A Sudanese soldier joins a traditional dance group to celebrate in the area of the military headquarters in Khartoum. AFP
After decades of intense divisions, Sudan’s political opposition united recently to form a powerful three-pronged bloc that became part of the protest wave which ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir last week.
During Bashir’s politically repressive three-decade rule, Sudan had around 100 political parties. They ranged from Islamists to leftists and ran the gamut from ardent critics to regime loyalists.
A military transitional council is now set to rule the country for the next two years.
Veteran journalist Mahjoub Mohamed Saleh, 91, mapped out the political trajectories of the burgeoning opposition movement for AFP.
Who is the Sudanese opposition?
“The opposition in Sudan now is made up of the (Paris-based) Nidaa Sudan, the National Consensus Forces and the Sudanese Professionals Association,” said Saleh, who was imprisoned several times during Bashir’s reign.
Collectively, the tripartite bloc is known as the Alliance for Freedom and Change.
Nidaa Sudan includes the Umma Party, the Sudanese Congress Party as well as armed movements such as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
The Umma Party is led by Oxford-educated Sadiq al-Mahdi, who was prime minister twice during the 1960s and 1980s and was ousted by Bashir’s 1989 coup.
He returned to Sudan this year after a year of self-imposed exile in Cairo.
Meanwhile, the “more radical” Sudanese Communist Party and the Baath Party alongside other leftist gatherings form the National Consensus Forces.
Lastly, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) is comprised of small political cadres mostly staffed by young, urban people counting academics, doctors and engineers among their ranks.
They have been the driving force behind mobilising thousands of demonstrators through their savvy and active social media usage to protest against Bashir since Dec.18.
The SPA has called on the transitional military council to immediately “hand over power” to a civilian administration and urged demonstrators to continue with their sit-ins.
How strong is the opposition now?
Protesters have been camped for several weeks in front of important government buildings throughout the country.
Saleh says the opposition bloc has been the most consistent and well-organised in agitating for tangible political change.
“For four months, these people were not afraid to put their bodies on the line,” he said.
Over 30 protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces since the uprising erupted.
The bloc has urged the forthcoming transitional government to arrest Bashir and a coterie of political elite figures who have been in power since the 1989 coup.
These include the powerful security and intelligence chiefs and leaders of Bashir’s National Congress Party.
“All the various parties that make up the opposition are now going to unite, sort out their differences and learn from their previous mistakes at this crucial time,” he added.
“But when things return to their natural state, political squabbles and factional in-fighting will ultimately emerge.”
What about the Islamists and the diaspora?
“Islamists will not disappear from the scene but will not be as influential, especially with the end of the National Congress Party,” the renowned journalist noted.
He told AFP that other Islamist alternatives opposing NCP policies have been a mainstay of Sudanese politics and that they will continue to survive in some form or another.
The most prominent Islamist movement which still has a massive following is the Popular Congress Party, headed by hardline ideological figure Hassan al-Turabi.
With the opposition in the diaspora — particularly in London and Paris where exiles have been politically active — Saleh sees them as playing a pivotal role in the future.
Around five million Sudanese live overseas, mostly across the Middle East, Europe and North America.
“All of these opposition movements have their followers overseas ... They represent a mass of human resources that can be drawn upon when it comes to forming a civilian government,” Saleh said.
The appointment of Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan Abdelrahman as the new head of Sudan’s transitional military council is a step in the right direction and one can now expect the country’s democratic transition to take place in a systematic and peaceful manner.
If you want to understand what’s going on in Sudan today, it’s worth imagining the same events on home turf. So let’s pretend for a moment that London is Khartoum, Europe is the Middle East, and that extraordinary things are unfolding on your doorstep. A major protest is taking place in Westminster. People are asking for change.
At this point of time when Sudan is going through troubled times, peace and restraint are key aspects and it is important that the country’s democratic transition takes place in a systematic and peaceful manner. As reflected in the well-meaning Twitter message by Dr Anwar Bin Mohammed Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs,
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