Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 27 December 2018

Sudan’s traitors, saboteurs and masakeen

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By Magdi El Gizouli

Yesterday, 25 December, downtown Khartoum was the scene of a large-scale protest against the rule of President Bashir. The protest was called for by the recently established Sudanese Professionals Association, an alliance of independent professionals’ unions including doctors, engineers and pharmacists. University students and younger employees from Sudan’s business and service sectors predominated and granted the protest its social media galore compared to the preceding wave of protests in provincial towns beginning in Atbara on 19 December. Already on alert and expectant of the previously announced protest, the security services were strategically positioned to deal with the demonstrators using tear gas and gunfire. According to a statement of the Professionals’ Association, eight people sustained gunshot wounds, three at the time of writing were fighting for their lives. Over five hundred people were taken into detention, mostly to be released on the same or the subsequent day.

Meanwhile, President Bashir travelled to Gezira State, south of the capital Khartoum. He addressed a crowd in the town of Wad al-Haddad where he described protesters against his government as “traitors, sellouts, agents and saboteurs”. The president read mostly form his ‘Islamist’ dictionary but he was forced to cut his speech short by chants of teer teer ya Bashir, politely translated as ‘bug off oh Bashir’ or probably more correctly when considering intent as ‘fuck off oh Bashir’ as opposed to the standard seer seer ya Bashir (go on oh Bashir). Live television transmission was abruptly interrupted and the president’s motorcade was rushed out to his next stop, al-Sheikh Mekki’s village, where he held a 9 minutes speech rich with Quran verses that promise true believers tests and trials as a condition for deliverance and divine support.

Standing behind the president in Wad al-Haddad was al-Fatih Urwa, CEO of the telecommunications giant Zain Sudan, retired military officer and intelligence guru. Urwa who graduated form military college in 1970 was Sudan’s representative at the UN (1996-2005), presidential national security advisor (1989-2005) and state minister of defence (1989). Urwa is a key figure of Sudan’s intelligence establishment and was a prominent officer in Nimayri state security bureau from 1976 to the demise of Nimayri’s regime in 1985. Veteran security officers from the Nimayri era claim he leaked details of the evacuation of Beta Jews from Ethiopia to Israel through Sudan in 1984 to the National Islamic Front of Hassan al-Turabi. Whether this claim is true or not, Urwa was one of two officers in charge of the operation from the side of Sudanese state security. Urwa is believed to be one of three people including his two wives, whom President Bashir sees almost daily. In light of events in the count,ry there waa s good reason to keep Urwa close. For whatever reason, he was not on stage when President Bashir addressed the small crowd of al-Sheikh Mekki.

Now, whatever information or counsel Urwa gave to President Bashir during his brief trip to Gezira protesters kept the security apparatus busy in the heart of Khartoum for several hours. Government rhetoric shifted firmly from the initial apologetic and rather defensive stance of ‘we understand your pain’ to an offensive and divisive racial account spelled out by its security chief Salah Gosh in his briefing to the press on 22 December. The head of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) claimed that a group of 280 people recruited by the Israeli Mossad from members of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement led by Abd al-Wahid Mohamed Nur and dispatched to Sudan from a neighbouring country were responsible for the burning down of headquarters of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in several towns. Salah Gosh went on to accuse petty gangsters (habitually referred to with the slur ‘niggers’) of taking advantage of the security situation to burn and loot. The security services, he claimed, apprehended seven members of the Mossad-trained group and had knowledge of the names of the rest.

On 25 December and as President Bashir was bellowing out about traitors and saboteurs in al-Sheikh Mekki young men who hail from Darfur faced state television cameras to admit being part of Salah Gosh’s alleged ‘Zionist-Fur-Nigger plot’. The young men paraded for the cameras with their faces battered and swollen included Ahmed Mekki Abdalla Ibrahim, head of the Darfur Students Association in Sennar University. Mekki and 31 of his colleagues, all from Darfur, were arrested from their residence in Sennar, 21 were transferred to Khartoum as many other Darfuri students were being rounded up in the capital to satisfy a racial profile of alleged traitors, saboteurs and fifth columnists.

Corresponding with this racial profiling is a distinction that the government is at pains to create between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protesters. The good are identified as peaceful complainants who wish to express their dissatisfaction with the worsening economic situation in the country and the bad as violent agitators plotting to exploit this sense of dissatisfaction and overthrow the regime. In his faceless statement on 24 December, his first comments on the situation in the country since the eruption of protests in Atbara on 19 December, President Bashir warned citizens against responding to "attempts to instil frustration”. The substance of this warning speaks to the fear of Sudan’s propertied classes from the riverine heartland of an encroaching underclass of impoverished vengeful racial others from Sudan’s war zones.

Darfuri students have been at the receiving end of this punishing racial regime for years and are today framed once again as the plotting saboteurs behind the revolutionary surge gripping the country since 19 December. While the overwhelming majority of the Khartoum downtown protesters on 25 December were released within hours of their apprehension, beaten up but not brutalised, the Darfuri students are likely to face the full wrath of the NISS, torture, lengthy detentions and criminal prosecution if not extrajudicial killing. To illustrate this point, eight Darfuri students were kept in detention from 13 September 2017 to 19 February 2018 on accusation of undermining state security after they held an ad hoc political rally in a Khartoum North bus station. They were rearrested a week later on the grounds that the NISS had fresh evidence against them.

Often solidarity with these students is limited by the race/class geography of media-savvy middle class protesters. Their fate is itemised as one of the crimes of a brutal regime but rarely pursued further apart from the impressive legal aid provided by the Darfur Lawyers Association. Where the NISS sees saboteurs standard educated opinion in Khartoum sees masakeen (pl. of miskeen), a multifaceted and rich term that refers to the powerless, the meek, the impoverished and ultimately disconnected, people who are not part of the networks of power, wealth and influence. Islamic sharia defines a miskeen as a person with no property to her name and hence eligible to receive zakat. Indeed, the revolutionary element in Sudan’s recent days of rage is that masakeen of sorts, even from Salah Gosh’s folk in Karima, rose to challenge state authority, burning down its idols and claiming its guarded warehouses as their own.

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 m.elgizouli@gmail.com



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