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A Sudanese lesson for Arab revolutions | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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After some hesitation and an initial media blackout regarding the news of the Arab revolutions, when they were at their very peak in Tunisia and then Egypt, Sudanese officials began to change their stances and began to talk of the events as if they were following the example of the “Salvation Revolution” in Sudan. The rulers in Sudan did not say that they were not Tunisia or Egypt, as others such as Colonel Gaddafi or President Ali Abdullah Saleh did, yet they went far beyond this when they spoke of their regime being the inspiration behind the Arab revolutions, in terms of its “steadfastness and approach”, and that these revolutions were carried out in support of the Sudanese experience.

This rhetoric was not only unconvincing to many, but also astonishing. President Omar al-Bashir’s regime, which tomorrow will celebrate its 22nd anniversary, is in fact contrary to all that the current Arab popular uprisings and revolutions stand for. This regime came to power via a military coup, toppling a democratically elected government whose foundations were laid by a popular uprising. The previous democratic government had come to power having overthrown yet another despotic regime – a military regime at first, which ended up as a one-party government. It is true that those who masterminded and executed the coup on the 30th June 1989 labeled the event as the “Salvation Revolution”, yet this was the customary approach adopted by Arab republics being ruled by military coups, calling themselves revolutionaries when in fact they were not. The Sudanese have experienced military rule three times in their modern history, and each time the leaders if the coup would call their movement a revolution. However, the Sudanese began to taste real popular revolutions in 1964, and so they were able to distinguish between claims and facts, and between the appearance and essence of names.

Therefore, no sooner had Omar al-Bashir issued “Statement No.1” than the Sudanese discovered the trick, and realized the true nature of the regime. Al-Bashir attempted to mislead the people by imprisoning some leaders of the Islamic Front together with other political leaderships, in order for the regime to hide its true colors, and be able to “spy” on any plans or movements by politicians seeking to regain power. Then the regime soon took off the mask, revealing its tyrannical and bloody nature when executing a group of officers in the holy month of Ramadan, under charges of planning a coup against al-Bashir. The President also executed those whom he accused of trading in foreign currency, and then established “ghost houses” which were used as locations to detain and torture whoever was arrested by the security apparatus.

In his first statement, al-Bashir justified his coup by speaking of inflation and soaring prices, the corruption prevailing in the country, and the dismissal of civil servants under the pretext of “public interest”. He also criticized the previous government which he claimed had isolated Sudan, and criticized the policies that “caused Sudanese citizens to carry weapons and fight their brothers in Darfur and South Kordofan, not to mention the national tragedy taking place in the south.” He concluded his revolutionary statement by urging the Sudanese “to revolt against chaos, corruption, as well as despair, in order to salvage the homeland and keep the country unified”.

Anyone who reads this first statement, and looks closely at the state of affairs today, would realize that the regime has failed, and that those who buried democracy did so because the National Islamic Front sought to assume power unilaterally, and keep all other powers away. The Front never believed in democracy or the peaceful exchange of authority. In fact, the “Salvation” years were not a difficult test for the Sudanese alone, but the experiment today may also be regarded as a test for Islamist rule in general, and its level of commitment to democracy. The National Islamic Front betrayed democracy and turned against it, although the Sudanese Islamists did not experience the repression, bans, or pursuits suffered by the Islamic movements in other countries. When the National Islamic Front turned against legitimacy and democracy in Sudan [prior to the 1989 coup], it was not a banned or pursued party. Rather, it had political representation and a voice in parliament, and it was part of the parliament’s opposition bloc. Yet, because the Front was not convinced of the principle of democratic practices, it planned a military coup to put an end to democracy, hence banning all other political parties and movements. It prevented all forms of free expression of opinion by imposing censorship and interrogation, and ruled by means of repression and an iron fist.

Hence the Sudanese model, if considered a test for Islamic movements in the region and their commitment to democracy, the result would be an ignominious failure, both politically and morally. By virtue of the experience in Sudan, Islamic movements have cast doubts over their true intentions, and concealed objectives. This in turn justifies those who fear them, and regard Islamic groups as entities that use democracy only as a means to gain power. They believe that and once the Islamists had achieved their goal, they would reject democracy and brand it as “illegitimate”. The numerous Islamists today who are championing the revolutions and praising democracy not only remain silent about the slaughter of democracy in Sudan, and the violation of human rights there, but they also advocated the “Salvation Regime” because of its connection with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Sudanese regime cannot convince anyone that it inspired the Arab popular uprisings and revolutions – the same claim Iran made earlier. In both cases, the claim is simply false. Rather, the Sudanese model has all the defects that Arab revolutions must avoid. In fact, the Sudanese experience has meant that all Arab Islamic movements must convince the people of their commitment to democracy, as well as to the principle of the peaceful transfer of power.