Khartoum, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an Exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat from his home in Khartoum, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir discusses the current political situation in Sudan, stating that an agreement with the original Democratic Unionist Party has been reached, while talks with the Ummah Party continue at a positive rate.
Al-Bashir also stated that the events in Southern Kurdufan and the Blue Nile are a foreign plot aimed at regime change, and “we know who stands behind it
Al-Bashir also admitted that there is inflation, but said that it is “justified” due to the high prices internationally as a result of the rise in the petroleum products, the low domestic product, and the [failure to] dispense with the imported commodities.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us about the political participation by individuals and Sudanese political forces in the expected ministerial setup?
[Al-Bashir] One of our (firm) programs and constants is to expand the participation in the public political work. The first article in our programs and strategy is peace, and the second article is national unity and allowing the chance for others to participate in the public political work. The participation does not necessarily mean participation in the government, but in the public political work. We have tried, and continue to try to admit the largest number of parties in the government even after the elections and their results, which gave us the overwhelming majority, we have not ruled unilaterally but worked to give the chance for the others. We remained in constant dialogue with the other parties and political forces except for those who rejected dialogue. The axes of the dialogue have been on the vision of the political forces for the type of governance and how to run the public affairs of the state. It can be said that we have reached an agreement on the general program with the Democratic Unionist Party (the original one) and the dialogue is continuing with the Ummah Party, and an agreement has been reached on many aspects by about 70 percent. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi (leader of the National Ummah Party) has made a statement to this effect. However, some people think that their vision is the right one, but the issue is the result of a dialogue and communication among the people so that they reach an agreement. It is the stage of administering the dialogue among the political forces with the aim of reaching a joint vision, and then the second stage would be the stage of how to participate in the government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your vision for tackling the problem of rebellion in both Southern Kurdufan and the Blue Nile by the People’s Movement?
[Al-Bashir] The rebellion that has taken place in Southern Kurdufan and the Blue Nile is considered a large setback in the peace process. We had warned against this scenario and that the referendum would lead to secession, and then a civil war would take place because we are fully aware of the conspiracy against Sudan, and this is not something new since plotting began in 1955 in the form of a rebellion, but it was as a measure to divide Sudan and destabilizing it, it began with the issuance of the landlocked areas law in the last century, and it was the main reason for the rebellion and all the problems in Sudan. We see now that the rebellion has spread to these landlocked areas. Our information says that the agreements have been designed to change the regime in Sudan and that this change be from inside after the People’s Movement participates in the government. This scheme has been mentioned by the anti-US political forces, but it failed. They accepted to start with the secession of the south. We say that the plotting would not be restricted to this, and it is clear that the incomplete security arrangements for the forces of the movement in Southern Kurdufan and the Blue Nile was deliberate so that they become the nucleus of reserve forces to start a new rebellion.
If we look at the beginning of the war in Southern Kurdufan, it is clear to all that we have accepted the democratic political game and free and honest elections were held as the international, regional, and local observers testified. Abdulaziz al-Hilu failed and lost in the elections. This is what has been confirmed by the results of the elections in the geographic constituencies since the National Congress won 22 constituencies while the Movement won 10 constituencies. This is a confirmation of the popular weight of the National Congress in the area. It is noted that the voting rate has been higher in the areas controlled by the Movement, which it used to call the (liberated areas). The voting rate was very high and there was no invalid votes compared with the areas that the government is controlling, where the voting rate was weak, and in some areas it was only 30 percent with the presence of many invalid votes. Therefore, the talk about the presence of forgery is refuted because the voting rate was 100 percent in the areas of the Movement, while it was about 30 percent in the government’s areas. Their intentions have become clear that they were preparing for war when they failed in the elections. Therefore, they infiltrated a large number of their forces from the south and the White Nile into Southern Kurdufan, and we were surprised by the presence of additional forces from the People’s Movement in the position of the joint forces. It is clear that they have prepared to wage a war and enter Kadugli and usurp it. Their calculations have been that they would enter Kadugli within two hours. Al-Hilu informed a number of figures, including US envoy [Preston] Lehman, that they are going to carry out military operations, but God’s will has been stronger than them and they failed in their plot, and it has been a great loss for them because the armed forces repelled them and controlled the city. It was a large operation, and the plan aimed to launch a war in Southern Kurdufan simultaneously with the Blue Nile operations and activate the operations of some Darfur movements at a certain time, and the goal was to move toward Khartoum.
The failure of the Kadguli plot led Malik Aqqar to become hesitant and retreat because he lost the source from which he derived his strength. We believe that this plot is a foreign one that aimed to change the regime, and we know the side that is standing behind it. They have the feeling that the situation in Egypt has gone outside their control and they failed to control the political arena; therefore, they should besiege Egypt from the gates of Sudan and Khartoum. It is clear that the political developments in the region are going on contrary to Israel’s interests.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it possible to have negotiations with both Malik Aqqar, leader of the People’s Movement — the northern branch, and Abdulaziz al-Hilu, the deputy leader, in order to reach peace in the two areas?
[Al-Bashir] In order to achieve peace, since we have lost a dear part of Sudan (the south) we will support any effort to achieve peace, but there are red lines that cannot be crossed, which is that there will be no return to Machakos and the protocols, but we have the protocol concerning the Blue Nile in accordance with the Nivasha agreement. We will not seek anything new unless we implement what has been agreed on, which is that as we have carried out the security arrangements in accordance with Nivasha; therefore, the Movement’s forces should fully withdraw from the north, and the northern elements in the SPLA forces should be discharged from service as we did with all the southern elements, which were working in the armed forces. They have been laid off after they got their full rights. As you know, the number of the (northern) youths relieved from the SPLA forces is very large, and they are disciplined and trained people, and we should find something for them, and this is not part of the agreement but it is part of our responsibilities as a government toward its criticizes who were working as soldiers and officers in SPLA. We have formed a committee to study and tackle the issue, and it has been concluded that they should be absorbed in the armed forces, police, and the public civil service, and the rest would be merged into the society. It has become clear that they want a new agreement, and we consider the presence of the Movement’s forces illegal.
As for the political process, the protocol is very clear, which is the popular counseling that the elected legislative council are going to carry out in Southern Kurdufan and the Blue Nile. As for the Blue Nile, the popular counseling has made great strides by nearly 80 percent, but the problem is in the citizens’ opinion concerning the province, which does not go in line with the ambitions of Malik Aqqar who aspires that the popular counseling would lead to self-rule for the Blue Nile Province, while the masses demand more development and services. Therefore, there is no justification for Malik Aqqar to fabricate a problem with the government. As for Southern Kurdufan, regrettably, the operation has been nipped in the bud, but we are committed to carry out the popular counseling.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the Sudanese Government’s options concerning resolving the pending issues between you and the government of South Sudan, particularly concerning the issues of oil, joint border, the area of Abyei, and other issues?
[Al-Bashir] As for the border, the border committee has agreed on 80 percent of the border. We agree with them on something, and regrettably, some influential people in the People’s Movement and the southern government obstruct the agreement. We agreed to demarcate the border on which there is an agreement. This has been more than two years ago. As for the disputed areas, the present administrative situation will remain without interference until the issue regarding them is decisively resolved. These are the areas of the commercial Jawdah-Kaka and Jabal and Muqaynis, which is on the border with the Upper Nile, and the area of Kifyaqinji in Darfur and Bahr al-Ghazal.
As for oil, the reality is that there are two neighbouring countries that should coexist. Oil, which was part of the north, should be compensated for in the transitional period. If a gap takes place in the coming four years, it would be as a result of the loss of oil. We estimated it by about $10 billion, and the International Monetary Fund estimated it at about $9 billion dollars. The agreement calls for covering the gap by taking $32 for every barrel of the southern oil that is exported through Sudan. We gave the government of South Sudan a transitional period in which an agreement is reached by the end of October. If we do not reach a solution, then we have our options for solving this issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about what is said by some political and media circles about the presence of differences within the National Congress (the ruling party)?
[Al-Bashir] The talk about differences within the National Congress is in fact wishes of some political forces. We are an open party and we discuss our affairs and issues in full freedom and transparency, and there is no problem if the people have different views on a certain issue, but in the end, all abide by the decisions that the majority agrees on. As an example of this is that brother Nafi signed an agreement (the framework agreement with the People’s Movement) and this agreement was presented to the Leadership Bureau of the National Congress. After an open, detailed, and serious discussion that continued from 9 pm until 4 am, the Leadership Bureau did not flatter brother Dr Nafi (the assistant to the president of the republic) as the meeting was under his chairmanship and he was the one who signed the agreement, but the Bureau rejected the agreement. The person who acquainted me with what happened at the Leadership Bureau was Nafi personally. He explained the agreement to me and what happened at the Bureau, and in the end the decision of the Leadership Bureau that rejected the agreement was implemented. The people say that the president was the one who rejected the agreement although I did not participate in the discussion in the first place. I am the head of the Leadership Bureau of the National Congress and the one responsible for informing the citizens of the decision. This confirms that we are an open party and no person can impose his opinion, and the other opinion does not mean that there is a split. This is a real enrichment of the democratic work.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about your successor for the post of the president of the republic in case you do not nominate yourself for another presidential term? Will those born in the 1940’s be excluded from succession to give the chance for other generations?
[Al-Bashir] I do not say a successor for the presidency, but we say the candidate of the National Congress for the post of the president of the republic. In the end, the Sudanese people are the ones who choose the president and the authority is that of the General Congress, which is (the Congress) the side that elects a chairman for the National Congress. According to the statute of the National Congress, the chairman of the National Congress is its candidate for the post of the president of the republic. Therefore, any talk about a certain successor is unlikely because this is the authority of the Congress, which in turn elects a chairman for the National Congress, and therefore, he would be its candidate for the presidency of the republic. Yes, I call for renewing the youth of the party and the state to give the chance for the young men because they have energy and they should get the chance to have training on leadership. I believe that the government, which was formed after the elections included a high percentage of young ministers and ministers of state, and some of whom have become acting ministers. I also believe that we have a very excellent crew of young men, and this does not mean that we may dispose of the old figures because all those who are able to give should continue to do so. On my part, I call for following a policy and standards on how to choose the leaders, and the age factor is one of the standards. It is a proposal I made and has thus far not been implemented or become the prevailing option.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your vision for tackling the economic conditions in terms of the problem of the daily living for the Sudanese citizen, particularly what is relates to inflation?
[Al-Bashir] As for the high prices, I think that it is justified (such as the case of the imported commodities) since it is known that there is a wave of high prices a s a result of the price hikes of the petroleum products, which is basic for the production whether it is industrial, agricultural, or services production. This is one of the reasons of the high prices. The other reason is the low value of the national currency, which in turn leads to a rise in prices. I think that the solution is through expanding the national production and dispose of the imported commodities. There are some domestic products such as tomatoes for example, which is the food of the poor as the journalists call it. It is cheap and available during the season of its production (winter) but when it is produced outside its season, its production would be weak and its cost would be high. In addition to this, a disease has hit tomato this season and no pesticide has been able to combat it. Now, there is a study on plants to find a pesticide to combat this new insect. As for meat, the increase in its prices is unjustified and was due to the rigging by the traders because most of the cattle eat in the natural grazing land, so their cost is low. The best way for fighting high prices is the boycott, which was called for by the Consumer Protection Society. It is an effective way to lead to the decline in its prices. The idealist means is to reduce the consumption. As for the state, its role is represented in stopping the taxes and the levying of money and shifting them from the areas of production to the areas of consumption, and providing water and security protection [to the cattle] until they reach the market.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the rumour that you are going to end the subsidy to some necessary commodities, and what about your effort to call off Sudan’s foreign debts?
[Al-Bashir] I think that the subsidy is an injustice by all standards to the state and the citizen, particularly the poor citizen or the one whose income is limited because the indirect subsidy is a subsidy for consumer products, which means a subsidy for the consumers. Sugar is an example on this. We know that the consumption of the poor person is low and is limited to two or three cups of tea everyday compared with the higher consumption of the rich people (Candy and soda drinks). So, we are subsidizing the big consumer, and this subsidy comes from the state money (the public funds) and not the money of Umar al-Bashir or the finance minister. Therefore, you are taking the money from the poor citizens and use it to subsidize the rich.
We want to change the subsidy from an indirect subsidy to a direct one in a way that the subsidy would be for the poor and the unfortunate. The Ministry of Social Security is making a survey of the poor families that really need a real subsidy by supporting their children at the universities or by extending financial subsidy for these families. As for the other form of subsidy, it is the subsidy for those who have limited income (state employees and retirees). There was earlier experience when we stopped part of the subsidy on petroleum products and sugar and sent the revenue to the direct subsidy for those who have limited income (increasing the salaries and pensions). The other thing is that the indirect subsidy encourages smuggling of these commodities to the neighbouring countries. Therefore, the indirect subsidy benefits the big consumers and the rich, and it leads to smuggling of the subsidized commodities. There is a third group that benefits from this indirect subsidy, such as the embassies and the organizations. All of them take subsidized goods. Hence, we are subsidizing the US ambassador in Khartoum (laughing).
As for the debts, from the technical perspective, all international establishments say that we met all the conditions for writing off the debts. First, we are a country that has come out of a war. Second, we are considered one of the least developed countries. Third, is that we have carried out an economic program to restructure the Sudanese economy, and it was a successful program as all these establishments have testified. Therefore, we have met all the conditions for writing off the debts, and what is left is a political decision. We have not remained handcuffed since we have made efforts with the big and influential countries such as Britain, the United States, and France, as well as some Arab countries.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] We have not heard about the measures concerning setting up of a commission to combat corruption after you announced it. Are the reasons for this call still valid or are you not convinced that there is corruption by the members of the government and the National Congress?
[Al-Bashir] I have suggested the idea of establishing a commission to combat corruption; therefore, this commission is considered a state establishment. It was supposed to have a non-governmental establishment that is based on transparency to combat corruption. As a government, the minister of justice has presented his vision on this issue. We believe now that there are many governmental mechanisms that are sufficient to combat corruption represented in the law on illegal profiteering, which is an advanced law that when activated would cover and deal with a large part of the corruption. As for the other establishment, it is what is called the public funds prosecution. I think that the two establishments are very sufficient to cover the governmental effort in combating corruption, and what is left is the popular aspect that is represented in the commission.
To our regret, instead of shaping the public opinion, the press is influenced by the talk that takes place in the saloons without strong evidence. One of the journalists who used to write a lot about corruption was invited by the minister of justice who explained to him the law on illegal profiteering and the public funds prosecution and their duties and asked him to show him the documents he is having to see if they [the corruption charges he wrote about] can be covered in the law on illegal profiteering or the public funds prosecution. The journalist replied that he does not have evidence. When asked about what he writes, he said that the people speak about the presence of corruption. We have a different intention. Instead of establishing a commission to combat corruption, there is a tendency to let part of our office follow up on what is written in the press about corruption and investigate it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about your relations with Egypt after the revolution and the revolutionaries of Libya in terms of drawing foreign policies that have a strategic dimension?
[Al-Bashir] In the case of the revolution in Egypt, it is a street revolution that has no leaders so that one can deal with. The revolution has not lasted for long (18 days). We have immediately contacted our brothers in the Military Council because we consider the relationship between Egypt and Sudan a special and strong relationship that has many dimensions. We held a meeting (here) with the Military Council. However, we consider all these transitional establishments; therefore, we have not sought to solve the basic issues such as the issue of Halayib, which is a crucial one. We do not want the transitional establishments to shoulder the responsibility for these issues and we are waiting for the formation of a permanent government. We can say that much of the indifference, confusion, and negative things in the relationship between Egypt and Sudan are over.
I openly say that Egypt, during the era of Hosni Mubarak, was part of the plotting against Sudan. But now the Egyptian Military Council has a full conviction that Sudan stands as a national security for Egypt whether it is a food security or the water, military, and information security, or others. I believe that it is an excellent and important conviction that had been absent in the case of the former Egyptian regime. We have full belief that the one who will come [to lead Egypt] would be brought by the popular revolution and through the elections that would lead to a better ability to make the decisions. We are very reassured about the future of our relations with Egypt. As for Libya, I believe that we had been the most harmed by Gaddafi’s regime after the Libyan people. Therefore, we have not hesitated to deal with the revolutionaries and support them and provide them with what they need. Regrettably, Libya does not have political establishments and organizations such as the case of Egypt. The Libyan people have been united in their effort to remove Gaddafi, and our first concern was that Libya does not change into a new Somalia because the scenario in Somalia was that the whole people had been united against [former Somali President] Mohammed Siad Barre, and when he fell, the dispute took place. Our concern was of a dispute may take place among the Libyan people after ousting Gaddafi. Of course, there are foreign interferences that try to influence the National Transitional Council, and consequently, the expected new government, and when these interferences reached the conclusion that their influence is weak on the situation in Egypt, they decided to influence the upcoming situation (the new government) in Libya so that it does not become a depth for Egypt. As you know, Libya has huge and attractive capabilities, and it produces about 1.5 million barrels of oil every day, and its population is just 4 million people and has a long coast on the Mediterranean on the opposite side of Europe.