Last week witnessed the return of five former Darfur rebel leaders, who used to occupy key positions in Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) to Khartoum. It is the same week that witnessed the 18th anniversary of the 4th of Ramadan, when the Ingaz split formally into two camps one led by President Omar Al-Bashir and the other by the movement’s ideologue Hasan El-Turabi. Unlike the previous years, this time the anniversary has a different taste. El-Turabi’s followers through their political body, the Peoples’ Congress Party (PCP) are now part of the government and have a presence in the parliament. The very government that they vowed to topple, though over time they moved from the point of being the fiercest opposition to the regime to a participant in its call for the National Dialogue more than three years ago that resulted in the latest government formed last month.
The co-incidence of these development led many observers to argue whether the whole split was one of the theatrics late El-Turabi used to play as he did in the beginning when the Ingaz took over. He later explained that he asked Al-Bashir to go to the palace to rule the country, while he would go to the prison as an alibi that the new regime has nothing to do with the Islamists and buy some precious breathing time for the new regime to consolidate its grip.
That trick worked out well then and after El-Turabi was released from the prison he continued to wield huge influence, though he did not occupy any official position officially.
With two centers of powers playing in the same field, the collision was inevitable though El-Turabi and his followers tried to paint a picture that the dispute rests on the issue of liberty and democratic change, where people can elect their governors. However, eventually the dispute developed into bitter struggle and the government used its resources targeting PCP’s members where some of them landed in prisons.
On its part PCP hit back through whatever means available and there is a good deal of circumstantial evidence that it has some sort of involvement with JEM, where a number of its leadership are known to be within El-Turabi faction of the Islamic Movement that turned into the Ingaz. On the top of the list JEM founder late Dr. Khalil Ibrahim and one of those who returned last week, namely Suliman Jamous.
Jamous, is regarded as one of spiritual fathers for Darfur rebels, where he retains a good deal of respect even within foreign NGOs given his extended work on humanitarian issues. He joined the Islamists back in 1964, who were then part of the Islamic Brotherhood and when El-Turabi clashed with Al-Bashir, he opted to side with El-Turabi.
It is hard to dismiss all the Darfur genuine issues of marginalization as mere reflection of struggle between Al-Bashir and El-Turabi, though it may be a factor in fanning that dispute. But even if there was that link, the struggle has its own dynamics that led eventually to a more independent thinking and positions from those leading rebel movements even though they were at one point El-Turabi’s disciples.
At stake is not whether the split game between the Islamists is coming to an end, but whether this latest breakaway group in addition to others who dropped their guns and opted for some peaceful engagement with the government will have an input and add value to the central issue of restoring peace to Darfur.
The flare-up of fighting over the past few days in Northern and Eastern Darfur provinces shows clearly that the problem is still there despite the tranquility and unilateral ceasefire declarations. More seriously there is now an open accusations from Sudan against both Egypt and South Sudan that they have been providing support to rebels, a move that risks initiating a regional showdown if not handled properly.
But the bottom line remains that piecemeal approach to peace in Darfur did not work and it is time to look for more serious approach and reach out to those who can make a difference on the ground.
It is the government’s best chance to strike a deal given its upper hand militarily in the field and better than ever in foreign relations. And it is high time for the new government, who vowed to bring peace to put out a concrete plan with clear time frame for that to happen.
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