Sudan’s last elected leader accused President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s party yesterday of blemishing Islam, and warned there was a risk of violence in Darfur and the south in the build up to elections.
Sadeq al-Mahdi, who was overthrown by Bashir in a bloodless coup in 1989, attacked the president’s dominant National Congress Party as he launched his campaign for elections due in April.
“They have spoiled the good name of Islam because they associated Islam with dictatorship, they associated Islam with violence,” Mahdi, who leads the opposition Umma party, told Reuters.
“We believe that this is most unacceptable. Islam welcomes freedom, justice, tolerance and we think that they have blemished the good name of Islam in linking it with their restrictive, oppressive policies,” he said, speaking in English.
Bashir overthrew Mahdi and the rest of his civilian government with the backing of Islamist hardliners, and once played host to al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Mahdi, a descendent of a visionary Islamic leader who fought the British in the 19th century, leads his own powerful Muslim sect, the Ansar.
The two-time Sudanese prime minister is seen as one of the main opposition rivals to Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges of war crimes allegedly committed in Sudan’s western Darfur region.
Mahdi told Reuters he would not take revenge against Bashir’s party if Umma won the presidential and legislative elections, drawing parallels with a purge in Iraq of officials who were members of Saddam Hussein’s party.
“We are not vindictive. We think it was a mistake, for instance, in Iraq, when there was a change that you simply disband the army, disband the Baath party,” he said.
“The result is that the social forces will simply immediately turn overnight into destructive elements. We say we would like the (National Congress Party) to be involved in the construction and peace and democracy in Sudan.”
Mahdi repeated his party’s position that people accused of war crimes in Darfur should be tried by “hybrid” courts including foreign judges, without naming Bashir.
Umma says the start of an active legal case would allow the UN Security Council to use its powers to suspend the ICC case.
Mahdi said there was a risk of fresh violence in the run up to the elections, from Darfuri groups who felt left out of the process, and from tribal groups in the south.
Sudan’s Darfur conflict flared in 2003, when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Khartoum, accusing it of neglecting the region.
The United Nations says more than 2500 people also died in ethnic violence in Sudan’s oil-producing south, which has been promised a referendum on independence in 2011.
Mahdi said “some elements” were encouraging the violence, while leading southerners have accused Khartoum of arming tribal militias, a charge it denies.
Mahdi promised to resolve the festering Darfur crisis and repair relations with neighbouring countries and other world powers if he won the presidency.
He accused Bashir’s NCP of squandering Sudan’s oil revenues on security and “ostentatious expenditure”, and promised to redirect the cash to development.
Pic: President Omar Hassin al Bashir of Sudan