Sudan’s Islamic Movement Heads to Its General Conference

This week, the Islamic Movement of Sudan will hold its General Conference, which takes place every four years. Various sub-national conferences have already occurred in preparation for the main event. The national conference may give some insight into the trajectory of the Movement, its relationship with the regime of President Omar al Bashir, and the hopes of various leaders to succeed Bashir, perhaps as soon as 2015.

Founded in 1945 (read a history of the Movement here, .pdf, start p. 95) as a Sudanese counterpart to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Movement has participated under several names in many of the critical moments of Sudanese politics, including the popular uprising of 1964 and the 1989 coup that brought the National Islamic Front (NIF) to power. In 1999, the Movement split amid rivalry between President Bashir and Dr. Hassan al Turabi, the longtime leader of the Movement. The greater part of the Movement remained with Bashir and his National Congress Party (NCP), while Turabi’s group renamed itself the Popular Congress Party. The (remaining) Movement has been called one of three main components within the Bashir regime, the other two being the military and the leadership of the NPC itself. Read more background on the Movement here.

The immediate background for this week’s meeting includes several points of tension:

  • memorandum, submitted by some Movement members to the regime, that called for various reforms, including a “veiled demand, namely the institution of the authority of the Islamic Movement proper over the ruling NCP.” Bashir appeared on television to reject the demands.
  • Internal divisions, possibly similar to those that drove a split in 1999. This article (Arabic) describes substantial opposition with the Movement to Bashir and the NCP.
  • An impending change of leadership for the Movement: “The IM’s secretary-general and Sudan’s first Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha will not be able to run as an incumbent because the current constitution does not allow more than two terms in the position. Taha was elected to the position during the last conference after facing strong competition with current presidential adviser Ghazi Salah Al-Din Al-Atabani. It is not clear whether Al-Atabani intends to run again but insiders say the man has recently stepped out of decision-making circles due to what they described as his unhappiness with the way the NCP has handled a number of sensitive issues lately.” More on the internal succession issue here (Arabic).
  • Jockeying for position as leaders ask who will eventually succeed Bashir. AFP writes, “Potential candidates to replace Bashir are jostling for influence within the Islamic Movement.”

Despite these tensions, some are expecting a relatively quiet conference:

While only about 12 percent of NCP members come from the Islamic Movement, most of the leadership belongs to the movement, said Amin Hassan Omer, from its ruling secretariat.

He predicted “nothing specific” about succession will emerge from the conference, and said does not see a real power struggle in the Movement.

Mahjoub Mohamed Salih, publisher of the independent Al-Ayaam newspaper, said the conference would highlight divisions between grassroots Islamists and NCP loyalists, though he does not see the movement fracturing.

We’ll find out later this week.


A Roundup on the Protests in Sudan

Since June 16, protests have shaken Khartoum and other areas in Sudan. The immediate trigger for the protests was the government’s announcement of new austerity measures. These measures aim to plug a budgetary deficit that largely stems from Sudan’s loss of South Sudan and its oil. As protests have continued, they have tapped into longer-term grievances against the regime of President Omar al Bashir and his National Congress Party (NCP). Bashir has been in power since 1989, most recently winning re-election in 2010. Some commentators and activists view the protests as the “beginning of the end” for Bashir; others have pointed out that earlier protest movements failed to take root, suggesting that this one, too, will falter. I am more in the latter camp for now, but the longer the protests continue the more of a danger they become to Bashir, who must now keep an eye not only on the streets but also on other factions of the Sudanese elite.

On Twitter, you can keep up to date on the protests by following the hashtag #SudanRevolts, as well as users Moez AliAmir Ahmad Nasr, James CopnallBec Hamilton, Martin Plaut, Alun McDonald, Mimz, Daniel Solomon, and many others.

Below is a roundup of sources relevant to the protests. Another recent roundup by the blog “Redefining the Narrative” is here, and All Africa is collecting articles on the protests here.

International reactions:

  • Human Rights Watch: “Sudan should end the crackdown on peaceful protesters, release people who have been detained, and allow journalists to report freely on the events.”
  • US State Department: “The United States condemns the numerous arrests and detentions that have been taking place over the past week in Sudan in response to peaceful demonstrations. There have been reports of protestors being beaten, imprisoned, and severely mistreated while in government custody. We call for the immediate release of those detained for peaceful protest.”
  • UK Foreign Office: “These demonstrations underline once again the importance of the Government of Sudan embarking on a process of reform that addresses the needs and aspirations of all Sudanese citizens within an open and democratic framework.”

Statements by Sudanese government officials:

  • Al Jazeera: “Bashir Says Sudan Protests Are No Arab Spring”
  • Reuters: “Sudan Says No Retreat on Cuts Despite Protests”

News articles:

  • Sudan Tribune: “Bashir Sacks Aides as Regional Governments Resign Except South Darfur”
  • Radio Dabanga: “Dormitories of Protesting Students Set Ablaze by Sudan Security Agents”
  • AFP: “Bloomberg Reporter Deported from Sudan”
  • Sudan Tribune: “Opposition Party Rejects Ban on Political Meetings”
  • CNN: “Police Crackdown on Growing Protests”


What is your view of the protests? Do you think Bashir will fall?

Glimpses of (North) Sudanese Politics in a Time of Conflict

As of yesterday, fighting had broken out again between Sudan and South Sudan, which have been at odds since (and before) the South became independent last July. As I wrote last week, there are factors at work in the conflict that could reduce the chances of escalation (such as international concern over the situation) as well as factors that could promote escalation. One such factor is the internal politics of each Sudan. This post focuses on the northern side of the border.

Powerful voices in Khartoum are taking a hard line on the conflict, while the increasingly precarious position of Southern Sudanese who reside in the north introduces yet another note of tension into North-South relations.

Strong rhetoric has come from President Omar al Bashir, who gave a major speech last week in which he threatened to teach South Sudan a “final lesson by force.” It has come from Vice President Ali Osman Taha, who now expresses pessimism about negotiations and “added that he doesn’t think peace will be achieved with Juba’s current leaders.” Heated language has come from Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP), whose spokesman Dr. Badr al Din Ahmad Ibrahim (Arabic) recently likened the government of South Sudan to the “Israel of Africa,” phrasing that suggests a good deal of enmity.

Several major northern parties, in what could be read either as a standard expression of patriotism or as something stronger, have congratulated the Sudan Armed Forces on the recovery of Heglig oil field, which Southern forces briefly controlled last week. Sadiq al Mahdi, leader of the Umma Party and former prime minister, framed the “liberation” of the Heglig oil field (Arabic) as a lesson in “accountability” for the South and as a wake-up call for the north.

A climate of tension between North and South is exacerbated by the problems of Southerners who reside in the north. On April 9, Southerners lost their legal right to reside in the north, producing sustained confusion about how they can resolve their legal status and touching off humanitarian issues among Southerners now working to return to the South. Meanwhile, yesterday’s burning of “a Catholic church frequented by Southern Sudanese” in Khartoum seemed to mark a new level of hostility toward Southern residents in the north (more on the burning, in Arabic, here). I do not want to overstate the importance of one incident, but I would think that news of the burning, following so quickly on the heels of the changes of April 9, is causing some anger in Juba.

None of this means that war is guaranteed or that de-escalation is impossible. But it will be worth keeping an eye on how the conflict affects, and plays out within, the internal political scenes of both North and South. As The Economist writes, “Sudanese brinkmanship knows few boundaries. This makes tank battles more likely but not inevitable.” Tough rhetoric and actions on both sides (this post focuses on the North, but certainly the South’s move into Heglig represents a new level of aggression on their part) feed into such brinkmanship.

Sudan and South Sudan Flirting with Full-Blown War

How do we characterize the situation in (north) Sudan and South Sudan now? Since before the July 2011 referendum that gave South Sudan independence, since before the April 2010 presidential elections that were part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the north and the south, since perhaps the signing of the CPA itself, there have been fears that the two areas (now two nations) would return to war – would pick up the civil wars of 1955-1972 and 1983-2005 where they left off.

Are those fears now coming true? For several years, accusations have been flying that the government in Khartoum is arming and inciting rebellions in the South. For several months, conflict has raged along the new border, with the armies of Sudan and South Sudan increasingly coming into direct, armed confrontations with one another. For several weeks, South Sudanese forces have made incursions into Sudanese territory as part of a cycle of retaliatory violence propagated by both sides. And on Wednesday, President Omar al Bashir of Sudan seemed to declare war on the South – though the Southern government says the two countries are not at war. Some state of warfare clearly exists; the question is one of terminology, perhaps, but more importantly one of where all this is headed.

There are factors that mitigate against full-blown war. The escalation currently taking place is increasingly concerning to outsiders, and not just in East Africa. The United Nations Security Council is reportedly considering imposing sanctions on both parties. The UN has also denounced South Sudan’s occupation of the area around the Heglig oil field, inside Sudanese territory. The United States is keenly interested in preventing a return to full-blown war. And China, where Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir is set to travel soon, also has an interest in seeing that the conflict does not escalate further. What results such concern will produce is not yet clear, though this morning saw the announcement that Southern forces will withdraw from Heglig. It should be noted, finally, that not all outside parties are necessarily emphasizing peace – the Ugandan government has proclaimed that it would support South Sudan if it comes to war. Such rhetoric could increase, not reduce, tensions.

There are other factors that might encourage escalation. One such factor is how the conflict plays out within the internal politics of each country. For example, an article from the Sudan Tribune reports on how the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has “slammed two opposition parties for not condemning strongly enough the capture of Heglig by the South Sudanese army last week.” The governments in Khartoum and Juba both face serious internal problems, including rebellions, and it is possible that some hardliners, especially in Khartoum, see a political opportunity in the present conflict – namely, the chance to promote or enforce internal political cohesion in the name of national security and patriotism.

Yet escalating the conflict also carries major political risks for each side, especially given the economic difficulties both face, difficulties that stem partly from the conflict itself. A costly and protracted struggle could exacerbate internal dissent in both countries, in addition to consuming lives, time, and resources on the battlefield.

Sudan: Keep An Eye on South Kordofan


Heavy shooting broke out on Monday in Kadugli, the capital of Sudan’s volatile oil-producing border state of South Kordofan, amid soaring tensions ahead of southern independence, witnesses and the UN said.

“The fighting appears to be between elements from the SAF and SPLA,” said Kouider Zerrouk, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Sudan (UNMIS), referring to the respective armies of north and south Sudan.

He added that the fighting had stopped, but gave no information on casualties.

When South Sudan becomes formally independent on July 9, South Kordofan State will remain part of North Sudan. South Kordofan lies on the border between the two countries and is a zone of, as you can see, considerable tension: gubernatorial elections that ended there on May 4 resulted in a victory of the North’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) over the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which rules South Sudan but has a significant presence in parts of the North, including South Kordofan. The NCP victory in South Kordofan produced considerable bitterness among SPLM partisans, exacerbating NCP-SPLM tensions nationwide as well as within the state itself. The SAF and the SPLA (the army of the SPLM) are taking the political conflict to the battlefield once more.

The region of Abyei, control of which is formally disputed between the North and the South, has received tremendous attention in recent months. What happens in Abyei will help set the tone for relations between the North and the South after the latter gains independence. But South Kordofan is important too; even though its status is not disputed, its cultural and political identity is, and that dispute could lead to conflict just like the one in Abyei has to some extent already.

As I and others have said before, the secession of South Sudan will give birth to not just one new country, but two: North Sudan has been changed already by the process, and will continue to change post-separation. Old tensions have flared up in new ways, as the North – which is more internally diverse, ethnically, ideologically, and politically, than many people realize – confronts its problems once more, but this time in a political and geographical space that is being reconfigured before our eyes. The conflict in South Kordofan will not be the last of such struggles.

North Sudan: Southern Kordofan Elections Increase NCP-SPLM Enmity

From May 2-4, residents of Southern Kordofan State in North Sudan voted in an election for governor. The outcome – a triumph for the ruling party candidate, and outrage among the defeated candidate’s supporters – threatens to further strain relations between North and South Sudan, and also to increase political tensions in North Sudan itself.

The contest primarily involved two contenders. The first was Ahmed Haroun, a member of North Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) who served as Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs from 2006 to 2009. In 2007, the International Criminal Court (ICC) charged Haroun with committing war crimes in Darfur and issued a warrant for his arrest. Despite this, in 2009 Haroun was appointed governor of Southern Kordofan. The second contestant was Abdelaziz al-Hilu, the state’s deputy governor and a senior member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the party that controls the soon-to-be-independent country of South Sudan.

Haroun won. Many news outlets are concentrating on his ICC indictment, but in my view the more relevant story for Sudan itself is how the outcome of the election will affect relations between the NCP and the SPLM. These two parties are not only set to govern neighboring countries, they are also competitors for the future of North Sudan. The bulk of the SPLM’s strength is found in South Sudan, but a significant component of the SPLM will remain in the North, where it hopes, as the “SPLM-N,” to speak for North Sudan’s marginalized groups. The SPLM-N saw the gubernatorial elections in Southern Kordofan as a major step toward reinforcing its strength in the North, and also toward establishing political pluralism there.

This helps explain why the SPLM-N has reacted with such anger to the National Electoral Commission’s announcement of Haroun’s victory:

“We will not accept these results because the vote was rigged,” said Yasir Arman, head of the SPLM in the north.

(Arman, it should be noted, was the SPLM’s presidential candidate in the elections of April 2010, prior to the referendum that gave South Sudan its independence. Arman is a Northerner.)

From the same article, we hear further analysis of the SPLM’s feelings:

The SPLM fought the north for two decades before a 2005 peace deal, which paved the way for independence for the largely Christian and animist South Sudan from the mainly Muslim, Arabic-speaking north.

But many residents of the Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan also fought for the SPLM and it is feared they could take up arms once more.

“These people were fighting for 20 years and their aspirations are not fulfilled,” Hafiz Mohamed of the Justice Africa think-tank told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

“The way things are going, it’s leading to a deadlock, which will end up with people carrying arms to release their frustration,” he said.

“If it starts, no-one can stop it – it will affect the south, it will affect the north. With the war in Darfur, we are heading for dangerous times.”

The BBC has more analysis of how the Southern Kordofan elections will feed North-South tensions here.

These tensions are already partly confirming fears expressed by the international community before, during, and after the elections. The Carter Center, the UN, and US Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman all urged the different factions in Southern Kordofan to refrain from violence, though some violence did occur. On May 10, the Sudan Troika (United States, United Kingdom, and Norway) issued a statement on Sudan’s crises that included remarks on Southern Kordofan:

We welcome the peaceful completion of polling for Southern Kordofan’s elections, but are concerned about rising tensions in the state due to a delay in the announcement of preliminary results. We call on local and national leaders to take immediate steps to improve the security situation and exercise control over all armed security elements. We also call on the parties to work together to maintain calm as the preliminary results are announced and to refrain from prematurely declaring electoral victories. The parties should work together to resolve any election disputes peacefully through the courts. In order to maintain stability and promote long-term cooperation, they should build an inclusive government no matter the outcome. It is critical that the elections pave the way for the start of Southern Kordofan’s popular consultations, which remain an important outstanding element of the CPA.

Journalist Alan Boswell, writing before the elections, noted both international concern and the simultaneous presence of international “fatigue” after “intervening in Sudan’s myriad crises.” This fatigue has meant that Southern Kordofan’s problems have largely been overshadowed by other concerns relating to Sudan, such as Washington’s focus “on normalizing battered relations with Sudan’s northern regime and bolstering the nascent government in the south.” If matters heat up in Southern Kordofan, and if NCP-SPLM relations deteriorate more broadly, we will see how the international community reacts, both to events in Sudan and to its own fatigue.

Sudan: Keep an Eye on Abyei

Because reports are raising fears of imminent violence:

Satellite images indicate a major deployment of military hardware by the [North] Sudanese army, including helicopter gunships and tanks, near the flashpoint Abyei border region, a monitoring group said on Thursday.

The Satellite Sentinel Project said that, according to the newly acquired images, the introduction of two attack helicopters and at least nine battle tanks within the range of Abyei constituted a major escalation in the military capacity of the northern army (SAF) in the disputed area.

Last month, at least 70 people were killed in Abyei and two villages razed in two days of clashes between fighters from the Misseriya tribe, which supports the Khartoum government, and the Ngok Dinka people, who back the south.

The rhetoric from the North is worrying too:

A senior figure in North Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has asserted that his party will not offer any compromise over the issue of Abyei whether to the U.S government or South Sudan with which it contests the oil-producing region.

Speaking at a rally inaugurating the NCP’s election campaign in the country’s flashpoint state of south Kordofan on Monday, NCP’s deputy chairman Nafie Ali Nafie said that Abyei would not “be paid as a price to satisfy America or [south Sudan’s ruling] SPLM.”

Reuters has more.