a disaster. Still, there was only one positive in that disaster which is the disappearance of a blur that prevented them from realizing how bad their situation was. How their backwardness was concealed by naïve bravados, concocted populism, and magnified ‘historical’ false auras created by emotions.

Since then, wise Arabs became more modest and more realistic. They began to see that the Arabs’ status then was far inferior to that of their forefathers. The descendants of their great sages, scientists, mathematicians and philosophers, who were the global pioneers of their generations, are now living outside the Arab and Muslim countries. These descendants currently live and work abroad, where proper institutions, sponsorship, methodology, and guarantees encourage free thinking and creativity away from restrictions and pressures of unquestionable controls. Back home, however, there is no escape from one absolute to an opposite absolute, and nothing in between.

In Sudan, with the military coup led by Brigadier Gen Omar Al-Bashir under the auspices of ‘Political Islam’ around thirty years ago, the two ‘absolutes’ met. From then on, the religious ‘absolute’ and the military ‘absolute’ dominated the lives of the Sudanese people for three decades despite divisions and personal and organizational conflicts. For three decades all kinds of pains and misfortunes visited the exceptionally rich country, which was before the secession of South Sudan was the largest country in terms of area in both the Arab world and Africa.

During the British colonial period, Sudan was one of the ‘crown jewels’ whose wealth attracted tens of families and thousands of individuals of all faiths and races from the Levant, Iraq, Greece, India and other. But it suffered several internal conflicts that culminated recently in the secession of the South and the opening of deep wounds in the West (Darfur). Furthermore, it underwent long radical upheavals played over by its political parties and military establishment.

Then, the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011 came; and here I understand that many dislike this idiom after what we have seen in Syria, Yemen and Libya; however, I have always argued that a ‘spring’ in the political sense does not necessarily mean immediate change. Indeed, neither ‘The Prague Spring of 1968’ ended communism in Czechoslovakia, nor ‘The Beijing Spring of 1989’ brought down the Chinese regime; yet, in both cases, they presented the beginnings of change as the people in the then Czechoslovakia and China began to believe in themselves and their ability to protest. They were the young buds that began a process toward a better future. Incidentally, change in Czechoslovakia had to wait until the 1990s and was achieved at the price of a civilized ‘divorce’ between the Czechs and Slovaks.

As for China - which is quite a different case whether in culture, or size, capabilities and demographics – change arrived in the shape of a gradual and silent revolution whereby the ‘top’ responded to the aspirations of the ‘base, and the ‘center’ interacted with the demands of ‘extremities’.

Well, the situation in the Arab world is totally different; in fact, there were differences between one country and another. While the ‘centralized state’ blessed with ‘strong institutions’ remained united as we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt, the devastating ills of sectarianism, tribalism, and localism - complicated by regional and international projects - were all to see in Syria, Yemen and Libya.

As a result, while everybody was passing judgments on the attempted change, and after “avoiding the Syrian experience” an excuse for refusing any breakthroughs or agreement after eight years of strife, the winds of change blew on Algeria and Sudan.

Regarding Algeria, many had expected obstacles in the face of Abdul Aziz Bouteflika’s absurd running for a fifth consecutive presidential given his severe physical disability. In Sudan too, there were doubts whether President Al-Bashir would continue to escape forward while political and economic hardships escalate and accumulate. True to form, people’s power managed to score one victory after another, pushing Bouteflika to withdraw his candidacy, and the Sudanese army to bring down Al-Bashir and his entourage.

So far the masses in Algeria and Sudan have shown three qualities: Patience, unity in diversity, and insistence on rejecting dubious compromises while still managing to be drawn into a violent confrontation. This is, no doubt, a sign of maturity, noting that the Algerians and the Sudanese must have learned from the mistakes committed in other Arab countries that attempted change.

Still, many major challenges persist, specifically, in Algeria where the ‘deep state’ remains and the ‘security mentality’ is strong, which is why the military establishment continues to manoeuver, refusing to make significant concessions.

The situation in Sudan is somewhat different. Traditions of real party politics, and trade unionism’s organizational and negotiation experience have given the popular movement more flexibility, as well the ability to reassure the military that there were common interests in avoiding a dead end, leading to a confrontation.

Today in Sudan there are three YES's: YES to optimism, YES to change, and YES to overcoming challenges. However, while it is true that the military establishment refused to confront the masses, punished the senior officers who threatened the people’s movement, and speedily arrested Al-Bashir and his henchmen, the leaders of movement have to remain in control of their actions, be precise and wise in their demands, and continue to press forward but without violent, spite and vengefulness. This is extremely important if they are to convince the doubters among the remnants of the fallen regime, that there is a common good in a wise and tolerant change that remains free from exploiters who would ride its wave, and divert away from the people’s welfare, and the people’s movement which, so far, has avoided miscalculations.

The next few hours may be decisive, and hopefully, they will result in a great and decisive victory to the ‘optimists’.

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