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Sudan’s National Dialogue: A Real Outcome or A Buying-time Process?

Sudan's national dialogue  Omar al-Bashir Abdel Fattah al-Sisi  Idriss Deby  Yoweri Museveni
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Chad’s President Idriss Deby and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni as they attend the final session of the Sudanese national dialogue, in Khartoum, Sudan, 10 October 2016. Photo APAImages/REX/Shutterstock

The new government will be led by a prime minister for the first time since 1989. That was when Bashir, then a brigadier general, ousted the elected Prime Minister Saddig al-Mahdi. Under the proposed new government, the prime minister will be appointed by and accountable to the president.

The new government will be responsible for implementing the outcomes of the national dialogue, after making adopting necessary constitutional amendments through the National Council, Sudan’s parliament, and taking executive actions to amend Sudan’s “permanent constitution” for approval by a newly elected parliament. The conference recommended continuing the current parliament and adding a similar number of members from political forces who signed the document. Similarly, President Bashir is to remain in office until his current term ends in 2020.

The president has promised to implement all the changes resulting from the controversial national dialogue, which are included in a final document of about 10,000 words signed by all the participating political forces.

President Bashir has urged the parties abstaining from the dialogue to join and sign at any time. At the same time, he publicly threatened to chase naysayers to their hideouts while addressing his supporters at a celebration for signing of the national dialogue document in October 2016. The conference was boycotted by the National Umma Party, led by former Prime Minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi, as well as the main factions of the Darfur rebel movements, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the Communist Party of Sudan and a number of other small parties.

Attendance

The list of signatories to the dialogue document perhaps reveals a lot about Sudan’s state of affairs, its crises and chronic troubles.

According to the final document, 74 parties, 34 armed movements and national figures have participated in the national dialogue conference. They prepared a practical vision to manage and document the national dialogue, which was held under the motto, “Sudan: a homeland for all,” and which was the largest and most important political event since Sudan’s independence.

By comparison, only five political parties, all from Northern Sudan, were represented in the country’s last democratically elected parliament in 1986. The large number of participants this time demonstrates the government’s efforts to disrupt opposition forces.

President Bashir initiated the national dialogue with his “Wathba-leap” speech appealing for a national consensus in January 2014. After lengthy preparations, the conference committees began their work in October 2015. Since then, the committees’ 648 members have met 312 times, discussed 523 working papers over 1,154 hours of dialogue and made hundreds of recommendations for Sudan’s political transformation.

Loose Recommendations and Promises Without Guarantees

The conference discussed six main themes of peace and unity, economy, freedoms and fundamental rights, national identity, foreign relations and governance as well as how to implement the changes.

“The conference drew up a general, loose and vague recommendations, put emphasis on indisputable fundamental values and principles that do not differ from the provisions of the current constitution with regard to issues of citizenship, ethnic and cultural diversity, separation of power, federal government, independence of the judiciary and other issues,” wrote Faisal Mohammed Salih a prominent Khartoum-based journalist and a long-time critic of the government.

Indeed, there was nothing new in the national dialogue recommendations compared to existing constitution and laws other than calling for appointing a prime minister.

The opposition parties believe that President Bashir’s government failed to meet the minimum conditions they set, such as stopping the war in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, allowing the passage of relief supplies to war areas, guaranteeing basic freedoms, ending press censorship and prosecutions of journalists, releasing political detainees and negotiating, under the supervision of the African Union and the international community, the terms of the “Roadmap” agreement signed by the main opposition forces with the Khartoum government in August 2016 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Some of Sudan’s best known political opposition forces boycotted the conference. They included the Umma Party and the main factions of Darfur rebel movements. Their participation would have helped convince the international community that there is a real change taking pace in Sudan.
Former Prime Minister Mahdi, the Umma Party’s leader, dismissed the dialogue as a conversation between only the government in Khartoum and its supporters. Still, the party’s vice chair, Mariam al-Mahdi, said it was willing to consider dialogue outcomes, because it is not objectionable. But first, she demanded a stop to the war, new efforts to fight corruption and thorough investigations into the government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in western Sudan.

The Sudanese Communist Party also boycotted the dialogue, which received wide media coverage despite the party’s limited membership. Yet even some Islamic political venture partners of the regime also refrained from participating. Among them was Ghazi Salahuddin, who defected from the ruling party several years ago. Salahuddin spoke reservedly of the results of the conference.
“Dialogue is the commodity of our era and has no alternative,” he said, saying that a dialogue should start with the basic requirement of good intentions of political reforms and inclusion, not with score settling or avenging injustice. Nonetheless, Salahuddin said his party was committed to the outcomes of the national dialogue.

Eyes from Abroad

Although the Sudanese government is uneasy with the African mediation led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, Khartoum needs the support of the international community, particularly from the United States and the European Union, to lift the years-long American economic embargo. One factor in Sudan’s favor is the White House’s outspoken disapproval of the idea of forcibly toppling the Khartoum government. The U.S. position is conditional on stopping the Sudanese civil war and reaching a comprehensive peace settlement, and on Khartoum’s continued cooperation with Washington in its war against terrorism and the EU’s fight against illegal immigration.

Khartoum has reacted with a mixture of satisfaction and resentment to a statement from the U.S. calling the national dialogue a first-phase project that will pave the way for wider participation of all the opposition forces who signed the road map, while at the same time warning that ending the dialogue will hinder the negotiations with the armed groups. The U.S. State Department advised the Khartoum government to seek to establish a comprehensive dialogue embracing political and armed opposition forces to end the internal conflict.

But the Europeans and the Americans have not lost hope that this conference turns into a real way out for Sudan. The new German ambassador in Khartoum, Ulrich KlÖckner, has continued efforts led by his country to convince the holdouts to join the national dialogue; such an effort could be resumed by the long and tough arm of the U.S. under the administration of Donald Trump.

The roster of state leaders who attended the concluding festival for the national dialogue in Khartoum seemed to highlight the need for reforms. Among the attendees were presidents Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, Idriss Deby of Chad, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda — all of whom, like their host Bashir, are military men with less-than legitimate claim on power.

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