February 14, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – Youssef al-Koda, who leads the Al-Wasat Islamic party, was arrested at Khartoum airport upon his return from a trip abroad where he officially joined the ranks of the opposition seeking to topple the government led by president Omer Hassan al-Bashir.
- Head of the Islamic Wasat Party Yousif al-Koda (Al-Arabiya TV website)
The family of al-Koda and opposition sources said that officers belonging to Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) boarded the plane and took him into custody before other passengers could even leave their seats.
The chairman of the National Consensus Forces (NCF), Farouk Abu Essa, was one of the opposition figures waiting for al-Koda in the airport lobby along with his family members. He described his detention as an “immoral act” that could backfire.
Al-Koda’s brother Mubarak who is an active member of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) slammed the “disrespectful act” by Sudanese authorities.
“We are not against the arrest if there was something warranting it but they should have allowed him to go first and meet his family from which he was absent for nearly a month”, Mubarak said.
“If this is how the government deals with others then we will have another point of view [about the government], though I won’t say that I will go [as far] towards [Malik] Agar [chairman of Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF)] or his likes,” he added.
Last month, al-Koda signed a joint statement in the Ugandan capital Kampala with the SRF chairman who acted as representative of the signatories to the “New Dawn” charter.
The joint statement signed by al-Koda and Agar stated that citizenship should form the basis of all rights without regards to religion, race, colour, ethnicity, political or geographical affiliation.
They also emphasised the need to guarantee right of expression and belief under the rule of law, independent judiciary, democracy, peaceful transfer of power and establishing a federal system of governance.
Issues in dispute are to be deferred for more discussions, preferably in the context of a constitutional conference, the statement said.
The “New Dawn” charter, which aggravated the NCP, calls for the toppling of the regime, preventing the exploitation of religion in politics and restructuring the state’s institutions such as the army to make them national non-partisan ones.
The Sudanese government launched a fierce media campaign against the deal and detained some of the parties’ representatives who attended the signing upon their return to Khartoum. Some officials even threatened to ban and prosecute all parties that joined the agreement unless they officially dissociated themselves from it.
Khartoum said the agreement wants to change Sudan into a secular state describing that as a move that contradicts the wishes of the majority of the Islamic country.
Some of the signatories including the National Umma Party (NUP), Popular Congress Party (PCP) and Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) later distanced themselves from the charter, saying they were rushed into it and expressed reservations on some of its clauses.
Speaking to reporters after the signing, al-Koda attacked the NCP, accusing it of corruption and exploiting religion to stay in power.
“They [NCP] ruled all this time as if they were mandated by Allah and not mandated by the people,” he said.
Qutbi al-Mahdi, a leading NCP figure, slammed al-Koda’s move towards anti-Khartoum forces, saying that this makes his party a secular one in alliance with the Arab Baath and Communist parties.
But al-Koda responded to these remarks on his Facebook page saying that “the duty of reform and change” is not limited to the Islamic movement or Islam as a religion.
“I did not join the opposition to teach them religion or transform them from secularism to Islamic [ideology], and to start with this was not the issue, but the issue is how to rid the country from the grip of people who ruined [the nation] and hurt it in the name of Islam”.
“This wrong understanding had terrible implications on public funds and the party had no segregation between its pocket and the government’s pocket ... They wrongly thought after all this and their flawed beliefs that they were empowered by Allah,” he added.
Al-Koda is considered to be a moderate figure who has been outspoken against Salafist hardline groups.
He is known for his daring views such as calling on Bashir to step down given his status as a sitting head of state wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and supporting the use of condoms which other Islamic scholars have vehemently opposed.