On Friday November 2, 2012 CordonedSudan published a blog post titled Reform or Revolution?

If I understood the post correctly then Cordoned was pointing, in disappointment, to a string of “high-activity” columns pressing for a reform agenda which he asserts are at the expense of all-out revolution in Sudan. Cordoned recommended readers of the articles in question, by Armin Rosen, Harry Verhoeven and Jon Temin, to read ALL columns, carefully, several times”.

In reaching judgment on the message being conveyed by Armin Rosen, Cordoned pointed to “Mr. Rosen’s interview of Yousif Elmahdi (that’s me by the way)” giving “insight to a shared political vision (most likely shared by more illustrious members of his family) eager to resume the pre-coup role of Presidency that they failed at: he [Yousif Elmahdi] doubts the government will fall unless there are paralyzing street protests that would convince more opportunistic elements in the NCP to side against the regime’s current leadership.”

Cordoned goes on to address me directly, “Which is it Elmahdi? Is it reform or revolution?” before answering on my behalf: “Of course to Elmahdi, reform. It guarantees a more optimal positioning of the Umma Party. Although the young Yousif champions revolution, nominally, Saddiq isn’t shy about the need for reform. Yousif also admits that the regime is needed to dismantle the system: I call this the ‘soft implosion’ school of thought. It is both practical and self-serving to the Elmahdis who share an intriguing relationship of confrontation and cooperation with the regime”.

Had Cordoned left it to me then I would gladly have obliged a response but that he took it upon himself to make assumptions necessitates that I provide one.

In doing so I’ve examined Armin’s piece several times and am left with the feeling that Cordoned hasn’t taken his own advice, and is guilty, in my opinion, of not reading the lines before attempting to read between them. The irony is that when we spoke (around 6 weeks ago), Armin didn’t have a specific article in mind. We mostly discussed the economy and a week later he emailed to say he’d decided to “write something about the Sudan’s fiscal cliff—i.e. the possibility that the government will simply run out of money, and be unable to sustain its patronage network”. That’s precisely what he did. The argument Armin makes is clear – in fact it’s been put forward by me and many economic analysts before. That is, a free-falling economy is driving the NCP regime to a collapse that can only be averted through serious economic reforms. These reforms are improbable given that they run contrary to the NCP’s very existence and as such change in Sudan is an approaching inevitability, in Armin’s words – “It’s basically over”.

It was this discussion on the economy that brought about the quote that seems to have inspired Cordoned’s assumptions. The issue of debt arose to which I noted hearing that prior to the outbreak of conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, the United States seriously contemplated clearing Sudan’s arrears. This led us to speculate on the US’s Sudan policy (or lack thereof) and my view that a second term Obama administration would be more inclined to support regime change that encompassed internal elements to guard against post-revolution instabilities similar to those witnessed in Arab Spring countries.

While the regime’s fiscally exacerbated fragmentation renders this a plausible scenario, Cordoned, who coins this ‘the soft-implosion school of thought’, conveniently glosses over the qualification that such a scenario is highly unlikely to transpire without the encouragement of and in compliment to popular unrest. It is in fact the reformist elements of the regime that require popular mobilization rather than the reverse and as such a scenario that culminates in an ‘NCP-2’ would not be accepted nor would it sustain. Democratic change is not simply a matter of exchanging one dictator for another; it requires changing the entire system of governance. Internal reformists would be compelled to work closely with civil and armed opposition; youth and civil society to ensure a managed dissolution of the status quo and an inclusive transition of power. To put it short, revolution without reform is a non-starter. I find it hard to believe that a mutually exclusive approach such as this can possibly be in the best interest of the Sudanese people. One would be hard pressed to find a successful revolution in history that did not place reform at the top of its agenda, and was not composed of elements of internal ruling party dissent. Such a black and white separation of revolution from reform I can only attribute as either a result of undirected zeal or well-intentioned naivete.

While the scenario I’ve outlined would be nothing short of a “revolution”, one must distinguish between expectations and preferences for change. I won’t delve into my own preferences since these are plastered all over my #SudanRevolts dedicated blog. In likely reference to this blog, Cordoned concedes me to be a “champion” of revolution, albeit “nominally”. Content with my own efforts in this regard, I will avoid the temptation to compare battle-scars. Suffice to say that my desire for change is unwavering and I firmly believe it to be inevitable.

While I make no apologies for my allegiance to the Umma Party and particularly to being a proud Ansari, I wholly agree with Cordoned’s reading that my “more illustrious” uncle would find reform a more convenient option. He would do well however to avoid generalizations. After all it was the Ansar mosque in Wad Nubawi that turned out the fiercest and most consistent wave of anti-regime protests this past summer. This is in no small part due to the large swaths of Umma Party members, especially among the youth, that have chosen to align themselves with the change movement while rebuking their party leaderships’ lack of support.

While I find it rather humbling to be considered a sheep, it is well known that the Mahdi family is itself fragmented. The slightest research would have led Cordoned to discover to which side of the family I descend and its position with regards to both Sadiq and the present regime. Notwithstanding, I personally believe Sadiq and other archaic opposition leaders’ disengagement might ultimately prove beneficial to the change movement, given the public’s lack of confidence and mistrust in them. It (their disengagement) should also preclude them from participating in any eventual ‘alternative’.

Armin Rosen couldn’t have been more poignant when he said “Sudan’s National Congress Party, led by the International Criminal Court-indicted Omar al Bashir, has proven itself to be one of the more adaptable cadres of autocrats the modern Middle East and Africa has ever known.” One key means the regime has achieved this is through the division of its opposition. Cordoned’s assumptions, derived (astonishingly), from a mere quote, are symptomatic of the mistrust, suspicion and contempt the NCP propaganda machine has succeeded in instilling, even amongst the emergent youth. It is this fragmentation that continues to hold us (and Cordoned) back from the common goal – revolution – to which we aspire and will accept nothing less – as simply put, you cannot reform the deformed.

“We, the Sudanese people, are a nation that will succeed and prosper at all costs. No longer will we continue to be intimidated and paralyzed – we will rise to the occasion and stake our claim to a state that provides for our basic rights”.


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