Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat – A prominent Sudanese opposition leader, currently touring the US, predicted yesterday that if Southern Sudan chooses independence in the scheduled January referendum, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will order his troops to occupy the oil fields in the South.
Ali Mahmoud Hassanein, Deputy Chairman of the Unionist Democratic Party (UDP), a leading political party in the Sudan, in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Washington, launched a fiery attack on al-Bashir, describing him as “a dictator and a criminal”
Hassanein denied seeking US help – official or private – to topple al-Bashir, as some of his critics have claimed. However, he agreed with some US groups that al-Bashir should surrender to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has accused him of committing war crimes and genocide in Darfur, western Sudan.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the purpose of your visit to the US?
[Hassanein] I am currently living in Britain, and from there I started a campaign to establish a broad coalition whose primary objective is to topple the government of Omar al-Bashir. We believe that al-Bashir is a dictator and a criminal. This is a front that brings together all Sudanese, regardless of their past or present political affiliations. During the third week of this month, we will convene a comprehensive conference in London to develop a specific program with specific objectives. I have toured parts of Britain, and I am currently here in the US to gain support for this new front.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you planning to ask the US government for help or American private organizations?
[Hassanein] No. We only depend on the Sudanese. This is a Sudanese movement and we want to distance it from any foreign influence.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Certain groups in Washington have been calling for the arrest of President al-Bashir, following the arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide and crimes against humanity. This seems similar to your mandate. Are you intending to cooperate with these groups, on this issue at least?
[Hassanein] Of course, so long as we want al-Bashir to stand trial, we support those who support this. However these are details that will be discussed in the forthcoming general conference that will take place in London. The conference will begin by choosing a name for our movement, and then we will confirm its objectives, tools, and details.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are the Deputy Chairman of the Unionist Democratic Party (UDP), whose religious and political leader, Sayed Mohammad Osman al-Mirghani, is cooperating with al-Bashir. What does al-Mirghani think about your campaign against al-Bashir?
[Hassanein] I have disagreed with al-Mirghani on this subject and I disagree with him now, and I say this publicly. I disagree with the unfortunate situation that the political parties in Sudan have reached. Now here I am declaring my opposition to his cooperation with al-Bashir. One of the reasons for establishing our movement was our belief that the traditional Sudanese political parties have failed to reflect the aspirations of the Sudanese people. They have been inflicted by inept leadership, and have been dominated by certain families. This doesn’t just apply to the UDP, but all other traditional political parties as well.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Recently, leaders from your own party, the UDP, have called for your resignation because of your stance on the ICC, which is contrary to the UDP position. What is your opinion of this?
[Hassanein] Why would I resign from a party that I have supported all my life? Why would I leave the oldest and most significant party, in the history of Sudan? I am a Unionist, I always have been, and I will die a Unionist.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some leaders in the ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP), have criticized you for leading a Sudanese political movement from outside Sudan – conducting your operations from Britain and America – likening this to “hotel activism.” What is your response to this?
[Hassanein] Last year, I was in Sudan and was arrested by al-Bashir’s security forces. This was not only because of my deep-rooted opposition to the regime, but also because of my stand on the ICC. Before I was released, I was visited by senior security officials who, in a clear and direct manner, threatened to kill me if I continued my political stand. Therefore, some of my friends and relatives advised me to leave Sudan, and that is why I am now living in London.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why are you calling for al-Bashir to surrender to the ICC?
[Hassanein] Firstly, he committed war crimes and genocide in Darfur.
Secondly, the Sudanese judicial system is controlled by al-Bashir. How can this system try him at all, let alone fairly?
Thirdly, there are three separate branches of government in Sudan; executive, legislative and judiciary. But these three branches, and the whole country in general, are controlled by a network of security and intelligence agencies.
Finally, the Sudanese constitution calls for the trial of the president only in the case of high treason, and not for genocide or war crimes. In that respect, we believe that al-Bashir is acting in accordance with a constitution that he and his advisers wrote themselves.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Recently, the US has decreased its pressure on al-Bashir, and last week President Barack Obama, attending an UN-sponsored conference on Sudan, implied that the relationship between the two countries is improving. Would you describe this as being unhelpful to your campaign against al-Bashir?
[Hassanein] How can the US offer concessions to al-Bashir, whilst he is captive [to US sanctions] at the same time? The US is imposing punishments on al-Bashir, and not vice-versa. The US has been sanctioning al-Bashir ever since he came to power (1989), when he declared his “Islamic Civilization Project”. This clearly endangered US interests in the region, and the entire world. After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, which was sponsored by the US, it became clear that the US wanted Southern Sudan to secede. So, now as the referendum in the South is getting closer and closer, the US, as expected, is appeasing al-Bashir so that he will not endanger the new state in the South. But, I believe this appeasement is temporary.
Also, don’t forget that the US didn’t declare the last general elections in Sudan (last April) illegal and unacceptable, although they claimed the elections were not free and fair. Why? Because the US is interested in appeasing al-Bashir, for the sake of the South’s secession.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do Sudan’s Islamists want the South to secede?
[Hassanein] I will give you two examples:
Firstly, recently “Rabitat Ulama’a Alsudan” (Sudan’s Islamic Scholars Association) issued a statement; not regarding a united or divided Sudan, but claiming that the leaders of Sudan’s Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) are infidels. The statement called on the Muslims not to cooperate with them, eat with them, sell to them, buy from them or rent houses to them.
Secondly, also recently, “Jama’at Ansar Alsunna” (Followers of the Sunnah) issued a statement; again not regarding free and fair elections, or referendums, but stating that the idea of elections and a referendum was, basically, secular, Western, and non-Islamic. If it was inevitable that elections were to be held, they should exclude women, seculars and non-Muslims. Anyone who rejects this should be considered an ‘infidel’, and war should be declared upon them.
So, these two examples highlight the extreme Islamic beliefs of these people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does al-Bashir himself support the secession of the South?
[Hassanein] Before he came to power (1989), when his mentor, Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, cooperated with the military government of President Jafar Nimeiri (1969-1985), al-Turabi declared that the Islamists’ fundamental and main goal was a Sudan ruled by Islamic Sharia [law]. They encouraged Nimeiri to declare Sharia laws, and after Nimeiri was toppled, during the second democratic era (1985-1989), the Islamists participated in negotiations between the Northerners and Southerners. However, all the Islamists talked about was [Islamic] Sharia law.
In 1989, all the Northern political parties agreed to hold a conference, which was designed to include the Southerners, with the intention of agreeing a ceasefire. However, before the conference date, al-Bashir led a military coup (1989) that took over the country. He dissolved all political parties, and declared Jihad on our Southern brothers. In 1992, in Frankfurt, Germany, al-Bashir’s representatives, and Southern leaders, signed an agreement stipulating a ceasefire, and the self-determination of the South.
So, it has been clear throughout the years, that the Islamists have not been interested in Sudan’s unity. Rather, their main goal has been the predominance of Sharia rule, if not in the whole of Sudan, then in the North.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will al-Bashir accept the results of the forthcoming referendum in the South?
[Hassanein] Don’t forget the new and highly significant factor in these developments: the discovery and production of oil in the South. Al-Bashir and his followers have changed their priorities: from ideology to business, and from the Sharia to oil. They have become largely preoccupied with oil companies, pipelines, refineries, explorations, exports and revenues. Initially, al-Bashir denied the South its fair share of oil revenues. However, after the CPA agreement with the South in 2005, he reluctantly, and because of foreign pressure, accepted a fair share for the South.
Now, as the referendum in the South is getting closer, Al-Bashir is worried more about the oil than about the Sharia. Ninety percent of Sudan’s export revenues are from oil. Without oil, Al-Bashir’s government will be bankrupt; and will eventually disappear, because I believe that an economic fall precedes a political fall.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you think will happen if the South opts to secede?
[Hassanein] Now, before the referendum, al-Bashir is secretly doing all that he can to obstruct the referendum, if not to cancel it. Of course he is now declaring that the referendum will take place on time and that he will accept its results. But don’t believe these people, I know them very well.
There are two possibilities: either the Southerners will choose secession, or, if the referendum is cancelled or if its results are questioned, they will declare unilateral independence (from their parliament in Juba). In both cases, Al-Bashir will declare, on TV in a national address to the nation, that the oil fields are in danger and that Sudan’s national security is at stake. He will then declare that he has ordered the armed forces to take control of the oil fields.
On the other hand, the newly established Southern state will declare that the oil fields are part of its new country, and thus they will be defended. Mind you, this is not just a scenario; this is an actual plan that has been implemented in the South since the 2005 CPA. The Southerners have been busy purchasing tanks, planes, guns and ammunitions. They have known all along that al-Bashir will not let the oil fields go.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How would you respond to those who say that this is an extremely pessimistic scenario?
[Hassanein] This is what will happen. Not only will there be renewed war in the South, but, also in Darfur, the east and other parts of Sudan.