The anniversary of June 30th is approaching in the Nile Valley; an anniversary that has the same taste in both Egypt and Sudan. In both countries, this anniversary marks the end of the miracle of democracy that was a symbol of its time. Just as the January 25, 2011, revolution occurred in Egypt, a popular uprising occurred in Sudan on March 25, 1985, against the regime of the dictator Gaafar An-Nimeiry.
While Mubarak’s regime survived 18 days before the army gave up on it, the An-Nimeiry regime only lasted 12. In both cases, the army formed a civilian government and led the transitional phase until authority was handed over to an elected government, but there were some differences between the two countries. In Egypt, the military, intelligence agencies and remnants of the Mubarak regime remained almost completely dominant over the state and only allowed the state a small margin to manoeuvre in. As for Sudan, the transitional and elected governments had full authority, as the An-Nimeiry regime was dismantled, along with his security agencies and political party.
In both cases, democracy was undermined internally by means of “sectarian” division between the Islamic and secular forces. Also, in both countries, the Islamists sided with democracy because they would benefit the most from it, while the secularists were against it because they wouldn’t gain much. In Sudan, the radical secular forces sided with the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Sudan, an armed rebellion movement in the south, and used the movement as a weapon for the tame and dictated their terms over the democratic process. This pressure worked when the army directed a warning at the Prime Minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi in February 1989. The same type of warning was directed by the Egyptian Defence Minister Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi to President Mohamed Morsi during the last week of June. This warning was: broaden the base of the government within a week or else…
However, Al-Mahdi, unlike Morsi, dissolved his government and removed the Islamists in order to please the army, Egypt, and the same countries that backed Al-Sisi’s coup. These countries fear democracy and the Islamists and view this combination as a deadly mix. In both cases, the Islamists rejected the warning and did not agree to become involved in the “The Map of the Future”, (known in Sudan as the Mirghani-Garang Agreement, and signed by the two men in Addis Ababa in November 1988). Also, in both countries, the Islamists led popular protests against what they described as a coup against democracy. Unlike Egypt, the Islamists of Sudan had enough influence over the army to turn the tables and they used the army against their opponents who encouraged and supported the military memorandum and believed it to be a breakthrough.
We do not want to get into the mistakes made during the Sudanese experience, as they are well-known and obvious, however, it is enough to point out that many of the Islamists and military officers who supported Bashir’s coup against democracy in 1989 are regretful. The difference between Egypt and Sudan is that many of those who supported Al-Sisi’s coup regretted their decision before the first six months of the coup were over, while the supporters of the Sudan coup only began re-thinking their decision years later. It is perhaps ironic that some of Bashir’s supporters applauded Al-Sisi’s coup while they were unaware that by doing so they are applauding Bashir’s coup because they are saying that anyone with power has the right to do whatever they like and that if they rose to power, they would act like Al-Sisi, which would justify their opponents’ clinging to power at all cost.
There is no doubt that Al-Sisi and Bashir made the same mistake; they drew out the “The Map of the Future” without taking into consideration the opposition. This would mean that the government would dedicate most of its power to oppressing a large sector of the people, rather than making the effort to gather the energy of all the nation’s sectors together in order to channel into building the country.
This means that the government would exhaust itself, destroy the nation and act as an obstacle hindering its development. This is what happened in Sudan and is now happening before our eyes in Egypt, despite the fundamental difference lying in the fact that Egypt has a strong regional support system and the outside would does not view it as a threat, while the regime in Sudan was facing strong opposition from its neighbours, and was even classified as a rogue state in the West.
In Sudan, the regime faced an armed opposition from the beginning, and the opposition force was unable to rally a large popular movement that would cause the people to take to the streets in opposition of the regime. Meanwhile in Egypt, the opposition has remained civilian and was able to gather popular protests and had continued to go on for over a year, despite the fierce oppression, the “drying up” policy, and the mass death sentences. It is truly a miracle really that the popular opposition lasted so many months in light of these measures. It is worth noting that Egypt and the world have been irreversibly changed since the Arab Spring in early 2011. When Abdel Nasser dealt his famous blow to the Muslim Brotherhood movement in 1954, executing its leaders and arresting tens of thousands of supporters, not one demonstration was carried out against him despite the fact that the Islamists had the same regional support Al-Sisi has today, and from the same countries. The same happened when Hama, Syria, was buried alive in 1982; when silence prevailed over the graves of Damascus, Homs and other Syrian cities, but today, the case is different.
What we have noticed in Egypt, Syria and Sudan is the absence of qualified “generals” in the ranks of the opposition. There are brave soldiers on the ground who are not afraid of what the authorities throw or shoot at them, and these individuals have been the greatest examples of steadfastness on every battlefield, both military and peaceful. However, battles are not won by infantries; they are won by the plans hatched by bold and smart generals. There are no endless warnings, but there must be an accepted and attractive “road map”. This is what the opposition in Egypt, Syria and Sudan are missing, and the tyrannical regimes are surviving on the errors of the opposition more than they are on their own.
In Egypt, the Islamists have not faced the fact that they have committed deadly political errors while opposing Mubarak, as well as after the revolution and during Morsi’s presidency. The Brotherhood in particular failed in reassuring the opposition and was unable to build bridges that would unite the Egyptian factions. There is no use blaming the enemies and condemning their plots and schemes, as the opposition’s schemes are both known facts and their duty, just like every football team has the duty to strive to score goals in the opponent’s net. The blame is not on those who score the goals, but those who failed to protect their net.
There seems to be a problem with the approach adopted by all of the Islamic parties. The Islamists in Sudan made many mistakes even before they were given power which led to their isolation and scaring people away. Their first mistake was continuing to remain allied with President Nimeiri, even though the Islamists were the first to realise that allying with a tyrant such An-Nimeiry was fatal. They then made the biggest mistake of adhering to An-Nimeiry’s Islamic laws despite the problems of such laws and their use as an ideology against enemies. This resulted in hindering the peace efforts in the south and the demonisation of the rebel movements there. There were countless mistakes during their rule. There was also the same sort of blundering behaviour seen by the Islamic movements in Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and the Gulf states. There were no survivors after this except for the Islamic movements in Kuwait and Tunisia because they succeeded in building bridges with other forces.
What we need in Egypt is to see political measures taken by opposition leaders, generals must present initiatives and solutions for previous mistakes, as well as suggestions for what to avoid in the future. Revolutions cannot succeed only through protests and demonstrations and the winner in the end is the party that presents the best formula for the future of the country that can accommodate the greatest number of effective political forces without excluding any.
Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 9 June, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.