Full Name: Ghazi Salahaddin al-Atabani
Current Position: Presidential Adviser on Darfur
Date of Birth: 15 November 1951
Born: Omdurman, Khartoum State, Sudan.
Family: Member of al-Atabani family. Married to Samia Habbani the daughter of a prominent Habbaniyya Baggara leader in Darfur.
Education: Faculty of Medicine, University of Khartoum, 1978; PHD, Clinical Biochemistry, Surrey University, Guildford, England, 1985.
Career: Lecturer in Medicine, University of Khartoum; NCP Secretary General, 1996-1998; Minister of State for Foreign Affairs; Minister of Culture and Information; Minister of Communications; Presidential Adviser on Peace Affairs; Presidential Adviser on Darfur.
EARLY LIFE & EDUCATION
Hailing from the privileged al-Atabani family, which has historic links to the household of the Sudanese Mahdi, Ghazi Salahaddin al-Atabani possesses more of an elite background than most of Sudan’s Islamists.
In spite of this, as a student activist he found himself on the front line of the Islamic Movement’s battles with the Nimeiri regime in the 1970s. He physically participated in the Libyan backed coup of 1976 in which the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition parties on the religious right attempted to overthrow the military dictator. After the failure of the attempted coup and subsequent reconciliation between Nimeiri and the religious right in 1977, Ghazi was finally able to complete his education at the University of Khartoum.
Like many other Islamists at the time, he then pursued a postgraduate education in the West, completing a PhD at Surrey which then enabled him to take up position as lecturer in medicine at the University of Khartoum. His status as doctor of medicine provides another interesting similarity between himself and fellow senior members of the National Islamic Front who took power in alliance with the military in 1989, and are often referred to ironically as ‘medecins sans frontiers’.
Ghazi’s elite background and refined demeanour enables him to present himself as the regime’s most moderate character, and a man who can be approached by both the opposition and the West.
In 1996 he lead the negotiations that brought about the return of the veteran Democratic Unionist Party politician and his brothers from exile, and in the following year he held a meeting with Sadiq al-Mahdi in Lausanne that would eventually ensure the deposed former prime-minister’s return to the country in 2000. During the same period in the late 1990s he also became the regime’s chief peace negotiator with South Sudan, signing the 2002 Machakos protocol with Salva Kiir before eventually passing the dossier over to Ali Uthman Taha.
Ghazi was one of the signatories of the famous ‘memorandum of the ten’ of 1998 which criticized the path the Islamic movement had taken under its then leader, Hassan al-Turabi. He also played a key role in establishing the National Congress Party (NCP), which became the ruling party after al-Turabi’s departure from the government.
In spite of this, Ghazi made a number of overtures towards al-Turabi in 2002 as part of an attempt to re-integrate al-Turabi and his followers, who had founded the Popular Congress Party (PCP), into the NCP. This caused Ghazi some embarrassment when his private correspondence with al-Turabi was leaked to the newspaper Akhir Lahza. Ghazi had in these writings lamented the split within the Islamic movement, acknowledging that this discord was leading it to lose support amongst young people.
DARFUR & THE WEST
Ghazi also portrays himself as ‘Mr Reasonable’ to western diplomats and western researchers, telling them Sudan’s difficulties are caused by ‘problem people’ within the regime such as Ali Osman Taha and Nafie Ali Nafie. Like Taha, he has become increasingly frustrated at being left out of the ‘security loop’ dominated by Nafie and his cronies.
At the beginning of the Darfur crisis, he was perceived by Western diplomats as being a man who could potentially play a positive role. He argued in 2004 that the government had made mistakes in responding to the Darfur rebellion but that further disarming the government militias would lead to rebel groups taking advantage and conducting revenge attacks. Ghazi, whose wife Samia Habbani is the daughter of a prominent Habbaniyya Baggara leader in Darfur, currently handles the Darfur dossier within the government. As part of his position Ghazi appears in the Western media defending the government’s policy in Darfur and attacking the ICC.
In August 2008 Ghazi ran against Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Taha for the position of Secretary General of the Islamic Movement (IM). Taha was re-elected in a narrow contest but Ghazi chose not to put himself forward for election at the movement’s conference in November 2012 when Taha stepped down as the IM’s constitution does not allow more than two terms in the position.
Insiders say the Ghazi 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. He was fiercely critical of the government’s response to the resolution issued on 24 April by the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) over the situation between Sudan and South Sudan following their brief war in the same month around the border oilfields of Heglig.
Al-Atabani publicly criticized the government for accepting the resolution and its subsequent referral to the UN Security Council (UNSC), basing his objections on what he described - in an op-ed published by the daily Sudanese newspaper Al-Intibaha on 30 April - as the introduction into the AUPSC resolution of articles biased in favor of South Sudan and against Khartoum by the international community.
In January 2010 Ghazi wrote a comment piece in the UK’s Guardian newspaper: This bleak view of Darfur is based on outdated stereotypes - A calm is now holding, and healthcare is improving
In April 2009 Ghazi participated in one the BBC’s Doha Debates on the ICC’s indictment of President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir for crimes in Darfur:
Part 2 - Not on You Tube.
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