Khartoum, Asharq Al-Awsat- In what many are calling a political bombshell, the son of Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the opposition Al-Umma Party, has joined the Sudanese security and intelligence agency.
High ranking members of Al-Umma Party who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat said they expected that the step would lead to a second split in the Party between members supportive of participation in the present Government and those opposed who consider such a step as “normalization” with the Government of President Umar al-Bashir.
The Party remains tight-lipped concerning Bishri al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, 30, joining the Sudanese security body. Al-Umma leaders refused to comment on the report while the Party leader is on a European tour. The daughter of al-Mahdi, Maryam, who is the party’s assistant secretary general for contacts, said “this is a matter that concerns Bishri alone”. But sources in Al-Umma, who requested anonymity in view of the sensitivity of their position in the Party, did not exclude the possibility that Bishri was appointed in the security body with the approval of his father who until recently was considered among the bitterest enemies of al-Bashir’s regime. Government officials declined comment on the report which is gripping the attention of the Sudanese political arena.
The sources said that Al-Umma Party was now simmering with conflicts among those who support participation in the Government, led by the sons of al-Mahdi at various levels of the Party, and those who are against participation. The most prominent among those is Dr Adam Musa Madbo, a former minister of energy and one of the traditional leaders in the Party. The sources said that appointing Bishri, a 2001 graduate of the Military Academy in Cairo, in the security body is tantamount to pouring oil on fire “and means for some of the opponents of participation that participation has already taken place”, as they put it.
According to the sources, the issue of participation was settled within the last week and that it was now “only a matter of arrangements”. They linked the step to the rapprochement propagated from party pulpits of late by al-Mahdi. The sources, who are from among those who do not favor participation, did not exclude the possibility that al-Mahdi’s praise of the government was tantamount to preparation for the step. They expected an announcement over the coming days that a group of Al-Umma militias known as Al-Umma Army–which returned from abroad in 2001 when the party decided to end the armed resistance and to return to the interior–would join the Government through taking positions in various bodies.
The sources said that the process of normalization which is being pursued through these appointments will raise a storm at the first meeting of the Party, which is already split over the issue of participation. They mentioned that so far the Party’s decision was not to participate except through free and fair elections, and that this was adopted in the year 2002–a decision that was rejected at the time by the supporters of participation in the Government, led by Mubarak al-Fadil al-Mahdi who spearheaded a campaign against Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi and opted to split from the Party and participate in the government.
The sources also sated that several sectors within the National al-Umma Party strongly reject Bishri’s joining the agency because they believe this “could send many positive messages for free”.
Reports of Bishri’s joining the security agency coincide with press leaks that the dialogue taking place between the National Congress Party led by President al-Bashir and Al-Umma led by al-Mahdi would lead to the appointment of Maryam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi in the post of Minister of State at the Ministry of Social Welfare, as part of power-sharing arrangements between the two parties.
Bishri graduated with an excellent degree from the Military Academy in Egypt in 2001.He returned to Sudan and applied to join the Armed Forces, together with his companion Sayfaldin Babo Nimr, the son of one of the traditional leaders of al-Umma Party. But officials in al-Bashir Government rejected their applications. Bishri is the youngest son of al-Mahdi from his eldest wife Hafiya. He is brother to Umm Salma, Randa, Zaynab, and Siddiq; and half-brother (on the side of al-Sadiq’s youngest wife Sara) to Maryam, assistant secretary general for organizational contacts in the Party, Abdul Rahman, Ribah, Tahra, and Muhammad Ahmad. Bishri is the second of al-Mahdi sons to study at a Military Academy, after Abdul-Rahman who graduated from the Military Academy in Jordan in the 1980’s and was appointed upon returning as first lieutenant in paratrooper forces, when his father al-Mahdi was Prime Minister of the democratic government that followed the 1986 elections. But Abdul Rahman was dismissed from military service in the first physical checkup for military personnel undertaken after President al-Bashir assumed power in a 1989 military coup.
Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi had consistently accused the intelligence agency of targeting him. He once said that the present head of that agency was one of those who threatened him with assassination and liquidation during the investigations that used to be conducted with him from time to time, before he left the country in the 1990’sthrough an operation called “tahtadun” [to be guided to righteousness].
Al-Mahdi continued to describe the Sudanese security body as oppressive and accuse it of fragmenting his party.