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Vol 55 No 20

Published 10th October 2014


The world according to Khartoum

The smuggling out of what appear to be top secret state documents points to a major security breach in the government

The Khartoum government is yet to react to the circulation of what purport to be detailed minutes of a meeting on 31 August of top security and military officers in which they discuss arming Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon's rebels in South Sudan, supporting armed jihadists in Africa and the Middle East, and destroying crops in South Kordofan to starve out rebel supporters. The officers present also show a fairly uniform contempt towards the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Western states and African officials trying to mediate Sudan's internal conflicts.

The first question is whether the minutes are authentic (see Khartoum in fact and fiction). Most of the Sudanese politicians, and serving and former officials that Africa Confidential has spoken to reckon they are and that there have been serious security breaches in Khartoum. The second question is how much they may change events on the ground. They may inform the opposition's negotiating tactics and encourage mediators, regional and otherwise, to take a more realistic view of the regime's position. If Khartoum's support for Riek Machar's forces is further confirmed, that will complicate the tortuous peace negotiations with the Juba government and invite censure from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which is mediating in the civil war (AC Vol 55 No 18, A deadline for the deadline).

Entitled 'Management of Military Activities', the document dated 1 September is set out as an account of a meeting at the National Defence College on the previous day. Through a circuitous route, the documents were passed from a dissident within the security structure to oppositionists, we were told. They were posted on the internet after the Arabic originals and loose English translations had been passed to Professor Eric Reeves, a veteran United States-based human rights campaigner on Sudan and South Sudan. The documents refer to a meeting of the military-security chiefs; they are addressed to Lieutenant General Osman Taj el Sir, Managing Director of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) Central Security Authority.

The Military Activities meeting was about achieving consensus, not making policy. 'In that kind of dictatorial apparatus, you have to keep the political base of the regime stable and give the impression that each centre of power has had its say', commented one Sudanese academic. 'It gives you a window on the ideological consensus at the heart of the regime's top policy-making apparatus'.

Security inner circle
Of the 14 men listed as attending the security meeting, half are generals and only two are civilian politicians: Investment Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail and Presidential Assistant Ibrahim Ahmed Ghandour. Former dentist and ex-Foreign Minister Mustafa was founding Secretary of the Popular Arab Islamic Congress (PAIC) in the early 1990s (AC Vol 52 No 7, Mr Smile and the militias). 'I never believed he was not a part of the most inner circle', a Western security source told AC.

Prof. Ibrahim was leader of the putatively independent Sudanese Workers' Trades Union Federation, in which guise he has led a campaign against the International Criminal Court's indictment for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity of Field Marshal Omer (AC Vol 51 No 15, Khartoum's most wanted). He is the ruling National Congress Party's Deputy Chairman for Party Affairs and head of negotiations with the opposition Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), due to restart in Ethiopia on 12 October but now postponed until 25 October because the NCP is too busy preparing for its party conference.

Announcing the postponement on 5 October, Ibrahim Ghandour told the official Sudan Radio that the government had 'a clear vision of the solutions in the Two Areas', i.e. Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The Defence College meeting covers the regime's main policy areas, not only directly military ones. It reflects the increased power of the military-security cabal at the expense of the civilians, who used to run the regime through the security, rather than the other way around.

The agenda lists: 'The Paris Declaration [between El Sadig el Mahdi and the SRF] and the impact of the SRF statement [presumably the memorandum of understanding signed with Ghazi Salah el Din el Atabani and Ahmed Saad Omer (AC Vol 55 No 18, Opposition beams, Khartoum glowers)]; Radical and moderate trends in regards to Shiite belief activities in Sudan; President Mbeki's role and Sudanese issues; Elections, National Dialogue and peace negotiations – The Priority; New Sudan project and its impact on the national security and economic activity'.

The participants do not proceed in an orderly fashion down the agenda. 'In this meeting it is not necessary that we agree on every point we discuss', says First Vice-President Bakri Hassan Salih, though they mostly do. 'Every one is to express his point of view and I will inform the President with all the details and the majority and minority opinion regarding each topic'. This is where the decisions will actually be made, 'in the Palace'. Key areas discussed are as follows:

South Sudan
Assistance to Riek's rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Opposition will increase and include tanks, artillery, intelligence and logistical training, as requested, said the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hashim Abdullah Mohamed, by Riek, Taban Deng Gai and Dhieu Mathok Diing on a visit to Khartoum. The NCP's explicit aim is a federal state of Greater Upper Nile – a bid to regain the oilfields and to block the SPLM-North's route southwards.

Evidence of NCP support for Riek is skimpy, though Western sources believe light weaponry is involved and question the utility of tanks. An investigation by the Small Arms Survey and Conflict Armament Research after this year's fighting in Bentiu found cartridge cases made this year in Khartoum.

Sudanese opposition
'All the plans for dividing the SRF and the SPLM are in place with the aim to get rid of the New Sudan Project' says NISS boss Mohamed Atta el Moula Abass. The Director of People's Security, Gen. El Rasheed el Fagiri, describes sending people abroad to claim asylum. 'After that we contact them to get regular reports about the SPLM-N chapters' activities in the Diaspora. We managed to send many such collaborators to most countries'. This fits with what Sudanese in exile know but Britain's Home Office steadfastly denies: the community is infiltrated by regime spies and security officers. The non-governmental organisation Waging Peace detailed such methods in a September report, The Long Arm of the Sudanese Regime: How the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service monitors and threatens Sudanese nationals who leave Sudan. People's Security is the organ directing the 'People's Committees', local groups that spy on the neighbourhood. 

Gen. El Rasheed reports that he has infiltrated all political parties and as for the rebels, 'We are following all their movements, chats, private affairs with women, the type of alcohol preferred or taken by each one, the imaginary talks when they get drunk. We have ladies who are always in contact with them. The ladies managed to send to us their emails, telephone numbers, Skypes, WhatsApps and all their means of communications...  In our activities abroad, we are now concentrating on the SPLM-N. Because we believe that, if we managed to destroy the SPLM-N, the threat to our rule will vanish,' says El Rasheed.

The securocrats are furious with El Sadig el Mahdi. In August, he signed the Paris Declaration with the SRF, the first serious attempt to bring the vacillating Umma Party leader into a broad-based opposition. 'On top we must put pressure on El Sadig's family through his children to see him return to Sudan and we pardon him, provided that, he disowns the Paris Declaration and severs any relation with the SRF', declares El Rasheed. Since El Sadig's daughter Mariam El Sadig el Mahdi was held in solitary confinement to force her father home, this is bad news for the family. El Sadig is so 'insulted' that this looked unlikely, said one Mahdi family source.

The military-security meeting reiterated the regime's refusal to postpone next year's general and presidential polls. 'Holding the elections constitutes a psychological war against the armed movements and may frustrate them and lead to the end of the New Sudan Project' announced Lt. Gen. Salah el Din el Tayeb, an NISS Deputy Director and head of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, a post he took over from Sulaf el Din Salih Mohamed Tahir, who previously led the organisation Muessessa Muwafag el Kheiriya ('Blessed Relief').

The postponement of the resumption of National Dialogue talks in Addis Ababa looks like a bid to ensure the NCP Conference that precedes it endorses Omer as candidate, notwithstanding the constitutional block on a third term. 'The elections will give us another five years of legitimacy', urges Mustafa Osman.

Foreign policy
Apart from expressing contempt for Western governments and African mediators, the officers seem to believe they can continue to get cash from Arab governments while expanding relations with Iran and with the International Muslim Brotherhood's multifarious offspring. 'In the open let us maintain good relations with the Gulf States but strategically with Iran and to be managed secretly by the Military Intelligence and security organs,' advises former Foreign Minister Mustafa.

The State (junior) Defence Minister, Gen. Yahya Mohamed Kheir, is blunter: 'The Gulf states have only very weak information about the terrorist groups that are based in Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, North African Arab Countries and Afghanistan, because they have bad relations with these radical groups. They want us to cooperate with them in the war against terrorism because the radical groups constitute a direct threat to them. Their relation with Da'ish [Islamic State in Iraq and Shams, ISIS], Nusra Front, Muslim Brothers and the Palestine Islamic Movement is even weaker. We will not sacrifice our relations with the Islamists and Iran for a relation with the Saudis and the Gulf states'.

Saudi Arabia and the dissidents
The National Service General Coordinator, Abdel Gadir Mohamed Zein asks: 'Are you sure Saudi Arabia can change its mind after it has classified the Muslim Brothers as terrorists?' Distrust of Saudi Arabia runs deep. Lt. Gen. Sideeg Amir Ali Hassan, Director of Military Intelligence and Security, says: 'We should confront them [Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates] and tell them openly that we got evidence (audio tapes, names etc) that you Saudis and Emiratis are the ones who financed the September 2013 uprising and demonstrations in Khartoum... 'They contacted two of our officers with the ranks of brigadier general and sat with them in Khartoum... after five meetings with the Saudis, the two officers disclosed to us that [the Saudis] want a coup to be carried out by Islamist officers who are pro-Saudi Arabia.'

In an attempt to stem Sudanese support for IS, Riyadh threatened to block Sudan's lucrative export of millions of sheep to be slaughtered for the Eid al Adha festival on 4 October, an opposition source tells us. This followed reports of Saudi officials being killed when IS fighters went into Saudi Arabia but is part of a broader policy to deal with Iraqi-Syrian 'blow-back' (AC Vol 55 No 8, Saudi Arabia targets Khartoum). The officers believe they have the capital well covered: 'All the embassies and chanceries in Khartoum are infiltrated and our elements report to us who visited the embassy and who went out from the embassy staff and to where,' boasts El Rasheed.

On Egypt, Chief of Joint Operations, Gen. Emad el Din Mustafa Adawi, suggests pressuring Cairo to block El Sadig in return for Sudan preventing the political activities of Muslim Brothers who arrived after the fall of Mohamed Mursi. Then he changes tone: 'The northern border is totally secured, especially after the victory of our [Islamist] allies in Tripoli. We managed to get to them the weapons and military equipment donated by Qatar and Turkey and we formed a joint operations room under a colonel for coordination purposes with them on how to administer military operations. Turkey and Qatar provided us with information in favour of the revolutionaries on top of the information collected by our own agents that will help them to win the war and control the whole country'.

'Intelligence cooperation' with the United States may amount to less than Western officials often make out. 'America has fallen into the trap of the ISIS and the other jihadist movements that are newly formed and can move freely outside the traditional surveillance networks', comments Defence Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein. 'Currently, there are 20,000 jihadists and 15 newly formed jihadist movements which are scattered all over, from Morocco to Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, all Gulf States, a wide presence in Africa and Europe and nobody else owns a data-base on that as the one we have. We release only limited information to the Americans according to the request and the price is the armed movements file'. 

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