Sunday, August 9, 2009

Shattered Dreams of Ali Osman Taha

By Hashim Badr Eldin, London
Published in Sudanray

In 2006, Ali Osman Taha, the second man in Sudan dictatorship hierarchy, in a fit of anger, flew to Turkey and remained there for weeks on a self-exile, but mediators managed to bury the hatchet and brought him home. In the last couple of years, illness took its toll on him, but it is not the determinant factor in his second infinite departure.

For the last decade, he was the brain behind the regime; he ruled by proxy and everybody was at his disposal. However, like all “Islam-politic-users,” his ambition has no boundaries, he came from so little and become larger than life, but it’s all over now, so the story goes.

In most cultures, people who have ambitions and lack the means to realize them, look for the right people to uplift them; individuals who are willing to permit them to climb on their shoulders, like creeping plants on trees, for a quid pro quo.

Early in his life, he approached Dr. Hassan Turabi, a man who knows how to cease the moment and capture the spotlight; a lecturer with a record of academic brilliance, a lawyer turned politician and married into a pedigree of prestige and power.

Turabi needed young followers who would idolize him. Ali was a law student and needed a mentor and a role model. The needs were mutual. So he became his disciple. A loyal disciple, or so Turabi thought.

He learned from Turabi the Muslim brotherhood’s ways (the Nixon and Kissinger’s doctrine): that politics is open season (everything is permissible), the ends justify the means, and that truthfulness is foolishness and lying is a more effective strategy.

In the beginning, Ali was a liaison between Turabi and Bashir, Sudan cut-throat dictator. The trio that wreaked havoc across the globe. Their evil span from the US to Afghanistan, Algeria, Tunisia, the Philippines, Iraq, Kuwait, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Chad, Kenya, Egypt and Uganda. Not to mention the internal mayhem they inflicted upon their own people from the South to the Nuba Mountains, the Blue Nile and their brutal suppression of army mutinies and civil disobedience and eventually, their masterpiece of atrocity - Darfur (some observers believe Turabi is on the rebels’ side).

The trio brings to mind Clint Eastwood classic movie “the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. Likewise, Ali, Turabi, and Bashir movie would be called “the Bad, the Ugly, and the Gruesome.”

Like his mentor, Ali is a professional actor; when the camera rolls, or when he meets foreign dignitaries it’s show time: he turns into a lean and soft-spoken man; ostentatious and meticulous in his diction; his facial features and all appearance reveal nothing of the brutal man he really is.

His arrogance is one of a kind, surpasses, by far, that of his mentor and his peers in the ruling elite and puts him in a class by himself. In a country with profound Sufi traditions, where humility is second nature—not a virtue—a cynic would wonder what personal deformity begets such an attitude.

A master of shenanigans, he knows how to lure his quarry into a minefield. In the 90s, he managed to get rid of the junta that made the June 30, 1989 coup that brought the National Islamic Front to power. Some ended up in graves; two are still in office but marginalized and powerless, and the rest (who are grateful to be alive) turned to raise their children and make a living.

His astounding feat was the ouster of his guru Dr. Turabi in 1999 that left the man going bananas. For Turabi it was the shock of his life, not only he fell from grace, but also he was betrayed by his own adopted son and his lucrative investment.

This time things are different, Bashir is paranoid and behaving like a wounded beast. He views Ali as a Trojan horse who would creep at midnight and open the castle gate. Therefore, Bashir brought in an old rival to Ali, Ghazi Attabani, and transferred all the vice president’s powers to him.

(Bashir jettisoned Attabani in September 2003 at the behest of Ali, so Ali could take charge of the negotiations with the SPLM in Kenya and secure his position as vice president in the interim period).

For Ali, calling the shots from behind the scene was just a stage on his endless ascension; it is inevitable that he craves for the driver seat. But there was a loop hole in his plan. He didn’t take the initiative and move for the kill. He waited for events to unfold by themselves and relied solely on pressures from the International Community and nothing of his own.

The international players who oversee the situation in Sudan had overestimated Ali’s power inside the security apparatus and the armed forces. They had anticipated him to take advantage of the shock that ensued by the mere announcement of Bashir’s arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and make his move—put the nook around Bashir’s neck and ship him to Saudi Arabia where he would spend the rest of his life like Eddie Amin. Now the prey is startled and everything is in chaos.

Prior to his departure, Ali was threatened and verbally abused by Bashir’s clansmen in the security apparatus; they even hacked some Sudanese Internet websites and wrote obscenities about him. On the other hand, Salah Ghush, Chief of the security apparatus, and the other generals on whom he relied in the past have all abandoned him and moved to Bashir’s side. He was left alone in a hostile atmosphere.

On Monday June 15, 2009, Khartoum newspapers published a brief statement from the so-called president’s press office saying that Ali Osman Taha would go on vacation inside Sudan with his family, which would extend to a trip to Saudi Arabia for “omrra.”

A couple of days later, Ali Osman and his family boarded a jet on a trip to Saudi Arabia to do “omrra” (a religious ceremony that takes about an hour; but it has taken over a month now).

It’s rumored that he flew to Turkey and back to Saudi Arabia. He continues to meet foreign diplomats who are anxious about the situation in Sudan and the gloomy prospect of its disintegration. He’s demoralized but still breathing. In the past his drive was a lust for power, but now it is his bruised ego.

Bashir support for Chadian rebels resulted in a series of intrusions by Chad military, in hunt for rebels, inside Sudanese territory and culminated in last week sortie by Chad air force deep inside Darfur and exposed Bashir as a weak an indecisive general whose aggression is directed only towards his own people.

Khartoum military is in the spotlight; like all Middle Eastern militaries, it has evolved into an army equipped and trained to consolidate tyranny and defend a dictator against his own citizens. With Bashir embattled and on the robes, some officer might dare to take the initiative. There hangs the hope of Turabi and many Islam-politic-users’, but Ali has lost hope, so the story goes.
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