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Opinion: Bashir’s Empty Promises | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir looks on during a meeting with former South African President and head of African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) Thabo Mbeki (unseen) in Khartoum on September 10, 2014. (AFP Photo/Ashraf Shazly)

Since they assumed power in a military coup 25 years ago, Sudan’s Islamists have been adjusting their stance and policies, breaking conventions and promises. They have justified all their actions, however removed from the spirit of Islam and the tolerance the Sudanese people are known for, by claiming that “necessity knows no law.” However, despite their changeability, they have always held firm to one principle: clinging to power at any cost, while making oppression, cunning and deception their formal policy.

The recently-leaked minutes of a meeting held between Sudan’s political, military and security leaders only shocked those who had convinced themselves that the regime may change. As for the overwhelming majority, what the meeting revealed was a foregone conclusion. The meeting, attended by key ruling figures, centered almost entirely on how to use a policy of duplicity to mislead friendly countries and the internal opposition. The documents revealed that President Omar Al-Bashir’s call for national dialogue is nothing but a maneuver on the part of the government to distract opponents, confuse their calculations and use them to enhance its image ahead of the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for next year. The Islamist regime has no intention of giving up power, with its main concern being entrenching itself by preparing to confront any protests by force and occupying the opposition with a meaningless dialogue. The regime sees the forthcoming elections as a done deal through which it can extend its rule for another five years, with the opposition playing the role of legitimizing its predetermined outcome.

This view of the elections and the role of the opposition is not the result of pure speculation; instead it represents the regime’s official policy, confirmed by those who attended the meeting. According to the leaked text, none of the participants objected to this policy. They do not feel obliged to make concessions to an opposition they think only exists online. As for the armed groups, the regime is seeking to disperse, and if possible, buy them off. The Khartoum regime is also seeking to drag others into unilateral talks and compromises. Their other approach may be to step up military operations in areas such as Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile and use a policy of starvation as a weapon of war by preventing people from harvesting their crops.

Weapons will not be allocated to confront militants in conflict zones, but to fight unarmed civilians protesting against the regime and its policies, the document reveals. The minutes also revealed that the security forces have been instructed to shoot at any demonstration or gathering in order to prevent any further riots taking place, particularly during the elections. One of the officials in attendance said that the regime had managed to end the protests in Khartoum and other cities in September last year by firing live bullets, killing dozens of people.

If this is the regime’s strategy, what point is there in the opposition engaging in the dialogue called for by the president? The opposition, or a considerable segment of it, has convinced itself that it can outmaneuver the regime and succeed in dismantling it during the dialogue. Some members of the opposition believe that they can insist on demands of forming a transitional government to prepare for a constitutional conference, in what they think would be a step toward changing the make-up of the government. But these are mere dreams and delusions as the plans and objectives of the opposition have been exposed already in statements made by its leaders. By calling for dialogue, the regime is actually playing games with the opposition, with the aim of buying more time until elections, with the opposition justifying another five-year term. Indeed, the weakness of the partisan and factional opposition has empowered the Islamist government, allowing it to stay in power for the longest period in Sudan’s modern history.

The opposition is holding firm to dialogue, trying to convince itself that it can overthrow the regime by dismantling it from within. Such talk is music to the ears of a government that has succeeded through its deception to fragment and infiltrate the opposition by creating Islamist opposition movements, with the aim of making the Islamic Movement dominate both the government and the opposition at the same time.

The leaked document does not reveal any secrets about a regime that has proved willing to do anything to cling to power. But it definitely embarrasses the opposition. If the opposition does decide to go ahead with the dialogue, it will have to accept the role it has played in justifying the regime. On the other hand, if the opposition washes its hands of the dialogue, it will have to come up with a clear vision that can convince a public that is weary of both the government and the opposition.