May 6, 2014 (WASHINGTON) – The leader of the National Umma Party (NUP), al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, and his son, Abdel-Rahman, are continuing to work steadfastly to move the party towards rapprochement with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), outgoing secretary-general Ibrahim al-Amin said.
- The leader of the National Umma Party (NUP), al-Sadiq al-Mahdi (R), and his son, Abdel-Rahman al-Mahdi, who is president Omer Hassan al-Bashir’s assistant
In a phone interview with Sudan Tribune on Tuesday, al-Amin lashed out at al-Mahdi, accusing him of deliberately blocking any attempts to mobilise the party behind popular uprisings in the country, as was the case during protests that broke out across the country in September, 2013 after the government lifted fuel subsidies.
The leader of Sudan’s largest opposition party suggested at the time that the NUP was not prepared to support any uprising against the government until political and social groups in the country agreed on a clear alternative.
He took a similar line during demonstrations that erupted in the summer of 2012 after the rollout of austerity measures telling the Financial Times that “we don’t think that the time has come for us to organise such a movement until we have an alternative regime in place ... and democratic transformation”.
Al-Amin asserted that the NUP chief may have personal fears which are driving his decision to adopt his position.
“There is an explanation that is being circulated, that he (al-Mahdi) thinks that if demonstrations break out [against the government] – if change happens [afterwards] – his chances [for governing] becomes less because the general mood turned against him,” said the former secretary-general, who was forced out of his post with the full backing of al-Mahdi during a Central Commission meeting last week.
“That is why he wants to arrive at some sort of alliance with the NCP and it will be a wider alliance and one with Islamic parties. If this happens his prospects are better than if change happens through popular uprising,” he added.
Al-Mahdi has been critical in recent years of opposition umbrella movement the National Consensus Forces (NCF), of which his party is a member, publicly questioning their ability to remove the regime.
He also frequently stated that he seeks to reform the NCP-led government rather than toppling the regime, warning this could trigger a civil war.
Al-Amin claimed the NUP chief’s stance had weakened the opposition front in the country.
“He is trying to disrupt the work of the National Consensus Forces and even our relations with [rebel alliance] the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), with who we were going to forge an alliance with, but in the end [former secretary-general] Sideeg [Ismail] sabotaged it,” he said.
He emphasised that he does not oppose dialogue in principle, but insists on using it to induce regime change, adding that al-Mahdi and others in the NUP want to suspend anti-regime mobilisation in favour of dialogue.
“This is the main political difference that exists in the NUP today,” al-Amin explained.
He also underscored the wide differences between what al-Mahdi says and what he does.
He claimed the NUP leader was involved in efforts to isolate civil parties and the SRF, as well as align the party with NCP’s Islamic orientation, despite frequently warning against Islamist parties on the basis they could install a Taliban-like government.
The NUP party differs from other Islamist parties, he said because it calls for middle-way Islamic understanding, and as such they can hold dialogue with all other forces regardless of their of their ideology.
“Sudan is in decline in everything so if we [in the NUP] undermine the opposition [forces] … it all flows to help the regime,” al-Amin said.
He said al-Mahdi had long been seeking to convert the NUP into an Islamic party and had wanted to change the party’s name at one point to reflect this following the 1985 uprising against late president Ja’afar Nimeiri, but later backed down due to stiff opposition.
Furthermore, during his term from 1986-1989, the former prime minister insisted on allowing the National Islamic Front (NIF) to join the coalition government.
“This was a cause for disaster to us [in the NUP],” he said. “The NUP chief also gave a de facto recognition of the 30 June 1989 coup by writing in a memo that was found by the military junta stating that ‘we have the legitimacy and you have the power’”.
The NIF, headed by Hassan al-Turabi, orchestrated the 1989 army coup which brought president Omer Hassan al-Bashir to power.
Al-Amin claimed that all meetings or deals since signed between the NUP and the NCP over the past two decades have achieved nothing for the party and had dealt blows to the opposition’s work.
“The NCP wants to weaken the NUP so that people start questioning whether the NUP is part of the opposition or the government … This will extend the life of the regime until elections are held,” He said. “Any totalitarian regime has as its main priority to kill the alternative so that there is no strong party or strong alliance that could pose a strong opposition and bring it (the regime) down,” al-Amin adds.
KEY FIGURES APPOINTED
He went on to say that al-Mahdi’s strategy has been to push for the election of certain figures within the party who would not challenge his position. This includes those who defect from other parties and are immediately assigned top positions in the NUP.
Al-Amin recalled the disclosure that a secret committee was formed by al-Mahdi to negotiate with the NCP without the knowledge of the party’s senior body.
It was only after Bashir and former NUP secretary-general spoke of an imminent deal with the NCP did the existence of bilateral dialogue between the two parties became more widely known.
“There are institutions within the party but no institutional [style of work],” al-Amin said, adding that while al-Mahdi wants the appearance of a democratic institution, he does not tolerate any dissenting views.
He also highlighted al-Mahdi’s “inappropriate” remarks to the party’s base that those not happy with NUP policies should leave and form their own parties.
Despite this, al-Amin insisted that he will not defect and will work to reconcile all NUP figures and move the party against any communion with the NCP.
Last week, the NUP leader asked members of the Central Commission to relieve al-Amin in light of his “failure” to create a consensual secretariat among other reasons.
The meeting eventually elected the head of the party’s Political Secretariat, Sara Nugdalla, as its next secretary-general, the first women to hold the role.
Al-Amin boycotted the meeting, arguing that the current term of the Central Commission had expired a year ago and is therefore an interim body with no mandate except to prepare for the party’s General Convention, which is tasked with electing members of the NUP to various positions.
Observers claimed that al-Mahdi had been uneasy with the election of al-Amin in 2012 over Ismail, who is viewed suspiciously by the NUP base as being too close to the NCP but is strongly backed by al-Mahdi.
“Our main aim is to stay in the party and move within the framework of the party and work to mobilise the people,” al-Amin said.
The NUP figure also criticised the Ansar Affairs Commission, headed by Abdel-Mahmood Abo, saying it is simply serving the aims of al-Mahdi and had drifted from its religious mission into political issues.
“They represent the alternative secretariat [of the NUP],” he said.
The Ansar is the religious sect that has historically formed the base of the NUP.
There are claims that Al-Mahdi’s ultimate goal is to groom his eldest son as his successor and that he is seeking to gain greater influence by developing closer ties with the government.
“But this is met with total rejection by the party’s base … because of his personality and his participation with the [NCP] regime,” al-Amin said.
In recent remarks, Abdel-Rahman al-Mahdi affirmed the presidency’s confidence in the Khartoum governor following a major corruption scandal involving two people working in his office.
“Not even the presidency or anyone in the government made such a statement,” al-Amin said.
Despite initially distancing himself from Abdel-Rahman al-Mahdi’s decision to take up a position as president Bashir’s assistant, al-Mahdi later praised his son’s qualifications to fill the role.
In a related issue, leading NUP figure Mubarak al-Fadil returned to Khartoum on Tuesday after two years abroad.
Al-Fadil, who is considered al-Mahdi’s main adversary in the party, told reporters that his main priority now is to bring about reconciliation within the NUP and end disagreements between him and the NUP leader.
He said he was prepared to meet al-Mahdi, but criticised his recent decision to expel and dismiss a number of party members for reportedly holding opposing views.
His second goal is to seek solutions to end ongoing conflict in Sudan, stressing that national dialogue called for by Bashir in late January cannot be fruitful without doing so.
In a public letter to al-Mahdi last week, al-Fadil urged him to step down in order to allow a new generation and play a symbolic role.
During the Central Commission meeting, al-Mahdi responded by saying those calling for his resignation are “jealous” people seeking to destroy the party.