Name: Farouk Abu Essa | Farouq Abu Issa | Farouq Abu Eissa
Education: Law, Alexandria University - graduated 1957
Career: Sudanese Foreign Minister, 1969-1971; Secretary-General of the Arab Lawyers’ Union,1983-2003; Co-President of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), 1989-2005: Chairman the National Consensus Forces (NCF), 2010-Present.
Farouq Abu Eissa, the head of the National Consensus Forces, has a long track record of opposition to both colonial and military regimes. He was born in Wad Madani in 1933, during the midpoint of the Condominium era, and participated vigorous in the protests against the colonial state from the point that he entered the prestigious Hantoub Secondary School in 1949. Abu Eissa’s student activism led him to become one of the leaders of the student communist movement, which dominated protest movements within the secondary schools at that time.
Abu Eissa’s father had forebears from near Aswan and was a member of the Ashiqqa’ (‘blood-brothers’) movement, which strove for unity between Sudan and Egypt. It was perhaps for this reason that he pursued his university studies in Alexandria, where he graduated with a degree in law in 1957. During this time he joined the Egyptian Communist Party, and only escaped being sent back to Egypt during a crackdown on the movement in 1954 on account of his father’s relationship with the Free Officer Salah Salim.
He rose to join the ECP politburo and became its representative for Alexandria, but was forced to abandon the party after Sudan opted for independence in 1956. He was nevertheless amongst Sudanese students who took up arms in preparation for the defence of the Suez Canal against tripartite Israeli, British and French aggression in 1956.
Like many others of his generation, Abu Eissa saw the legal professional as a means to advance his political career and put himself in a position to bring about change in society. When he returned to Sudan he pursued his legal career as well as continuing his activism on behalf of the Sudan Communist Party, acting as a representative of this party in the pro-democratic opposition alliance of 1959-1961.
He was arrested a number of times during the military dictatorship of Ibrahim Abboud (1958-1964), and was even forced to delay his marriage to Nima’at Madani Abbasher in 1961 as a result of his imprisonment during protests against the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Democratic Republic of Congo (and against the Sudan government’s involvement in that country) in 1960.
His various run-ins with the government did not impede his professional success, and he soon acquired the position of secretary of the lawyers’ union. He played a central political role during the later regime change, acting as a secretary in the Professional Front, the movement that had spearheaded the campaign of civil disobedience against Abboud.
Abu Eissa is perhaps most remembered for his role during the famous ‘night of the barricades’ of 9 November 1964. It was on this night that he led a group of professionals to Omdurman Radio Station and persuaded the newsreader to broadcast a declaration warning that factions within the military were preparing for a counter-coup. The broadcast provoked mass popular mobilization, with crowds erecting barricades to prevent tanks rolling into Khartoum, but the question of whether any such coup was genuinely about to take place remains a controversial one.
Abu Eissa was accused of fabricating the whole story so as to facilitate a Communist takeover, and his actions led to bitter recriminations between the Communists and Muslim Brotherhood which divided the Professional Front to the extent that influence of the ‘modern forces’ during the transition to democracy weakened considerably. Some sources have even claimed that the tension between Abu Eissa and Muslim Brother elements within the front became so severe on the night of 9 November that on one occasion he had to be restrained from physically strangling Hassan al-Turabi!
The one blemish on Abu Eissa’s record of combating military authoritarianism is his initial participation as foreign minister in the government of Jafa’ar Nimeiri between 1969 and 1971. A number of other Professional Front elements had sided with the Free Officer movement, which had engineered the coup.
However, Abu Eissa’s desire to remain within the government led him to secede from the Sudan Communist Party after it split with Nimeiri in 1970, although he himself felt compelled to abandon the May Regime in protest at the arbitrary nature of the trials that led to the execution of the Sudan Communist Party leaders following Hashim al-Atta’s failed takeover attempt of July 1971.
Following these events, Abu Eissa never rejoined the party but continued to identify as a ‘democrat’, and his subsequent opposition to the government has led to him being arrested on a number of occasions. In 1983, having returned to Cairo, he was elected secretary-general of the Arab Lawyers’ Union, a position he continued to possess until 2003. Later in the 1980s he joined the executive of the Arab Organization for Human Rights.
Abu Eissa’s influential position in Cairo enabled him to shelter the politicians of the third democratic era (1986-1989) when military rule returned again in 1989. In 1989 he established the National Democratic Alliance as an umbrella opposition group, acting as its co-president with Bona Malwal. It seems that Abu Eisa’s status as a post-communist independent ‘democrat’ enabled him to act as a bridge between a wide variety of political groups. Unlike previous anti-authoritarian opposition coalitions, the NDA incorporated the southern political movements and in particular the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) as well as the traditional northern political parties.
In spite of the participation of the southern rebel movements in the NDA, Gamal Nkrumah reported in 2002 that Abu Eissa remained ‘a sincere believer in Sudanese territorial integrity and national unity’, who advocated federalism, secularism and respect for the country’s cultural diversity. Abu Eissa also established his own refugee organization, the Abu Eisa project, in the 1990s to help provide for Sudanese who fled the NIF-dominated government in the 1990s.
After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, Abu Eissa became an opposition member of the Sudanese parliament. Following the 2010 elections, Abu Eissa, still a political independent, decided to form the National Consensus Forces (NCF) a kind of domestic revival of the NDA. He was briefly detained by government security forces in 2011, having been accused of soliciting financial aid for the opposition at the Dutch embassy – a charge he denies.
During the recent protests against the regime in July 2012, the opposition parties used the umbrella of the National Consensus Forces to sign a pledge to carry out a ‘democratic alternative programme’, cancelling laws restricting freedoms and preparing the country for full elections. Abu Eissa declared ‘we want to rally our people, stand fast with our people so that they stand fast with us in achieving our goal of toppling this regime’.
Gamal Nkrumah, ‘Farouk Abu Eissa: Democrat at Heart’,
Shawgi Mallasi, Awraq Sudaniyya (Khartoum 2004)
Farouq Abu Eissa Interview with Kamal Jizouli, http://www.sudaneseonline.com/cgi-bin/sdb/2bb.cgi?seq=msg&board=82&msg=1253071634, 18 November 2008.
See various comments in memory of Farouk Abu Eissa, esp. by Tijani al-Tayyib and Taj al-Sir Abdullah, ‘Bi-munasiba dhikra thawra al-Oktober: al-Munadil Farouq Abu Eissa bi-la Hudud’, Sudaneseonline, October-December 2005,
Sudan Tribune, ‘Sudan Briefly Detains Opposition Figure’, 14 October 2011.
The Guardian, ‘Sudan’s opposition tightens screw on Omar al-Bashir’, 5 July 2012,
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