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Sudan, the Nile and End of the Long Night

Sudan, the Nile and End of the Long Night

Monday, 19 August, 2019 - 07:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
They called it the “joy of Sudan”. I was somewhat provoked and confused with the description. Experience has shown us that joy does not often apply to Arab countries. At best, joy is a fleeting sentiment.

The description is strange as Sudan is not often associated with joyous moments, which were always short since its independence. We usually viewed it as an unlucky country. Geography did not do it any favors when it made it a meeting point of Arab and African failures. Failures meet in Sudan as the Blue and White Niles meet in Khartoum.

Frequent visits and dialogue between the ruling powers and opposition gave the impression that the window of hope was shut and would not open in the near future. People spoke of a Sudan that was lost between coups and revolts. They spoke of the ingeniousness of the political forces in restoring democracy and then losing it to long debates over the constitution and regional affairs.

For long years, it appeared that Sudan was firmly stuck in its suffering. In June 1989, the president and country were in grips with the “salvation revolt”, a plot concocted by Dr. Hassan al-Turabi that called for the appointment of Omar al-Bashir as president and the imprisonment of the plotter of the coup. It was as smart misinformation campaign that hid the Islamic identity of the coup. Everyone fell for the plot and the sheikh and president were able to seize control of the country before the general later turned against his mentor.

Four months after Bashir seized power, the world began to change. The Berlin wall began to sway and eventually collapsed. Peoples of eastern Europe escaped the clutches of the Soviet Union. The “comrades” and their parties began to fall. An exhausted Russia rose up from Soviet rubble. It was said at the time that the age of totalitarian rule was on its way to extinction.

The world changed, but Sudan did not. The regime was deluded in thinking that it could impose its will on the people. It was also deluded in believing it could stoke regime changes beyond its borders. It did not hesitate in playing the most dangerous games when it hosted men who had shed blood in countries near and far. Only the notorious Carlos did not escape unscathed. He fell victim to a deal between the sheikh and president with French authorities, which landed him in French jail where he remains. His only solace is knowing that Bashir now resides in Kobar prison.

Despite the obstacles and warnings, the regime stuck to its approach that ignored Sudan’s diverse society and the rights of people who do not look like the locals. This led to the separation between north and south and Sudan’s loss of a major part of its population, land and oil wealth. Throughout all of this, the tragedy was unraveling in Darfur and other provinces.

When the “Arab Spring” struck and ousted rulers who believed they could remain in power until their dying breath, many predicted Sudan would change, but they were mistaken. The spring ended, leaving oppressors in its wake. Bashir thought that the worst was over, but the Sudanese, who were worn down by conflicts, regime maneuvers and the president’s famous stick dance, rose up in a peaceful revolt that the security agencies could not drive off course or outmaneuver. Several generals realized that Bashir’s time was up and they threw him in Kobar jail where he had dumped his opponents.

This change would not have been possible without the Forces of Freedom and Change’s determination to establish a civilian state and put an end to dictatorial and totalitarian rule. All of this would not have been possible without the military’s siding with change and acceptance of the new reality. We must admit that Sudan would have been plunged in a new, long and bloody war had the army sided with Bashir and given the militias the opportunity to pounce on those dreaming of change.

The insistence of the dreamers for change, the military’s understanding of their goal and the Arab, African and international encouragement allowed the country – after making difficult choices – to realize the “joy of Sudan.” This ultimately led the military council and representatives of popular movements to sign the constitutional document that paves the way for civilian rule through a three-year transition period.

It will not be easy. Sudan needs a form of reconstruction. The dream of a civilian state is not easy in this part of the world, neither is the dream of establishing democracy, respecting pluralism and the right to be different and holding transparent elections. This transition demands that the civilians and generals dance a tango. In a tango, you must understand your partner, acknowledge his concerns and keep your steps in line with his. The transition requires security that can only be provided by the security institution after it is rid of saboteurs. The military leaders must stick to pragmatism because turning back the hands of time is impossible or costly. The success of the Sudanese tango also needs patience. The problems are many and have been accumulating. The economy is in tatters and institutions are built on allegiances, not competencies.

During the signing ceremony, I was struck by Mohammed Naji al-Asam, a member of the Forces of Freedom and Change, who addressed the international community to apologize for “Sudan’s absence for three decades.” He later added: “Sudan fits us all and we must take care of it. We must agree to live together in peace despite our differences.” I was also struck by his demand to “end all forms of discrimination against women and ensuring that she obtains her legal rights.”

The Sudanese have opened the window of hope and they must protect it with determination, patience, pragmatism and humility. The “joy of Sudan” appeared deep and real as if the people had lit lanterns to light up the Nile and drive away the long night.

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