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The return of communism and the battle to define Sudan’s true identity

April 17, 2019 at 4:38 pm

A Sudanese communist party convention organiser speaks to participants and delegates attending the fifth general convention of the party, the first such meeting for over 40 years, in Khartoum on 24 January 2009. [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images]

Almost 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall which brought communism to an abrupt end in Europe, communism has emerged alive and flourishing in Sudan.

After last week’s removal of President Omar Al Bashir from power, it has now become clear that the campaign was partly funded and orchestrated by a resurgence of communist ideologues determined to establish a secular state with socialist leaning in the Sudan.

The revelation that the leader of the Sudan Professional Association (SPA) is a relative of the deposed Al-Bashir and a former member of the communist party came as a shock to supporters of the four-month long campaign of protests.

Bahadeen Yusuf, a young Sudanese man who describes himself as a proud “nationalist’, slept outside the Army HQ for four days to demand the removal of Al-Bashir but said he rejects the political ideology of the SPA. “The people who have continued protesting are being organised by the left, they don’t represent me or the Sudanese people.”

READ: Saudi-Emirati delegation visits Sudan in support of military council

Yusuf said he was desperate to see change in Sudan and was prompted to join the protest by the “dire economic conditions” of the country and the “nepotism and corruption” that defined Al-Bashir’s rule. He appears typical of the large sections of the Sudanese public that joined the protest to remove Al-Bashir but prefer to maintain and improve the political orientation of the country.

These latest events have ignited a ferocious debate about the “true” identity of the Sudanese people. That debate began in earnest in 1983 after the then President Jaffer Nimeri introduced Islamic law and cancelled the self-autonomy arrangements agreed with mainly Christian south in the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement which brought an end to the country’s first civil war.

Numeri’s declaration of Islamic law also put an end to the communist inspired administration that placed Sudan in the soviet bloc during the period of the Cold War.

The imposition of Islamic law triggered a second conflict that become the longest civil war in Africa. Underpinning the ideology of armed rebels was a demand for a clear separation of religion and state. A demand rejected by the Islamic orientated government that came to power in 1989.

Those demands were repeated in the recent days by Mohammed Yusuf Al-Mustapha, leader of Sudan’s professional association. “Religion belongs to us Sudanese but should have nothing to do with government, ” he declared.

READ: This was a coup against the revolution, not Bashir

Just how far the communist aspirations of the protest leaders will succeed depends, according to some observers, on whether they can secure the four-year civilian transition government. “The communist party is a very small grouping, four years maybe the only chance they will have to rule Sudan,” said ex-investment minister, Mubarak El Fadil.

He has expressed support for the military council two-year transition term. As has Dr Abdel Mahmoud Nur, the former education minister, who told me: “The military council has made confidence building concessions towards handing over to civilian government.”

The communist driven protest movement has certainly captured the imaginations of young protestors who are continuing the sit-in outside Army HQ. “Don’t congratulate us yet. This military will do all it can to hang on to power like the military in Eygpt, the regime has not fallen yet,” says Ibrahim Omar who joined the protest in late December and remains on the streets.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the Sudanese has also seen the emergence of religious leaders like Abdel Hai Yusuf, who warn of the consequences of Sudan’s change of direction. “Protestors came out to condemn the wrongs and the errors of the government but the protests were not in any shape or form a rejection of the religion of Islam.”

However, notwithstanding the events of the last few days, the communist movement in Sudan also faces a challenge from Western governments worried that Sudan could permanently became part of the Russia-Chinese sphere of influence. The debate within and outside Sudan might rumble on from some time to come.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.