Home | News    Monday 7 May 2007

PROFILE: Fatima Ahmad Ibrahim, veteran Sudanese communist leader

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By Mariantonietta Peru

May 6, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — The curtain is about to fall on the political career of one of Sudan’s most colourful feminists and opposition leaders. This is after the country’s National Assembly suspended for one month Mrs Fatima Ahmad Ibrahim of the opposition Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) over allegations she had assaulted a pro-government legislator, who is also a former vice-president.

The feisty and combative Fatima lost her cool during a routine parliamentary debate and launched a blistering attack on fellow MP Abu al-Qasim Muhammad Ibrahim, accusing the legislator of being behind the death of her late husband.

The suspension hastens Mrs Ibrahim’s exit from the country’s political scene. In mid-March, Fatima announced she was resigning from the SCP top leadership to pave the way for new young leaders. She also said she was relinquishing her position in the Sudanese women’s movement, the General Union of Sudanese Women.

A 20 March report by the Paris-based Sudan Tribune website cited her saying that she "believed in giving young people the opportunity to lead the federation in the coming phase".

MURDER CLAIMS

According to a 3 May report by the Sudan Tribune website, Mrs Ibrahim was suspended after she "physically assaulted" Abu al-Qasim Muhammad Ibrahim, who was the country’s vice-president during the military regime of Jaffar al-Numeirri that ruled Sudan between 1969-1984.

It is alleged Mrs Ibrahim, who first became a parliamentarian in 1965, accused the former vice-president of "having tortured and murdered" her late husband, Al-Shafi Ahmad al-Sheikh in July 1971. She demanded his expulsion from the current House. Ibrahim is currently an MP with the ruling National Congress party of President Omar al-Bashir. The deputy Speaker, Atem Garang, however acted against Mrs Ibrahim by barring her from attending parliamentary sessions for one month and froze her salary.

It was not the first time, Fatima had accused Ibrahim of involvement in her husband’s death. In April 1990, she had censured what called "murders" by the Al-Numeiri and the Al-Bashir regimes. She is reported to have said: "The murder of [my husband] al-Shafi’ Ahmad al-Sheikh should never go without fair trial for the killers."

Her husband was among top SCP leaders who were arrested and executed over an abortive 1971 coup. The SCP, which was founded in 1946, was by then one of the most prominent political parties in Sudan.

PARTY FALLOUT

The current SCP is a pale shadow of its former self but remains one of Sudan’s premier non-religious political parties with a certain amount of broad ideological appeal among the intelligentsia and some segments of the student population.

A 2 May report by the party’s mouthpiece, Al-Maydan, cited Salih Mahmud, the spokesman of the SCP parliamentary block, saying that "neither the SCP nor the parliamentary bloc were involved" in the alleged fracas. The party denounced Mrs Ibrahim’s behaviour terming it "personal".

Some SCP officials, possibly with an eye on next year’s general elections, seem keen to distance themselves from Mrs Ibrahim, who is most likely going to opt out of the race. The party has also been trying in recent years to find its ideological bearings and younger followers are keen to shed its Marxist-Leninist roots. Fatima, who is part of the old guard, is seen by some as too inflexible to move the party in a new direction.

There is also the issue of party elections. Calls have been on the rise in recent months within the SCP for a new party leadership. With Mrs Ibrahim now out of office, the current SCP secretary-general, Ibrahim Nugud, runs the risk of being accused of running the party as a one-man show.

Top government officials and local media have given the issue a wide berth. The leading privately-owned Khartoum Monitor daily is one of the few papers that have reported on the matter. In a 3 May editorial, the paper said that Mrs Ibrahim lost her husband "in the counter revolutionary coup" something that was a "real tragedy" for her.

BACKGROUND

Fatima is said to have been born in Khartoum in 1933 from a wealthy and well-educated family. Her grandfather was one of the pioneer headmasters in Sudan, while her mother attended formal schools under the British colonial authorities.

She joined the Omdurman Secondary School and was also involved in the editing of a local newspaper, Al-Ra’idah, which focused on women’s rights. She later joined the University of Khartoum.

Fatima credits her brother with her gravitation to socialist literature, which led to her founding in 1952 of the Union of Sudanese Women. By the mid-1950s, she had come under the influence of local communists, especially Abd al-Khaliq Mahjub, the then secretary-general of the SCP. She subsequently joined the party. She was a vocal opponent of the then military regime of Gen Ibrahim Abud that ruled Sudan between 1958-64. She became a member of parliament in 1965 following the collapse of the Abud regime the previous year.

The political thaw was short-lived as it was followed by the Numeiri coup. In 1969, Fatima married Al-Shafi al-Sheikh, who was then one of the country’s prominent trade unionists. The couple, who had a son, became a target of the new regime. In 1971, her husband was arrested and later executed over an alleged coup plot. Fatima was held under house arrest for two and half years and for the next two decades remained a target of subsequent authoritarian governments.

In 1990, she fled to exile in the UK where she continued with her human rights efforts. She won a UN award in 1993 for her human rights campaigns. She returned home in 2005. The following year she won the Ibn Rushd Prize for her struggle for women’s rights and social justice in Sudan and the greater Arab world.

Fatima has published two books - "Our Path to Emancipation" and "Our Harvest in Twenty Years."

(BBC Monitoring Service)

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