KHARTOUM, (SUDANOW)—Sudanese Investment Minister Mubarak al-Fadil al-Mahdi has revived the controversy over the relationship with Israel.
Mahdi (the cousin of opposition leader Sadiq Mahdi) only about four months in the ministerial portfolio, publicly declared his support to normalization of the relations between the Sudan and Israel. He justified this position by stating that the Palestinians, even HAMAS< have normalized relations with Israel, the Palestinians get tax money and electricity from Israel and talk with the Israelis. He agreed that there is a dispute between the two sides but, still, they sit down together, wondering: Why does the Sudan has to pay invoices for a confrontation that appears distant from us?
The descendent of Mahdi was not the first and certainly will not be the last one to fling a stone in the still pool of water and the call for normalization of relations with Israel could not pass without raising a heated discussion. It should be remembered that the Sudanese passport was marked with a stamp saying: "Valid to all countries except Israel". Mahdi was preceded by the leader of Moderate Islamic Party, Yusuf al-Kaudah, who also called for the normalization and likewise by 41 members of the external relations committee of the national dialogue conference who argued that there was no reason rejecting normalization with Israel for the supreme interests of the state.
This tendency was implicitly supported by Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour who said: "We do not object to consider the possibility of normalization with Israel." Moreover, a leading figure of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), Mustafa Osman Ismail, who said: "The statement by the Sudanese Foreign Minister about consideration of normalization with Israel comes in the context of the public interest," adding: "The debate on the normalization with Israel is a natural matter that is repeated every now and then to confirm that the non-normalization is a basic principle of the Muslim nation."
The reactions to the remarks of Mahdi began with a statement by the full membership of the Sudan Islamic Scholars Organization that described as invalid the call by Mahdi for normalization with the "Zionist state" for maintenance of the national interests of the country, as asserted by the Deputy Prime Minister and Investment Minister.
The Chairman of the Islamic Organization, Mohamed Osman Salih, said this call violates the basic principles of the Muslim Nation and the resolution of the Arab summit meeting that was held in Khartoum in 1967 providing for "No Recognition, No Conciliation, No Negotiation with Israel". The rejection by the Organization of normalization with Israel which was based on the historic legacy of confrontation was taken by some people in support of their call for normalization, arguing that the confrontation has made the Sudan pay for it at the expense of its political and economic stability. The Organization notes that the normalization supporters further argue that even the Arabs who used to hold up the banner of confrontation have laid down that banner for their own interests and therefore they wondered: Why is the Sudan demanded to be more royal than the king?
But the more urgent question is about the official position of the Sudanese government with regard to those calls. Is Khartoum heading towards normalization with Israel or does it adhere to rejection of rapprochement with that state? According to the Sudan News Agency (SUNA), like the Islamic Scholars Organization, the government considers the call invalid and dissociates itself from it and regards Mahdi's statement a personal opinion that does not express the formal position of the government and the country.
The disparity of opinions of rejection and acceptance of the normalization among the Sudanese political groups is mainly based on the profit-loss formula. One group believes that the Sudan has suffered from losses as a result of its confrontations in the past and that it is high time for it to reconsider its policy of establishing ties with others in accordance with its interests rather than the ideology which is no longer a factor for determining the external relations. This group further believes that the rejectionists are emotionally motivated; something which poses a question of whether the rejection is a final and last position or it can be reversed.
In response to this question, political analyst and foreign relation professor in the Sudanese universities Hassan al-Saory says that the Sudan adheres to the fundamental position of supporting the Palestinian cause to an extent that has surpassed many other countries and has paid the invoice for this position. Thus it is highly difficult to reverse this fundamental position that springs from an ideology on which the government outlines its foreign relations.
Saory points out major regional developments that resulted in displacement of the Palestinian cause in favor of our causes to an extent that one can say that t is no longer the focal cause of the Arabs as was the case in the past and such developments may lead to changing positions.
Yet, another group believes that the Sudan may change its position by embracing the normalization that serves its interests and that the stern position towards Israel in no longer appropriate. An evidence this group cites is that the call for normalization has this time emerged from the Republican Palace and pronounced by Mubarak Al-Fadil Mahdi who did not make such a call when he was in the opposition, something which supports an assumption that he expresses the opinion of the regime and that he has made the call to spare the regime any embarrassment.