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Rift Valley Institute

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A house of mud: Sudanese reads of Egypt

By Magdi El-Gizouli

August 26, 2013 – When Adly Mansour was installed interim president of Egypt by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the de factor ruler of the country, President Bashir eschewed the courtesy of congratulating his official counterpart down the Nile. The dramatic ouster of President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian military set off sirens in Khartoum, dulled only by the heavy rains and flash floods that more or less dissolved the common mud houses of the nas (commoners) in the capital and at no cost washed the dust off the concrete villas of the fortunate few. As the Egyptian security forces were busy killing hold-out supporters of Morsi in Cairo’s squares, Sisi’s soldiers airlifted humanitarian aid to the ‘people’ of Sudan. For some of Sudan’s star ‘democrats’, the gesture was the ornament needed to declare Sisi the type of benevolent strongman the country needs, a ‘nationalist’ officer capable of crushing the Islamist menace in an afternoon or two of tyranny. One particularly enthusiastic commentator crowned el-Sisi “the most important leader in the Middle East, past and future,” “a man with grand charisma”, whom history will grant “a degree above Gamal Abdel Nasser, and even above Ramses I.”

The mouthpiece of Tayeb Mustafa’s Just Peace Forum (JPF), al-Intibaha, published an assortment of pictures from the massacre in Rabaa al-Adawiya on 14 August, Mohamed Beltagy’s daughter smiling and then a lifeless face, the brain of a protestor in the hands of another, the rows of corpses in the mosque waiting in eternity for Morsi to return. On Friday 16 August, members of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP), the two wings of the parent Islamic Movement in Sudan, joined each other in a rally to protest the bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Officially, the Sudanese government maintained the ‘Chinese’ line that what is happening in Egypt is an internal affair for Egyptians to sort out. The NCP members who were chanting in Khartoum against el-Sisi’s coup did so under the banner of the NCP-subservient Islamic Movement, a nuance supposed to free the ruling party from the obligation of taking a definitive position on the issue and yet satisfy the imperative of solidarity with the Egyptian brothers. Zubeir Ahmed al-Hassan, the secretary general of the NCP’s Islamic Movement, and Ibrahim al-Sanosi, a veteran Islamist and Turabi’s deputy in the PCP, addressed the Friday rally, permitted to park next to the Republic Palace as only a democracy would allow. The two men appealed for reconciliation between the two wings of the Islamic Movement to face the challenge of the secular threat, the Sisi in the dark.

“To my brother and sheikh Ibrahim al-Sanosi, what happened in Egypt pushes us towards unity. We should overcome our differences. The Islam that has survived imprisonment and attained power through democracy is the answer”, said al-Zubeir Ahmed al-Hassan referring to the election victories of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). To this flirt Ibrahim responded: “It is time to unite the Muslims to face the secularist threat from the [Atlantic] Ocean to the [Arab] Gulf, the forces that conspire against our brothers in Egypt. When they finish them off they will come to Sudan.” “The battle goes on as long as there is good and evil,” added Sanosi the sheikh. Sisi betrayed Allah and betrayed Morsi, who promoted him and made him his minister, he said, inviting the comparison with President Bashir, whom the PCP accuses of betraying Hassan al-Turabi, the Islamic project, and Allah for that matter. The emotions of Islamic unity were immediately traded in the political market. Press reports repeated over the next week claims of an impending reconciliation between the NCP and the PCP starting with a “love you too” meeting between President Bashir and his former sheikh Hassan al-Turabi. NCP officials welcomed the idea and commentators shot in all directions, speculating whether the PCP’s Ali al-Haj, settled in Germany, would replace Ali Osman Mohamed Taha as first vice president, or whether the ‘Saihoon’ princelings, the noisy reform protagonists in the NCP, would be invited to inherit the state. After all, the ‘Saihoon’ can boast a triad with government experience, Wad Ibrahim the army officer, Salah Gosh the security chief and Ghazi Salah al-Din al-Atabani the intellectual statesman.

To many a secular-minded opponent of the NCP, Egypt between 30 June and 14 August offered the fulfilment of dreams long nursed, a popular uprising against Islamist rule, the army stepping in to side with the ‘people’ and clear the ground for real democracy, and a ruthless security operation that pins proponent of political Islam for what they really are, ‘terrorists’. Many were reading from the chapter of Sudan’s April 1985 uprising against Jaafar Nimayri, and were thus ready to cheer el-Sisi as Egypt’s Siwar al-Dahab. The revered general was Chief of Staff and then General Commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) during Nimayri’s last year in power. He and senior officers of the army declared Nimayri history on 6 April 1985 after a fortnight of protests in Khartoum and other major towns calling for the overthrow of the absent autocrat, occupied at the time in the US. Siwar al-Dahab, as the most senior army officer, assumed leadership of the Transitional Military Council, to steer a one year interim period and eventually handed over power to the elected parliamentary government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi. Siwar al-Dahab, it must be added, is no stranger to Islamist politics. Once out of office he was named Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Call Organization, the charity arm of the Islamic Movement, which according to urban myth hosted the recording of President Bashir’s 30 June 1989 coup declaration. For the sake of detail, Nimayri had dismissed Siwar al-Dahab from the SAF in 1972, and he landed in Qatar where he served as military advisor of its Emir at the time, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad, and actual commander of the army and police until his recall by Nimayri the repentant imam in the 1980s.

Reduce the above to pairs of Maoist abstractions and the result is two contradictions, one between secular and Islamist rule and another between military and civilian rule, argument being over which contradiction is the principal. The abstractions, compelling as they might be, miss if not mystify the dirty third, the contradiction between the mud house on the floodplains, washed away, and the imposing villas, washed clean by Khartoum’s rains. Pit latrines collapsing around him, more the fifty thousand in the official count, the commissioner of Khartoum ordered a ban on building with mud bricks.

The author is a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute. He publishes regular opinion articles and analyses at his blog Still Sudan. He can be reached at

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