The panel organized by Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) entitled ‘ Rebellion in the Sudan: Will Bashir Survive?’ gathered Khartoum ambassador and Sudanese opponents together. Sabir Ebrahim, the opponent of the leader of Sudan Omar al-Bashir, commented: “Political Islam divided Sudan, we lost 80% of the oil resources, and now, they are dividing the people in the North with religion and politics.”
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) South Africa representative Sabir Ebrahim, Sudanese Middle East-North Africa expert Salah Eddin Elzein, and one of the researchers of AMEC Ebrahim Teen answered the questions of TR724 at the end of the program.
We asked Sabir Ebrahim, who took the floor in order to criticize Pretoria ambassador of Sudan who was among the panelists, about the current situation of struggling Sudan with internal conflicts and intense economic crises.
Ebrahim stated the following during the interview held in the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria: “We fought for the independence of Sudan. We signed a peace treaty with the government of Khartoum in 2005. Unfortunately, the government of Khartoum did not accept the peace treaty under our conditions. In 2011, South Sudan held a referendum and gained their independence. And our movement, which was fighting for a single Sudan, divided into two after the South gained independence. We are not from the South, I am from the North. I am from Darfur (He says that there are people opposing the al-Bashir regime). We cannot live under the orders of a Sudanese regime which we had been fighting for 22 years. We need a change. That is why we bore arms in 2011 and liberated a large area. Our education system is different than the North. We have our own schools and government, and we are determined to liberate all of Sudan.“
Acknowledge the value of your modern state!
Ebrahim, who is also a Muslim but competing against Omar al-Bashir, was asked the following: “According to many articles, the young population of Sudan started to oppose the Sudanese regime about how they make the people divide according to their religion, race, culture, and geographical areas, and they began to protest this in order to make their voices heard.” And he replied this question with the following words: “Since Sudan was founded, the problem about the governing elites has been haunting us. After we gained our independence from United Kingdom, we couldn’t lay the foundations of a modern state with a strong manner. The greedy elites established the state on “religious and ethnic” foundations. After the British administration left the country, the first bullet was fired in 1954 as a protest against the “Islamization” of the state system. North Sudanese people took possession of the whole state themselves, instead of bringing all of the Sudanese people into the offices of the government which had been emptied after the British left. The population who were not Muslims or Arabs were marginalized, and they took up arms. Sharia law was brought by the organization called the Muslim Brotherhood in 1983. This law externalized everybody who was not a Muslim; the people who were not Muslims have been second class, and the people who were not Arabs have been third class citizens. This is the Apartheid regime in layers. In other words, your place in society is determined by your religion or race. We said no to this Islamization and Arabization policies.”
Ebrahim said that the call made by Dr. John Garang (leader of the South Sudan Freedom Movement) after he stated “Come and let’s gather around the table, we are all Sudanese. Let’s established a secular state structure which involves everybody” was rejected by the al-Bashir government, and added that the way Khartoum looked down upon people and adapted an exclusionist manner started the downfall of the Sudanese regime. Ebrahim explained the following about the situation in the north: “Today, the people in the North still do not feel that the South is separated. 80% of the natural resources belong to the South. Oil resources, agricultural land, rivers… All of the natural riches remained with the South. Why? Because of religious matters. We are now fighting in the North, because the Christians, the people who believe in African religions, and the Sudanese who want to improve the local languages and cultures of Africa live in the North. However, Sudanese law does not allow these people to live with their own identities. The government of Khartoum is a discriminating Apartheid regime for us.
Sabir Ebrahim, who stated that the breakup had started in 1947, and summarized the heartbreaking civil war history of Sudan with the following words: “The Southerner told the Northerners in Cuba Conference that everybody is a part of Sudan and to establish a single country, however, the English told the Southerners that the Northerners are Arabs and Muslims. But the Southerners said no and explained that they are their brothers and will solve the problems together with a plan, and approached the matter warmly. After the English left, Southerners helped to establish the country in the North and stated that they had only one request, which was to be left alone with their cultures, differences, and languages, and not be prosecuted with Islamic law. Then the Northerners stated that federation meant to be divided and that they would not allow any of the things the Southerners requested. They started a menacing war against the South. They burned down thousands of villages. Civil war broke out because of a redundant ideology in 1954. This war lasted until 1972. The then leader of Sudan, Gaafar Nimeiry, brought temporary peace to South Sudan. And then what happened in 1983? Muslim Brotherhood requested sharia law and implemented it. A new war broke out, and it was fiercer than the previous ones. They brought jihadists from many Middle East countries in order to fight against us, in other words, against the Sudanese. There was another temporary peace in 2005.
The politics which divided South, now dividing North as well.
Sabir Ebrahim continued with his comments: “99% of the Southerners requested to be separated from the North in the 2011 referendum. What is being done now? All of the separatist and exclusionist politics, which had already separated South, is now being practiced in the North. The people who fight against al-Bashir in Darfur are our brothers. We need a new and secular Sudan right now. I am also a Muslim. You cannot practice sharia law in a community full of different colors and cultures. The Sudanese system is a “double Apartheid” system. If you are an Arab and a Muslim, you are the first class. If you are not a Muslim, you are the second class. And if you are neither, you are the third class. This system cannot take this country anywhere. I cannot make my African dance at home, I cannot speak my language, this is the mentality governing Sudan right now.”
Selfish Arabian countries support the Sudanese regime.
Ebrahim, who stated that many Arab countries are supporting Sudan because they benefit from the al-Bashir regime and the sources of the country, and added that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also supports al-Bashir due to his interests towards political Islam and interests. He continued his words by saying that there are many big opportunities in Sudan especially for the Turkish businessmen, and the country is very important because of its rich minerals and geographical position, explained how Ottomans governed Sudan once upon a time, and now the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government is helping the Muslim Brotherhood to rise in the country with the ideology of political Islam.
“AKP does not want the other opponent groups, there is no freedom in Turkey.”
After he was asked about the “closures of schools and relief organizations in Sudan which belonged to The Movement”, he provided the following answer: “I know about the schools and hospitals of The Movement in Sudan. Erdogan had them closed down, this matter is an internal matter of Turkey. Erdogan does not want any opponent groups which would pose a threat to his throne. Erdogan’s politics divided the Turkish people a lot. If any political party imposes its own ideology to the other parties, the people will be divided there. By the way, there is no freedom in Turkey.
Turkey and Sudan are going through a dictatorial political Islam phase
When we asked him about how he saw the future of al-Bashir, Sabir Ebrahim commented: “Establishing a nation requires intelligence, you need to have intellectual and open-minded people. The opposition has all the right to govern in Turkey; the similarity between Turkey and Sudan is their dictatorships. The leaders of both countries dictate their own opinions and world views to their people. Turkish people are very rich with their diversities. You cannot say the following in Turkey; this is my opinion and it is unarguably correct. The similarity between the two countries is the fact that they are going through a political Islamist dictatorship. The narrow-mindedness of Erdogan and al-Bashir is far away from establishing a nation. Erdogan is destroying the nation-state which had been built by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk under very difficult conditions. We were not externalizing each other when we gained our independence in Sudan but now, we are doing it thanks to al-Bashir. If I apply for an open job position in Sudan today, nobody will employ me because of my political views.”
“Al-Bashir has been standing for 20 years despite the international embargo”
Ebrahim stated that it is very interesting to see al-Bashir has been able to stay in power despite the embargos of the US, international powers, and other organizations, told us that Sudan regime still stands thanks to the support received from the Middle East. Ebrahim further stated: “There are countries helping al-Bashir day and night. These countries are the powers who want political Islam to continue. Saddam Hussein couldn’t handle it for 4-5 years; the oil resources of Libya was a hundred times more than Sudan but Kaddafi could not manage to survive. Countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia support al-Bashir. Should al-Bashir be overthrown, the governments supporting the Muslim Brotherhood cannot get any support from the opposition in Sudan. The government of al-Bashir has the blood of 2 million people in South Sudan and 300 thousand people in Darfur on their hands. Al-Bashir has just visited the rich Gulf countries recently and asked for help. The devaluation in Sudan is astronomic. If the Arabian countries stop supporting al-Bashir, he wouldn’t be able to stay in power.”
“The youth would fight for the regime in the past, now they fight in order to overthrow the regime.”
Sudanese political commentator Salah Eddin Ezein summarized possible different scenarios after the ongoing protests in Sudan. Elzein, who stated that more than 60% of the population consists of young people, told us that the following words of a state official summarized the current situation quite well: “There were young people in order to protect the al-Bashir regime in South Sudan 20 years ago, but now we are defending the al-Bashir regime against them.” Elzein explained that the bad situation about the economy was very effective in the recent protests against the regime, and he said that together with the separation in 2011, 70% of the oil reserves remained in the South, which caused Khartoum to get into a scrape. Elzein added that these 70% of oil reserves had covered the 75% of the total income of the country until 2011, and finished his sentences with the following comment: “Sudan feels this loss with a great deal right now, the economy hit the bottom. Nobody believes what al-Bashir or other political figures say anymore. Not only the economy, the people have been waiting for 30 years, but the regime could not show any success towards anything, and has been unsuccessful in every field.”
Change in Sudan is inevitable
Sudanese analyst summarized three possible scenarios for Sudan in the near future and their results: “Since the people are asking for a change and the economy is bad, the regime might be overthrown. The second scenario is that since the soldiers and the law-enforcement officers support the regime, and countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Egypt oppose a regime change, al-Bashir might stay in power. However, even if he continues to rule, this will not last long, because the problems are way deeper. And the third scenario is a political consensus. If the protestors cannot overthrow the regime, and al-Bashir cannot stop the people taking the streets, there could be a consensus, and the country will be denied going into even a worse dictatorship or into civil war. Whatever happens, Sudan will not go back and there will be a change. I hope that this change will come in a good way without violence, coups, or counter-coups.”
International powers side with ending the al-Bashir regime
Salah Eddin Elzein stated that the international powers are following closely the separation of Sudan and they would like to see the al-Bashir regime continue: “China and Russia are on very good terms with al-Bashir. The European countries also made a deal with Sudan about the refugees. They made a deal about the refugees to stop them from going to Libya and then to Europe. The US President Donald Trump is also on good terms with authoritative regimes. And he does not have any problems with the powerful al-Bashir in Sudan. Even if al-Bashir leaves, they would want somebody even more powerful, because when if there is democracy, it will be difficult for them to make the deals they want.”
Sudan’s stability is very important for the region
Salah Eddin Elzein called for other countries: “The location of Sudan has very intense turbulence in the region. Libya is in crisis in the northwest. Central Africa, the neighbor in the west is in crisis. There is South Sudan in the south also in crisis. May Allah forbid, chaos in Sudan will be very bad for the security of other 4-5 countries in the region. More refugees will flow to Europe, and more terrorists will come into the region. Instability in Sudan will be good for anybody. The countries which have good relations with Sudan such as Turkey must provide their support in order to see democracy in Sudan and the stability to continue in the region.”
AMEC researcher Ebrahim Deen stated that despite the protestors spread throughout Sudan, the protests are being carried out in small groups, and these protests do not affect the regime, the soldiers are supporting al-Bashir, and the countries in Africa are not leaning towards a regime change. Deed added that separation of South caused instability, active jihadist groups are present in Libya and Mali, and the African Union does not want any more instability in the region. He continued his words by stating that al-Bashir would back down using excessive power as Syria did, but on the other hand, the deterioration of the economy and the protests will cause the al-Bashir regime to be more authoritative, and the declaration of a state of emergency is a proof of this situation.
Hundreds of people protested al-Bashir after the Friday prayers in Sudan inside the big mosques near the capital Khartoum. And the protests in Omdurman was organized by the opposing National Umma Party. Police responded with tear-gas bombs. While al-Bashir dissolved the government last month and declared a state of emergency, the casualties during the anti-government protests reached up to 50.
Turkmen Terzi is an investigative journalist based in South Africa.