-I would like to thank S.O and A.A for contributing to this article and engaging in long discussions with me.
-I tried publishing this article in an attempt to get more feedback...to no avail :)
Definition of the North: in this article the North refers to Central and North Sudan. Usually seen as one entity by the rest of the country, but in fact, it is a divided region where the Nubians feel marginalized by the Ja'alyeen and Shaigiya of River Nile state. However, inter-marriages and Arabization have helped unite the region in recent decades.
The Sudanese people have it much worse than their North African counterparts, but why is the entire population not out in the streets chanting "the people want to overthrow the government"?
Social media activists have jokingly said that the Arab Spring will not reach Sudan simply because we don't have this season in Sudan, but as I'm glued to Al-Jazeera and Twitter trying to stay up to date with the Arab Spring that continues to unfold, I stop thinking of the four seasons and my mind goes back to 2005 in an attempt to understand the silence in Khartoum.
It was a bright day for Sudan when John Garang became Sudan's First Vice President in July 2005. He was going to run for presidency and I was going to vote for him. Even my grandmother who hails from the Ja'aliya strong-hold town of Berber stated that he is her candidate of choice.
He was single-handedly going to change Sudan, we believed. He was a charismatic leader who was going to unite a battered country. Three weeks later, he died in a plane crash and my hopes and Sudan's unity were buried with him. In the week following his death, Sudan's ethnic divisions became even more obvious. We watched as Southern Sudanese youth believing that the plane crash was not an accident engaged in violent riots, looting and vandalizing office windows and businesses. Clashes ensued with security forces and individuals believed to be of Northern Sudanese origin.
The conflict for the first time came to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan and the center of dominance and dominant tribes. For the first time, Northern Sudanese were the ones being attacked and for the first time, we asked the naive American question of post-9/11, Why do they hate us so much?
There was no time to assess the situation. If Sudan was a household, we spent the next week silent at the dinner table until we forgot what happened, or pushed it to the back of our minds.
Fast-forward to May 2008 when the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) forces launched an attack to overthrow the Sudanese government. The attack which culminated in street fights in Omdurman, the national capital and one of Khartoum's twin cities, sent chills through the spine of North Sudan.
Suddenly, people started thinking about the periphery and trying to revisit earlier events to try to understand the rift between Central Sudan and the rest of Sudan. Estimates show us that not less than 400,000 lost their lives in Darfur, but Darfur was not a reality until it came to Khartoum.
The JEM attack helped start a dialogue about Darfur and the marginalization of the regions outside River Nile state in trying to understand why the periphery revolted.
Those two incidents have, in our opinion, inspired more North Sudanese support for the government as they cuddled around the government for protection.
Even months after secession, there is fear in Sudan's heartland. People are aware of the struggles in the periphery and are aware that the government's policies have created downright resentment and have bred grudges from Nyala to Damazin, from Kadugli to Suakin.
When a few weeks ago, 3 Darfur movements and the SPLM-North Faction announced the creation of an alliance (later joined by the Beja Congress) called the Sudan Revolutionary Front. Once again, people in Khartoum started speaking of a bitter periphery that is not only resentful of the government but also of the Northern people. Reactions to the alliance sparked two perspectives within the North.
Firstly, Khartoum needs to revolt as soon as possible to show the periphery that it seriously wants change that is in favor of democracy and equality and is adamant on preserving the rest of Sudan in light of the recent secession. The revolt will also be peaceful as opposed to an armed revolt that it pushed forward by the SRF.
Secondly, as a people we simply need to support the government because any change brought about by the SRF will be against Sudanese hailing from North/Central. They will be disfranchised and persecuted for the policies of successive governments.
- It is a fact that the North is a powerful constituency, it has an abundant amount of wealth and as a result of education opportunities, Northerners were able to immigrate to rich gulf-countries and the west and were able to generate more wealth than others. However, it is also a fact that anyone not in a position of power or related to someone powerful in Sudan is marginalized. You do not have fair access to jobs and other opportunities if you are not NCP. If this struggle is evident for Northerners, people from other regions have even more poignant struggles and this is why the North needs to revolt. It needs to stand up for Sudan as a whole; it needs to stand up against the government with the rest of Sudan. Hundreds of thousands protested in Mahalla Al Kobra in Egypt in 2007 and 2008, but the protests only gained momentum when they reached Tahrir, in downtown Cairo. The revolution needs to start in Khartoum, in the national capital and the heartland of Sudan's power and wealth and it needs to represent Sudan's search not only for democracy, but most importantly for social justice.
If it was just about overthrowing the government, then Egyptians would have left Tahrir in February and moved on with their lives. They could have entrusted the military with their revolution and waited for the elections. But they did not. They are now in Tahrir, losing their eyes and sacrificing their lives for total change and to be freed of a military rule? And why is that?
After overthrowing the Mubarak regime, they realized that the pursuit of social justice and democracy is not limited to removing a military dictatorship. If Egypt is ever going to have a proper democracy, it needs to have a civilian government and the military has controlled Egypt since its 1952 revolution. As we learn from Tahrir, we need to realize that Sudan doesn’t need an armed revolt, it needs a peaceful revolt. It needs a Tahrir moment followed by a civilian government. The military should be respected for its responsibilities, 1-to fight an invading army 2- to help the government during natural disasters.
On the other hand, the SRF wants an armed revolt to overthrow the government and take over power. We tell you, an armed liberation movement like the SRF is exactly like a military dictatorship with a better name. There is vast amount of literature opposing armed struggles as liberation movements capable of bringing about change. They end up growing into repressive dictatorships. This is the last thing needed in Sudan. If the SRF is made up of movements interested in improving the quality of life for their respective citizens and acquiring fair political representation, then they need to support a peaceful revolt in Khartoum and beyond.
Moving on to the second debate, it is important to note that the fears harbored by the Northern-Central Sudanese population are exacerbated by the government, the media and sadly, the periphery. In the opinion pieces published by Sudan Tribune, the opposition and JEM-affiliates seem to harbor anti-Northern sentiments.
In a recently published opinion piece entitled: The Sudanese Revolutionary Front- Right Way to the United and New Sudan. The author started off by discussing some misconceptions about the "Arab North", but ultimately ended up doing the same mistake as all the others he's criticizing. He started off by saying that the often misunderstood problem in Sudan is essentially a problem of racism implanted by a discriminating regime, and that the people of Khartoum themselves (often vilified in media) are victims of such a misconception. Agreed. However, he goes on to make the same mistake by singling out and targeting the “people of River Nile State” and accusing them of amplifying and imposing their 'Arab history and origins' on all of Sudan. We are wary of that approach as it just perpetuates this whole Arab North vs. Rest of Sudan dilemma. Sudan has tribal issues, however, we do not think that the Sudanese population want to disenfranchise any specific tribe economically or politically. It's a matter of social tribalism that has been inflated by this current regime and not the people of River Nile State and could be assuaged by a visionary leader/party who has the interest of the whole country at heart.
Hope and Change
As a conscious group of authors, we seriously doubt that the NCP is capable of reforms. Years of trying to negotiate with the NCP have been a total waste of time. The end result, usually a hefty publication with guidelines on how to end Sudan's disasters, is stored in a drawer or is somewhere gathering dust on a shelf. The NCP is interested in staying in power and if dialogue buys them time, they would engage in it for this reason, not because they are interested in changing their policies.
It is sad that under the NCP's watch, Sudan lost 25% of its population, it is even sadder that so far, it is not learning from its mistakes. This is why Sudan needs change; Sudan needs CPR in the form of a revolution. Only a regime-change will put it on the right track, to solving its internal conflicts and transitioning into a proper state instead of a governmental company where ministries and institutes are businesses.