Full Name: Ali Osman Muhammed Taha / Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha
Position: First Vice President of the Republic of Sudan
Education: Law, University of Khartoum, 1969-1971.
Career: Sudan’s Minister for Social Affairs, 1993-1995; Sudan Foreign Minister, 1995-1998; First Vice President of Sudan, 1998-2005; Second Vice President of Sudan, 2005-2011, Secretary-General of Sudan’s Islamic Movement (IM)
,?-Nov 2012; First Vice President of Sudan 2011-to date.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
The son of a Khartoum zookeeper, Ali Osman Muhammad Taha’s rise to the pinnacle of the Islamic movement in Sudan demonstrates the opportunities that the rapid proliferation of post-colonial educational provision offered to those who were talented, ambitious and ruthless enough to seize the opportunities it granted.
Taha demonstrates the broad yet narrow social and ethnic base of those who staff the current regime – whilst he is a Shayqiyya and Omar-Hassan-al-Bashir is a Ja’ali, both share common regional origins in the riverain north and both attended the same secondary school in Khartoum, at which time both men were active members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Taha was head of the pupils’ union.
Whilst pursuing his law course at the University of Khartoum in between 1969-1971, Taha rose as a representative of the Islamic Movement to become the head of the student union, and is credited alongside others with fostering a culture of violence and radicalization within the university political environment. When Taha completed his university studies, political parties were outlawed under Jafa’ar Nimeiri’s ‘May Regime’ (1969-1985) and Taha thus chose to put his legal qualifications into practise, at first in the judiciary and then as an advocate.
These experiences would later assist him in helping Nimeiri’s regime ‘Islamize’ the laws once Nimeiri had re-incorporated the right-wing religious parties into the government following the National Reconciliation of 1977. During this period Taha won a seat in Khartoum West and was granted a senior position in the national parliament in spite of not yet having reached the age of 30.
However, he fell foul of Nimeiri in 1985 when the latter ordered his arrest and that of other senior members of the Islamic movement – ironically, a month before Nimeiri was overthrown by a civilian uprising. This incident would allow Taha, like other Islamists, to conveniently distance himself from his former association with the dictator whilst he was the leader of the opposition during the third parliamentary period.
ROLE IN 1989 COUP
During this period he helped consolidate links between military and civilian Islamists, in preparation for al-Bashir’s coup of 1989 during which Taha was sent to prison, as part of a convenient charade to disguise the true nature of the coup to nearby powers. However, Taha was soon released to take up the position of Minister for Social Affairs during which he was charged with engineering the National Islamic Front’s utopian ‘civilizational project’ (1993-1995).
Here he oversaw the establishment of dawa’ist missionary and humanitarian agencies throughout Sudan’s provinces in what is now regarded as a failed attempt to impose the NIF’s rigid definition of social and religious norms upon a culturally diverse and ethnically heterogeneous Sudanese public.
MINISTRIES AND VICE PRESIDENCY
Following this, Taha took up the post of foreign minister in between 1995 and 1998 before the death of Omar al-Bashir’s military vice president Zubeir Muhammad Salih in 1998 gave Taha the opportunity to outstrip his former political master Hassan al-Turabi and become the top civilian Islamist in Sudan.
Whilst al-Bashir by appointing Taha to the post of vice-president was superficially making concessions to the need for civilian representation in the higher echelons of government, the move effectively enabled Sudan’s president to divide the civilians and ultimately led to al-Turabi and his followers seceding from the government in 1999.
NORTH-SOUTH PEACE DEAL
This in turn enabled Taha to take Turabi’s position as leader of the Islamic movement. During the new millennium, Taha became the leading figure in peace negotiations with the south, and personally negotiated the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with SPLM/SPLA leader John Garang through a series of one-on-one, private meetings in Kenya between 2003 and 2005.
The significance of Taha’s role was acknowledged during the actual peace ceremony held in Khartoum in 2005, when it was he, not Omar al-Bashir, who acted as northern signatory alongside John Garang. However, whilst playing the role of dove in the south, Taha was acting as a hawk in the west. He is believed to have been personally responsible for releasing Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal from prison in 2003 and providing him with the weapons he used to commit atrocities in North Darfur.
INFLUENCE & SECURITY SERVICES
In spite of this, Taha as well as then intelligence chief Salah Gosh acted in the same period as a key figure in intelligence sharing with the United States. However, the removal of Salah Gosh, who like Taha is Shayqiyya, from his position in 2009 seems to have caused a narrowing of Taha’s political power base compared with that of his main Islamist rival, Nafi Ali Nafi who hails from the same Ja’ali ethnic group as al-Bashir.
Recently released Wikileaks cables demonstrate that removal of Gosh was almost certainly a result of secret plotting between him and Taha to have Taha replace al-Bashir as president in the wake of the ICC arrest warrant. In 2011, it was reported that Taha was frustrated at being left outside the ‘security loop’ which is unofficially controlled by Nafi; the two have recently been involved in a number of heavily publicised confrontations.
Taha’s eight-year tenure as Sudan’s Islamic Movement (IM) ended in November 2012 as the IM’s constitution does not allow more than two terms in the position. Taha was re-elected to the position at the last conference in August 2008 despite facing strong strong competition from presidential adviser Ghazi Salah Al-Din Al-Atabani. It is not clear whether Al-Atabani intends to run in 2012 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 in 2012.
Dec 15, 2010: NCP Videos - Ali Osman Taha (Arabic)
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