Sudan: Turabi Says Opposition Deferred Ideological Rifts to Focus On Regime Change

Khartoum — The leader of Sudan's Islamist opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP), Hassan Al-Turabi, has reiterated his firm commitment to work with opposition allies towards the common denominator of regime change despite their disagreements with his pursuit of an "Islamic state."

In a lengthy interview with Sudan Tribune on Saturday, the veteran Islamist said that his party had managed to contain its differences with allied opposition parties in the coalition National Consensus Forces (NCF) regarding sensitive issues like the relation between the state and religion in order to focus their efforts on achieving the goal of a regime change.

He added that NCF party members, who include the National Umma Party (NUP) of former Prime Minister Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi and the Sudanese Communist Party among others, all agreed to join hands to topple the government and execute the program of the transitional period specified under the Democratic Alternative Charter (DAC) they signed in July this year.

The DAC says opposition parties shall adopt all possible means to topple the regime and establish a transitional system to be governed by a "Constitutional Declaration" document that the opposition is currently working to draft. The DAC-proposed transitional system involves the establishment of a parliament, a presidential council of six members representing six regions after restructuring the current federal system and an executive government of 20 ministers.

Al-Turabi, who has been tasked with the drafting of the Constitutional Declaration, revealed the existence of differences between his party and other NCF allies over the issue of the intellectual premise of the state and whether it should be an Islamic state, as his party advocates, or a civil state that stands on an equal distance from all religions.

He said that although his party remains committed to the concept of an Islamic state, they agreed with other political parties to defer this debate until the transitional period where all components of the system of governance can be decided in a plebiscite to allow members of the public to participate.

Al-Turabi, however, acknowledged that due to this fundamental ideological difference over the relation between religion and the state, his alliance with NCF parties is transitory in order to confront the "common enemy".

"I pledged to work with them until the regime falls then we will part ways" he added.

Speculations of an intractable disagreement between Al-Turabi and other NCF alliance over the Islamic identity of the state rose after Al-Turabi accused his NCF allies, in a recent interview with the London-based Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, of "hypocrisy" because they are hiding behind the name of a civil state while their true goal is to create a secular and non-religious state.

Al-Turabi however told Sudan Tribune that he deliberately avoided to call the constitution he is drafting Islamic and chose instead to call it a transitional constitution because he did not want to alienate his allies. He claimed that his party suggested that the permanent constitution should be put to a vote in the transitional period so people can choose the system of governance they want.

The Islamist figure revealed that the NCF is making contacts with the rebel coalition Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) to bring them to endorse the constitutional declaration. He added that most SRF factions agree to the opposition propositions except the Sudan People's Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) which, according to Al-Turabi, is facing pressure from the UN Security Council to reach a deal with the government.

Al-Turabi expressed optimism, however, that the SPLM-N would eventually join its SRF allies which include the Darfur rebel groups Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdel Wahid Nur (SLM-WN) and the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Manni Minnawi (SLM-MM).

He added that the contacts with SRF are continuing through anonymous individuals using advanced methods of communication. "We talk to them face to face through means that they [Sudanese security forces] can't detect or spy on"

In February this year, the PCP accused Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) of bugging the party's headquarters in Al-Rayad area, saying they discovered two listening devices that were planted in Al-Turabi's office.

PCP officials told Sudan Tribune that the party's headquarters underwent a comprehensive security check and has been armed with equipments to jam listening devices.

Al-Turabi revealed that preparations are underway to hold the signing ceremony of the constitutional declaration "with the participation of SRF factions" but he declined to divulge further details about the place and time of the event.

NO RECONCILIATION WITH RULING PARTY

The PCP leader strongly denied reports of growing calls within his party for reconciliation with Al-Bashir's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in order to re-unite Islamists and save their experience in Sudan from collapse.

He was reacting to reports that some PCP members and non-partisan Islamists are calling for reconciliation with the NCP from which Al-Turabi was ousted in 1999 following a bitter power struggle with President Al-Bashir.

The PCP leader claimed instead that it was the NCP that is seeking to reconcile with them "but we don't care about that and the elders among us are convinced that we must be the farthest from this regime because any proximity to it will dirty us"

Al-Turabi insisted that the NCP should not be considered as an "Islamic force", saying that his party does not want to tarnish the image of Islam by re-uniting with the NCP especially that the Islamist groups who rose to power in the region are afraid of meeting the fate of the NCP.

Al-Turabi was the mastermind of the Islamist-backed military coup that brought Al-Bashir to power in 1989 but after his ouster he walked away with his supporters to form the PCP and become one of the government's most outspoken critics.

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