Voice of America (Washington, DC)

28 January 2014

Sudan: President Calls for Political, Economic Rebirth

Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir has announced a new political and economic revival and called on the opposition and rebels trying to topple his government to participate.

In a speech Monday, Bashir said peace would be the cornerstone of this reawakening because "no development, political or economic, can come without peace."

But, Khalid Tigani, one of 10 Islamist scholars who recently formed the Movement for Change, said the Sudanese want to hear concrete steps, not just empty promises.

Tigani said Bashir should call for a national dialogue to address issues, including freedom of political association and speech. He said Bashir is trying to lay the groundwork for his re-election next year.

But, Sudan's Minister of information, Ahmed Bilal, says Bashir's invitation is genuine.

"Actually, the main theme of his speech was that he was asking all the people of Sudan to go for a national dialogue and reconciliation. Even those who are killing with weapons, he is asking them to join in this dialogue for political reform, economic reform, and poverty alleviation," Bilal said.

He said the seriousness of Bashir's speech was seen in the number of opposition people who attended it.

Bilal said the government will devote enough time to the national dialogue, which would focus on a new constitution, elections and eventually a transitional government to carry out the mandate of the dialogue.

But, Tigani, one of 10 Islamist scholars who recently formed the Movement for Change, said Sudanese want to hear concrete proposals from Bashir, not just empty promises.

"Actually, he is saying nothing new. People were waiting to see action, not just new promises. He has been president of Sudan for 25 years without doing anything. Actually, he's not saying what we were waiting to hear from him," Tigani said.

Tigani said on the same day of Bashir's speech, the government closed down another newspaper, something he says speaks volumes about media freedom in Sudan.

"How can you (Bashir) ask people to come and talk and then you are closing down a newspaper and not making people express their views. So, I think that this is not a real thing," he saud.

Tigani said Bashir should have talked more about freedom of political association and freedom of the media.

"We want him to call for a new economic and political era by taking a new decision regarding freedom of political activities and also calling for a genuine national dialogue about all issues concerning all Sudanese. So, I think he's not actually showing any interest in seeing a new chapter in the political arena of Sudan," he said.

Tigani describes Bashir's offer to step down after next year's election as simply playing re-election politics.

Bilal, however, said Bashir is serious about his proposal and not interested in re-election politics.

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