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Sudan: Uncertain times ahead - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Who is next? People are asking this question with reference to the current tsunami of Arab revolts.

In less than six months, virtually all Arab military-security regimes have been either toppled or plunged into crises with unpredictable outcomes.

So far, one such regime has managed to avoid the tsunami: that of General Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Sudan.

On Monday, the division of Sudan became official with the south, based on Juba, emerging as a new independent country. The split will come into full effect in July.

Bashir must have hoped that letting the south go would enable him to consolidate his power in Khartoum at least until 2014. He has said he would not seek re-election after that, although few would believe him.

However, what looks nice and easy on paper may turn out different in reality. The split could produce one of the biggest “population exchanges” ever seen in Africa.

On Monday, almost 1.5 million southerners living in north Sudan officially became “aliens”. At the other end of the bargain there are perhaps 300,000 northerners in the south whose status remains unclear. Large numbers of people in the so-called “marginal areas” may also be forced to move in either direction. The “population exchange” and the resettlement costs could run into billions of dollars with a negative impact on the economies of both the south and the north.

In any case, once a system suffers a fracture, other fractures will almost inevitably follow.

This is what is happening in al-Bashir’s Sudan.

The first fracture is taking shape within the ruling elite, now more narrowly based than ever.

It seems that three factions, with rival strategies, are emerging.

The first faction’s strategy is based half on hope and half on fear.

The hope is that, with the “thorn” of the south removed, the regime would be able to “finish” the anemic opposition and consolidate its hold on power.

The fear is that any attempt at reform could trigger the kind of uprising that has shaken other despotic Arab regimes.

Backed by security services, this faction is led by al-Bashir himself, with presidential advisor Nafie Ali Nafie as its war-horse.

The second faction, led by Vice President Ali Osman Taha, wants the ruling machine, the National Congress Party (NCP) to promote a dialogue with opposition parties in the hope of co-opting some and neutralizing others.

A Machiavellian of the first-order, Taha also harbours thinly disguised presidential ambitions of his own. He is a man whose handshake is always accompanied with a hidden knife in the other hand. He betrayed his original patron Hassan al-Turabi, and would think nothing of feeding al-Bashir to the wolves, if and when necessary for the advancement of his own career.

It is possible that al-Turabi, the regime’s former sevengali and now an opponent, has ties with this faction.

The third faction, backed by the party’s middle cadres and, at least until recently led by Salah Gosh, seeks a less cynical response to the “Arab tsunami”. The faction has harped on the idea of a “second republic” that would be based more on popular support than military backing.

The second fracture has a geographical expression. The south’s split has whetted the secessionist appetite of other regions. Until a few years ago, no one cast a second look at the so-called “transitional areas” of Abyei, southern Korodfan and Blue Nile. The discovery of substantial oil reserves in these regions has transformed them into valuable real estate. That, in turn, has led to the emergence of secessionist groups who resent the NCP’s brutal domination.

To the burgeoning secessionism of these regions we have to add the continuing war in Darfur among others. (The fight9ing in the East ahs calmed down, at least for the time being.)

The third fracture concerns the issue of identity. With southern Sudan going its way, the NCP claims that the remaining part of the country could assert an exclusive “Arab-Islamic” identity. That, in turn, means the imposition of the Shariaa as the country’s only legal framework.

Many Sudanese, however, feel uncomfortable with the arbitrary nature of a scheme that ignores the complexities of Sudan as a cocktail of Arab, African, Islamic and secular identities.

In any case, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005 envisaged a series of measures intended to lead to democratic transition during a six-year interim period.

That interim period will end in July with Sudan nowhere near a democratic transition.

The fourth fracture could be detected in the very structure of the Sudanese state and army. In fact, President al-Bashir may have succeeded in dissolving the state structures and replacing it with a network of patronage developed through tribal links, personal loyalties and naked joint interests.

Today, governors of many provinces are acting as feudal warlords with largely nominal control from Khartoum.

At the same time corruption, partly fueled by oil income, is spreading to state structures at all levels. Compared to other African countries, Sudan once used to have a clean administration with a bureaucratic elite that had a sense of loyalty to the state rather than Mafia-style interest groups.

The gangrene of corruption has not spared the army whose top brass feel it is cheated out of their share of the booty by al-Bashir and his civilian network.

Paradoxically, the current configuration increases the possibility of a military coup. The top brass may want to air brush al-Bashir, who has an international arrest warrant dangling above his head, out of the picture so that they could reassert the army’s dominant position in what is left of the country.

Amid all this, the opposition parties appear locked in a different time zone.

Their call for a constitutional review conference sound almost surrealistic. They do not realise that Sudan’s political illness is too deep and too complicated to be treated with classical clichés.

These gentlemen are asking for a rearrangement of deck-chairs while the ship itself is sinking.

May be, Sudan does not only need a new ruling elite but also a new opposition.

And, that new opposition, as the experiences of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria has shown, could only come from the grassroots. Leaders of the various opposition parties are old and tired men, relics of another age. Though well meaning and respectable they cannot vocalise the new realities of Sudan’s political life, let alone visualize a different future for the country.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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