Sudan Elections 2015: A Brief Who is Who.
Part 2: Sudan’s Opposition Parties for the 2015 Elections (Main Parties)
Sudan’s 2015 elections are scheduled for April, despite calls from Sudan’s opposition parties to postpone the decision in order to provide more time for the “national dialogue” that began in January 2014 to bear fruit. It is still unclear whether President Omar al-Bashir of the National Congress Party (NCP) will be declared eligible to run for president again (laws must be changed for that to happen, and a few people have been dismissed from prominent posts for stating that the president will NOT be eligible), and also whether opposition parties will boycott again as they did in 2010. In preparation for the 2015 Sudan elections, this series is a brief background of a few of the more prominent Sudanese political parties and individuals in the political scene in Sudan. Part 1 of Sudan Elections 2015 outlines the basics of the National Congress Party and its support group, the Islamic Movement. Part 2 of this series focuses on the political opposition, and Part 3 on the armed opposition.Note: I have included the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) here, as they were an opposition party prior to fracturing as Mohamed al-Mirghani joined the NCP government in 2011. The news has been very quiet about the DUP and I expect their stance to emerge more clearly in the coming months as the election comes closer.
The Semi-Opposition Party: Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)
Sudan’s DUP claims to be the oldest political party in Sudan. Molded in opposition to the Ansar followers of the Mahdi (see Umma Party section below), the Unionists called for the unity of the Nile valley, a stance that looked to favor union with Egypt after Sudan’s independence, but decided against union once Sudan actually gained independence in 1956. Supported by the Khatmiyya Sufi order founded by Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani (whose descendent by the same name is still active in Sudanese politics), the National Unionist Party also was favored in British eyes in the years before Sudan’s independence. The Unionists won a majority in the 1953 elections and Ismail al-Azhari became the prime minister and later served briefly as president of Sudan after its independence. The National Unionist Party merged with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 1967 to form the DUP. After having been banned while Nimeiry’s rule lasted, the DUP reemerged to participate in a coalition government with the Umma Party in 1986. Ahmed al-Mirghani became president of Sudan while Sadiq al-Mahdi was Prime Minister. Unionist leaders (specifically the Mirghani family) spent much of Bashir’s presidency in exile in Egypt. Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani returned to Sudan in 2008 and in 2011 joined a coalition government with Omar al-Bashir.
Leader: Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani
Of note: Mirghani’s decision to join Bashir’s government in 2011 prompted a split in the party, with the Unionist Movement opting to remain in opposition.
The Main “True” Opposition Parties (as of July 2014)
(I say “true” because in pursuit of a minimal winning coalition, these parties float in and out of opposition to the ruling National Congress Party)
The Political Umbrella Organization: National Consensus Forces (NCF)
The National Consensus Forces is an umbrella organization that unifies opposition parties seeking to remove the NCP from power. It is a rather loose coalition and some weaknesses have appeared in the unity of the party over the course of 2014 as various members have sided with the NCP or against the NCP during the national dialogue process.
Popular Congress Party (PCP)
So far in 2014, the PCP has wavered somewhat on its stance with regard to the NCP. In May the party revealed ongoing contacts with the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), the umbrella organization consisted of armed opposition groups. Nevertheless, the PCP has more recently worked with the NCP to keep the national dialogue process running, while accusing the opposition of failing to provide a viable alternative. The alignment is tense, with Ismail Hussein (head of the PCP parliamentary bloc) recently being expelled from a session aimed at amending the 2008 electoral laws. The leadership of Sudan’s Popular Congress Party has roots in the Muslim Brotherhood as it emerged in Sudan through the Islamic Charter Front in the 1960s. PCP’s ideology is pan-Islamic. As espoused, it encourages Islamic democracy freed from Western ideology through the unity of the Islamic community and proposes to bridge the gap between the traditional and the modern. In writing, Hassan al-Turabi’s version of political Islam is “tolerant, pluralistic… more reminiscent of Locke and Jefferson than of Khomeini,” according to Judith Miller’s analysis soon after Turabi backed President Omar al-Bashir’s 1989 coup (Miller 1992).
Hassan al-Turabi (PCP)
Hailing from Kassala (southeastern Sudan, bordering Eritrea), Turabi comes from a line of Islamic scholars steeped in the Sufi tradition, but which did not align themselves with the Sufi brotherhoods active in Sudanese politics. He received his MA in Law from the University of London and then a Ph.D. at the Sorbonne in Paris. While heavily involved in politics in Sudan (notably in the discussion of Shari’a law that contributed to the outbreak of war in 1983 and in the overthrow of Sadiq al-Mahdi in 1989), Turabi has also gained significant recognition as a scholar of modern Islam. According to Turabi (1983: 243), “The phrase ‘Islamic state’ itself is a misnomer. The state is only the political dimension of the collective endeavor of Muslims.” It may be argued that his pan-Islamic rhetoric paved the way for Sudan’s cooperation with Iran following the June 30 Revolution (1989); on the local front, his theology has been in conflict with many of the actions carried out by governments with which he was involved. Nevertheless, as Mahmoud Mamdani has observed,
“Many have emphasized Turabi’s opportunism in practical politics but failed to recognize that it was not his practical opportunism but his theoretical perspective that set Turabi apart from other politicians. It is what he said, not what he did, that galvanized non-Arab Islamists and explains his long-term impact on Sudanese politics” (Mamdani 2009:196).
Since his ouster from the National Assembly in 1999, Turabi has spent much of the time under arrest or house arrest, more recently being freed to engage in political activism and networking for the PCP. He is about 82 years old but continues as a controversial figure in Sudanese politics due in part to his role in bringing about Shari’a legislation in the early 1980s, contributing to the outbreak of the Second Sudanese Civil War, and due also to the harsh violence against South Sudan that he supported during the 1990s, despite his denials that he has had anything to do with South Sudan.
Other notable PCP members:
- Kamal Omer Abdel-Salam, Political Secretary
- Bashir Adam Rahama, Secretary of External Relations
- Ismail Hussein, head of PCP parliamentary bloc
National Umma Party (NUP)
To clear up some misunderstandings that may arise from conflating the “U” for “Unionist” with that which stands for “Umma,” I will refer to this as the “Umma Party”. Sudan’s Umma Party has been on the political scene in the country for much longer than either the PCP or NCP. Emerging as a pro-independence party in 1945, during the later years of Anglo-Egyptian condominium rule in Sudan, the party garnered much of its support from the Ansar tariqa (brotherhood), the supporters of the Mahdist rebellion of the 1880s who favored “Sudan for the Sudanese”. This was in contrast to the National Unionist Party (also NUP, later DUP – see above), which favored union with Egypt. Much of the support for the Umma has traditionally come from southern and western Sudan (Kordofan and Darfur). Although the roots of the party lie in an Islamic rebellion led by the Mahdi, the Umma is a relatively centrist Islamic party, reflecting its roots in the more rural areas of Sudan and in Sufi practices. “Centrist” in this case is a relative term. The Umma Party has favored Shari’a law, even over Southern Sudan before its independence, but its approach to politics is perhaps somewhat more grounded in Sudanese tradition than that of the NCP or PCP.
The Umma Party’s Abdallah Khalil served as the second Prime Minister of Sudan from July 1956 to November 1958 before carrying out a self-coup against his own government that placed a military junta in power for the next six years. Following the demise of Ibrahim Abboud’s military regime, the Umma again took control of the National Assembly from 1965-1969. During the height of the Cold War, Gaafar al-Nimeiry’s Sudanese Socialist Union then ruled over a period of relative peace until after the outbreak of the Second Sudanese Civil War. The Umma again controlled parliament from May 1986 until Omar al-Bashir came to power by coup on June 30, 1989. Throughout its history, the Umma Party has experienced fissures, generally between various members of the Mahdi family who claim leadership.
Sadiq al-Mahdi is the great-grandson of Mohammed Ahmed al-Mahdi, the self-proclaimed Mahdi (“rightly guided one”) who led the rebellion against Anglo-Egyptian rule in the 1880s. Sadiq is the grandson of Umma Party founder ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi. He served as Prime Minister of Sudan for a brief stint from July 1966 to May 1967 and again for a longer period from May 1986 until he was deposed in Omar al-Bashir’s 30 June coup. Hassan al-Turabi (see above), one of the masterminds of the coup, is al-Mahdi’s brother-in-law. Al-Mahdi spent about two years in prison until 1991, and then left Sudan and participated in the organization of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), an umbrella organization that sought to overthrow Bashir’s government until 2005.
Al-Mahdi withdrew from Sudan’s 2010 elections in protest over the electoral processes. In the year leading up to the 2015 elections he has been forthcoming as a proponent of democratic elections and a strong critic of the Government of Sudan’s repressive policies and lack of transparency. On May 15, 2014, he was called to trial over statements he made about the Rapid Support Forces (RSF, also known as “Janjawiid”) committing serious abuses against civilians in Darfur and Kordofan. He was subsequently jailed for a month, and in a speech soon after his June 15 release, he again strongly criticized Bashir’s national dialogue process as a “false dawn” of freedom.
Other Notable Umma Party Members include:
(I should say included for this one) Mubarak al-Fadil al-Mahdi: A cousin of Sadiq al-Mahdi, Fadil approached al-Mahdi about rejoining the Umma Party in early May, 2014. Sadiq al-Mahdi refused to allow him to rejoin the Umma Party, with which he had fallen out in 2002, after which he served briefly as Presidential Adviser on Economic Affairs before Bashir sacked him (he also formed the Umma Reform and Renewal Party – URRP). He rejoined the Umma Party in 2011 before again defecting in 2012. We shall see if he follows Sadiq’s recommendation and establishes his own political party in the coming months.
Ibrahim al-Amin, Secretary General
Meriam al-Mahdi (Sadiq’s daughter), Deputy Chairperson
Reform Now Party (RNP)
Ghazi Salah al-Deen al-Attabani’s remarks in October 2013 that Omar al-Bashir was constitutionally barred from running for president in 2015 lost Attabani his position as head of the NCP parliamentary caucus but placed him in a position to head his own opposition party. The RNP emerged more or less as a splinter faction of the NCP, and has itself recently splintered, giving rise to “RNP-Correcting the Path,” led by Al-Tayeb Abdel-Azim. The RNP suspended its participation in the national dialogue in early June after al-Mahdi’s arrest and other crackdowns on freedom of speech. The RNP, like other opposition parties, has expressed its view of the national dialogue as worthless on numerous occasions, and as of July 15 refuted claims that it had rejoined the national dialogue process.
Sudanese Congress Party (SCP)
With operations based in an-Nuhud in the recently re-established state of West Kordofan, the Sudan Congress Party is a smaller opposition group that has recently garnered media attention as its leader, Ibrahim al-Sheikh, was arrested on June 8, 2014 for criticizing the RSF militia (on similar charges to those Sadiq al-Mahdi faced). Several times in June and July, security forces stormed the SCP’s headquarters in an-Nuhud, taking some party members into custody and allegedly tampering with documents and physical property.
Other Opposition Parties Include:
Sudan Arab Ba’ath Party, led by Mohamed Ali Jadin and represented in the NCF by Mohamed Diaa Al-Din
Nasserite Unitary Party, led by Jamal Idriss
Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), which has struggled since the death of its longtime leader Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud in 2012.
The next installment of the series will feature the armed opposition. Stay tuned for updates as the elections process unfolds.
Hasan al-Turabi (1983), “The Islamic State”, in Voices of Resurgent Islam, ed. John L. Esposito (New York: Oxford University Press).
Mahmood Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (New York: Pantheon Books, 2009).