Challenging Khartoum

Groups opposed to the regime of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir have issued a declaration calling for its overthrow.
writes Salah Khalil

A coalition of politicians and military commanders opposed to the government of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir has started a new campaign to topple the Khartoum government through peaceful means.

Meeting in Paris on 8 August, the National Umma Party (NUP) and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) pledged to unite the opposition behind common goals, starting with the formation of an interim government to rewrite the constitution and hold elections.

The SRF includes key military groups that have fought the Khartoum regime for years. These include the Darfur-based Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Movement/Abdel-Wahid (SLM-Abdel Wahid), the Sudan Liberation Movement/Minni Minnawi (SLA-MM), and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-Northern Sector (SPLM-N).

Signatories to the Paris Declaration asserted that their aim is to either bring down or change the government. They have drawn up a roadmap for the post-National Congress Party (NCP) transition, involving decentralizations and a more equitable distribution of power and resources.

The Paris Declaration also calls for ending the war, rescinding freedom-constricting laws, releasing political detainees, and starting a transition toward democracy. The signatories agreed to contact Sudan’s political and civil groups to brief them on the declaration and ask for their support.

Earlier, the opposition was threatened when the Popular Congress Party (PCP) of Hassan Al-Turabi joined forces with the ruling NCP in a failed bid to hold a national dialogue. Opposition members claimed that the dialogue was lop-sided and aimed to reinforce the status quo rather than take Sudan into the future.

Al-Turabi is a former ally of Al-Bashir, but relations between the two men deteriorated in 1999 and Al-Turabi has been a prominent opposition figure ever since.

What gives importance to the Paris Declaration is that it is a coalition of powerful armed groups and seasoned politicians, including Sadiq Al-Mahdi, leader of the NUP and a former prime minister.

Al-Mahdi is a heavyweight who at least for a while lent his support to the ruling party’s bid last January to hold a national dialogue. After eight months, however, it was clear that the NCP’s efforts to engage the opposition in a credible dialogue were going nowhere.

Al-Mahdi said that the Paris Declaration is a “positive step” and that the SRF will use the endorsement to gather support for its initiative. It is holding exchanges with civil-society groups in Sudan in the hope of organizing a peaceful movement that will force the regime from power.

However, Al-Mahdi is not the most reliable of allies, and his frequent changing of course in the past doesn’t bode well for the Paris Declaration partnership. In January 2013, his representatives signed a similar document, called the New Dawn, in Uganda. But he later disowned it.

Unlike many SRF members, Al-Mahdi is known to oppose radical change. Critics of Al-Mahdi even say that he may have joined the Paris Declaration on the prompting of the ruling NCP as a tactic to boost the chances of Al-Bashir’s national dialogue initiative.

Some influential politicians in Sudan have been trying to persuade the SRF to come to the negotiating table. It is also possible that Al-Mahdi joined the SRF to spite his rival Al-Turabi, who is currently taking the side of Al-Bashir, in power for a quarter of a century.

The Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) said that the Paris Declaration conformed to earlier proposals discussed by the SCP and the SRF. Opponents of Al-Bashir’s regime say that the declaration is a reaction to the deadlock in the NCP-led political dialogue.

The current dialogue, dubbed “7+7” in reference to the number of parties attending the talks, is said to be tilted toward the regime as none of its more influential opponents is taking part in the discussions.

In addition, the agenda of the talks is dictated by the NCP, which is not prepared to give up power or introduce genuine change in the country, according to the opposition.

The SRF is hoping to put together an alliance that is strong enough to bring down the Khartoum government, coordinating a joint effort by Sudan’s civilian and armed opposition groups.

SRF leaders say that their aim is to bring about complete change in Sudan, and that the first step is to unite all opposition groups around a unified vision. Opposition members are particularly resentful that Al-Bashir’s regime has been trying to stymie progress by holding early elections, instead of waiting for the polls scheduled for April 2015.

According to the opposition, the elections should be preceded by the formation of an interim government. Sudan needs to write a new constitution and pass new election laws before holding elections, Al-Bashir’s critics say.

The SRF has pledged to create a new Sudan, one in which human rights are respected and power is evenly and fairly distributed among various regions and groups.

The most immediate aims, according to the SRF, are to end the fighting, care for the refugees, and release political detainees. The SRF has also called on the international community to punish war criminals in Sudan, a clear reference to the regime of Al-Bashir.

In a telephone conversation with the Weekly, JEM official Abu Bakr Hamid Nour said that the Paris Declaration offers an answer to the crisis in Sudan. The declaration, he said, sets a roadmap for all the political powers inside and outside the country.

According to Nour, the declaration aims to end the war, establish public freedoms, form an interim government, and tackle the country’s security and economic problems. He added that the declaration is a first step towards ousting the Khartoum regime.

The SRF believes in national dialogue, he said. But for that dialogue to work, it must be characterized by neutrality and involve confidence-building measures, including a ceasefire and the release of detainees.

On 23 August, a delegation from the SRF met in London with Othman Al-Mirghani, the leader of the Democratic Union Party (DUP). After discussing aspects of the Paris Declaration, the two sides called for a ceasefire and reconciliation in Sudan. They also agreed that elections would be meaningless unless national reconciliation was reached first.

It is through this and further contacts that the SRF intends to pose a challenge to the regime of Al-Bashir. However, the regime is fighting back.

Sudanese presidential assistant Ibrahim Al-Ghandour criticized the SRF and Al-Mahdi for signing the Paris Declaration. Those who signed it, he said, were “seeking solutions abroad” instead of pursuing opportunities available at home.

Al-Ghandour called on the regime’s critics to join the national dialogue, saying that this could lead to a ceasefire and a range of political and security measures that would end the country’s suffering.

The Paris Declaration calls for political negotiations between all civilian and armed opposition groups and the government and its supporters. Should this fail, the declaration calls for a peaceful uprising to bring down the regime.
From Ahram weekly newspapers

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