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BUCKLE UP BASHIR

Al-Ahram Weekly - March 16, 2009 by Gamal Nkrumah Sudan's squall threatens to turn into a global tempest. Indeed, three oddities will shape 2009's paramount Sudanese occurrences. First is Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir's indictment for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and how the Sudanese government deals with the impending crisis it brings. Second is response by various Sudanese political groups to the arrest warrant; that would have inevitable repercussions, particularly on the referendum in southern Sudan. Third is regional and international reaction to the potentially combustible Sudanese situation. As yet unlikely is the formation of another grand Sudanese political coalition in demonstration of solidarity with Al-Bashir. That would leave open the possibility of an unwieldy government unable to deal with Sudan's complex challenges. The ICC indictment of Al-Bashir makes for compelling life drama. All depends on how Al-Bashir walks the tightrope playing the double roles of diplomat as well as dynamo. There are no brash newcomers in Sudanese politics. The balance of political power makes it more attractive for the Sudanese political establishment to pay attention to the needs of its old timers. Sudan appears attempting to wriggle itself free from the bellicose, muscle- armed state instituted by President Al-Bashir with the blessing of his then guru Sheikh Hassan Al-Turabi, the onetime speaker of the Sudanese parliament and currently leader of the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP). Al-Turabi, the proverbial old timer, was released this week from incarceration in a jail in Sudan's major Red Sea outlet of Port Sudan where he had languished for two months. The 76-year-old Al-Turabi, suffering from health problems, reiterated his stance that in order to save Sudan Al-Bashir must hand himself over to the ICC. "The ICC indictment does not infringe on the independence of Sudan as a sovereign nation," Al-Turabi told Al-Ahram Weekly. "The ICC allegations are directed against an individual, President Al-Bashir, and not the Sudanese government. Therefore, the president should heed the ICC injunction," Al-Turabi explained. Wisal Al-Mahdi, wife of Al-Turabi, warned that her husband was suffering from hypertension because of the physical and psychological pressures he was subjected to in prison. "His blood pressure skyrocketed," she told the Weekly. Al-Turabi's release was presumably a calculated attempt by Al-Bashir to rally support to his cause, detractors of the Sudanese president assert. Upon his release, Al-Turabi stressed that if and when Al-Bashir stands trial, it will "enhance Sudan's international standing". Al-Turabi was severely critical of Al-Bashir for the forcible expulsion of 13 foreign aid agencies in response to his indictment. "Such indiscriminate and impetuous moves only isolates Sudan further in the international arena," Al-Turabi warned. "The ICC does not consist of politicians and diplomats, but of distinguished judges and lawyers of international repute," he noted. "In case President Al-Bashir does not respond to the ICC injunction, and given that the court does not have a police force, the ICC will be obliged to resort to the UN Security Council to enforce the arrest warrant," Al-Turabi -- himself a seasoned lawyer -- explained. He added: "Al-Bashir should assume responsibility for whatever tragedies that afflicted the people of Darfur -- displacement, systematic rape, killing in cold blood." Al-Turabi concluded that Al-Bashir was "politically culpable". Given the ICC indictment of Al-Bashir, a chaotic multi-party mĂȘlĂ©e is in the offing. Once again, Al-Turabi's PCP will not play the role of the congenial smaller party. It has adopted a vociferously anti-Bashir and anti- National Congress Party (NPC) stance. Its leaders have openly declared that they will not be party to any government of national unity. They are, for the moment, content to remain in opposition. Al-Turabi, Sudan's modern day democracy evangelist has issued provocative anti-Bashir statements which presumably are the Sudanese opposition leader's way of forcing change in a country he believes has a tragically stifled democratic development. Al-Turabi dallies with the armed opposition groups in Darfur, most notably the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). There are those, like JEM, who insist that Al-Bashir and his ilk within the ruling NCP are fast accumulating power without much respectability. Al-Turabi insists that President Al-Bashir has neither the legitimacy nor any credibility. He notes that the Sudanese president cannot rely on being a populist. "He must be accountable to his people. He must be held responsible for his henchmen's actions in Darfur." Were that to happen, Al-Turabi explained, the country would be on the right path to instituting a viable democracy. Sadly, few among the ruling clique of Sudan seem to comprehend the gravity of the situation. Al-Bashir, for one, is in no mood to compromise. "We will expel anyone who goes against Sudanese law, whether they are voluntary organisations, diplomatic missions or security forces," the Sudanese president said. According to the leadership in Khartoum, even if there are more hard times ahead in Sudan, there is cause for comfort. They are pinning their hopes on Muslim, Arab and African action to stall the arrest of Al-Bashir. Against this backdrop, Egypt's call for the reprieve of the ICC indictment comes into play. Indeed, Khartoum has long hoped that bold regional diplomacy could help solve Sudan's crises. Rumours spread this week about the possibility of Al-Bashir paying official visits to certain Arab and African capitals. The Sudanese authorities announced that Al-Bashir was considering accepting an invitation by Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki to visit the neighbouring Horn of Africa country, deemed by most Western powers as pariah. However, Sudanese authorities dismissed suggestions that Al-Bashir was to visit Ethiopia. It is also unclear if Al-Bashir would fly to Doha to attend the Arab League summit scheduled to take place by the end of March. On Tuesday, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon met United States President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss Darfur. "The Khartoum government has kicked out some of the most important non-governmental organisations that provide direct humanitarian aid to millions of people," Obama complained. "We need to get those humanitarian organisations back on the ground," he stated. Obama obviously intends to collaborate more closely with the UN to end the Darfur crisis. Obama means business, and for Al-Bashir this is a potentially lethal idea. The question remains whether any succession plan is on the cards. How can a leader of a sovereign nation be on the wrong side of the law, Al-Bashir's supporters reiterate as a well-rehearsed political mantra. As far as optimists are concerned, Al-Bashir's indictment is a good opportunity to reform Sudan's political system. But, pessimists wonder if the NCP has failed to embrace meaningful reform during relative good times, how will it do so during the difficult days ahead?





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