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National Congress Party (NCP)

The National Congress Party (NCP) is the governing party in Sudan. The regime insiders are all from the same part of the country and same three tribes, are all of the same generation, all went to the same schools (many in the US in the 1970s and 1980s during the Nimeiry years) and all grew out of the same NIF movement (with Turabi) in the late 1980s.

The NCP was established in 1998 by key political figures in the National Islamic Front (NIF) organization as well as other politicians. The rule of the NCP is the longest and, by most standards, most successful reign in independent contemporary Sudanese history. Growing out of the Islamist student activism of the Muslim Brotherhood, passing through the same Messianic revolutionary salafi/jihadi violence that gave birth to Al-Qa'ida, the NCP today is a fractious oligarchy obsessed with only one thing: their hold on power in Sudan - as a political entity, a social class and as individuals in rivalry with each other.

But all NCP regime insiders with true power are cut from the same cloth and have only small differences in views to distinguish them. "Those with true power are the hardliners," said Turabi, because it is their job to protect the interests of the party and the regime. The seemingly moderate and polished negotiators that are empowered to interact regularly with the Americans and the SPLM (Taha, Salahudin, Al Khatib, Dirdeiry, Bebiker) are merely playing the role they have been given by the regime. There may be debates regarding when and how to interact with the West, but decisions are determined purely by party and regime interests.

Despite their education and worldliness, they are insular, coming from the same region in Sudan and having relationships going back to the same elite Khartoum high-school. They are also undisciplined, despite the apparently ferocious attention to detail they often show. Some say that the constant shifts between regime power players reminds them of the end of the Nimeiry dictatorship although the current regime is much more solid than Nimeiry's last days.

In the legislative elections of December 2000, the party won 355 out of 360 seats in the national parliament. In that year's Presidential elections, President Bashir was re-elected with 86.5% of the vote. The NCP in North Darfur was headed by Othman Mohammed Yousif Kibbir, the Wali (governor) of North Darfur. Sixty-five percent of his cabinet are NCP members, including Ministers, Commissioners, Directors General of institutions and senior officials. NCP offices in North Darfur are co-located with the offices of the State Legislative Council. NCP membership in North Darfur is relatively small but controls many of the institutions of the state. According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), 25% of the government positions are to be given to women. This is not implemented by the NCP in North Darfur, which claims that there are no qualified female candidates for most of the senior positions.

By 2007 the political travails of the National Congress Party (NCP) included the Government's recent acceptance of the UN/AU hybrid peace-keeping mission in Darfur after 12 months of strident opposition, the stalemate in the NCP-SPLM discussions on Abyei, and the incomplete re-deployment of Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) units from Southern Sudan per the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

By 2008, after almost 20 years in power, the ruling National Congress Party had reached a level of cynical (and often brutal) pragmatism making it fully capable of making and keeping arrangements with the West on Darfur and on the CPA, as long as its core interest of remaining in power in Khartoum is protected. The NCP is also quite willing and capable of wrapping itself in an Islamist mantle, obfuscating and returning to mass murder if those steps better address its core interests. The regime's chief weakness remained its own internal rivalries and a multiplicity of domestic challenges which it must weigh in the context of any workplan for improving relations with the West.

Contrary to the popular view of the NCP as a divided party in which hardliners and moderates vie for influence while a mercurial President Al Bashir waffles between these two power centers, all NCP regime insiders with true power are cut from the same cloth and have only small differences in views to distinguish them. Those with true power are the hardliners, because it is their job to protect the interests of the party and the regime.

By 2008 President Al Bashir, NCP Secretary General Nafie, NISS chief Ghosh, and Minister of Defense Hussein were the four strongest individuals in the regime and are therefore the "hardliners" only in terms of their power and interest in protecting the regime (such a lineup significantly excluded VP Taha). The idea that Bashir is some sort of puppet and relies on others beneath him is false. Bashir has consolidated his power and remains fully in control of the elements in his regime. The only thing Bashir worried about was that elements in the military would seek to overthrow him if there was dissatisfaction.

The National Congress Party (NCP) held its third party congress in Khartoum 1-3 October 2009. In the opening session, NCP hardliner and party Deputy Vice President for Political and Organizational Affairs Nafie Ali Nafie extolled the party's financial, numeric and organizational strength. Nafie Ali Nafie told the group that businessmen contributed SPG 15 million (approximately USD 6 million), and said that the NCP's membership had reached more than 5 million. In remarks at the opening and closing sessions, President Bashir rehearsed his stump speech: NCP is the party that brought peace to Sudan via the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA); the NCP is unjustly accused of fomenting the conflict in Darfur; oil helped Sudan break free of the West's hegemonic designs on Sudan; the NCP will continue to strengthen ties with China and Russia, but maintain relationships with European nations and the United States. However, he stressed in both speeches that these countries must avoid dominating or dictating policies to Sudan. He also emphasized that the NCP will hold free and fair elections and a referendum open to all southerners. The party rallied other political parties to their anti-hegemony theme, notably the National Umma Party's (NUP's) Chairman Sadiq Al-Mahdi who urged Sudanese to forget their differences in order to resist "hegemony and penetration," and prominently celebrated delegations from China, North Korea, Africa and the Middle East, including Hezbollah/Lebanon.

The National Congress Party (NCP) dominated the political landscape, controlling all of the regional governorships and holding a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. Following the separation of the South in 2011, the NCP controlled 316 of 354 seats in the National Assembly. Various other parties held the remainder, with SPLM-Peace Wing holding eight seats and the Popular Congress Party and Democratic Unionist Party each holding four. The Political Parties Advisory Council oversees the registration of political parties. It is not an independent body and is under the control of the ruling party.

By 2013 President Bashir and the National Congress Party confronted a range of challenges, including public dissatisfaction over economic decline and insurgencies on Sudans southern and western borders. Sudanese economic conditions have deteriorated since South Sudans independence, when South Sudan took control of the majority of oil reserves. The country now faces a decline in economic growth that jeopardizes political stability and fuels opposition to Bashir and the NCP. Khartoum is likely to resort to heavy-handed tactics to prevent protests from escalating and will pursue a military response to provocations by Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) rebels in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States. An uptick in violence in Sudans western Darfur region toward the end of the rainy season in October 2012 will probably continue through 2013. Islamist extremists remain active in Sudan potentially threatening the security of the Sudanese Government as well as US and other Western interests.

The NCO leaders are brutal pragmatists, well educated but toxic cosmopolitans, ready to negotiate, to deal, to compromise in order to tighten their grip on the real levers of power in Sudan or to escalate into mass murder and outright defiance if that is called for. While not wildly popular, they do have a mass base. While less organized than they appear, they are very experienced in politics, negotiation and deception and better prepared than any other political entity in Sudan (the SPLM coming in a somewhat distant second). They remain Islamist (aside from patronage, that is still the basis of their popular appeal) but their view of power politics in Sudan is highly rational. They motivation is Islamic the same way the Godfather's Corleone family's motivation is Catholic.

The struggle for power is focused on the succession to the lackadaisical President Al-Bashir, for strengthening one's internal power base and for the right to exclusively whisper in Al-Bashir's ear in the meantime. This struggle is not ideological nor does it predictably reflect the level of criminality of the regime or the varying levels of hostility towards the United States. It is the "moderate, pro-American" Vice-President Ali Osman Taha who oversaw Darfur policy in the worst years (2003-2005) of the violence there, while the "radical, Islamist" Nafie Ali Nafie was marginalized at the time. Both rivals are handicapped by their non-military backgrounds and will play the hardliner or spoiler if its suits their personal interests.

Meanwhile, the "anti-Western" Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and "pro-American" National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) both played equally murky roles in Darfur's turbid waters. In this internecine struggle between institutions and individuals, the friendship and support of the United States is a commodity like no other, "the holy grail of Sudanese politics," a deliverable that Ali Osman Taha failed to deliver in the heady days of his ascendency as the CPA was being finalized (2003-2005, the same years as the worst violence in Darfur).

Although the NCP is without a doubt the most powerful political force in the country it is not a monolithic dictatorship. There is actually a political vacuum in Sudan that neither the NCP nor the SPLM have yet been able to fill. Aside from internal fissures, the country's huge size and complexity make total control difficult. Even though Sudan is wealthier today than ever in its history, the regime awash with money to bribe, loot and, even sometimes, build, it suffers from the usual pressures of a rentier economy dependent on natural resource extraction: high inflation, a hollowing out of agriculture, and endemic corruption. War is expensive so the regime's favored course of action was "war by other means" - counterinsurgency on the cheap, co-opting opponents and internal subversion, propaganda and dirty tricks operations - this was true in both Darfur and in the regime's relationship with the SPLM and South Sudan (with the SPLM trying to take some of the same plays out of the NCP's playbook in return).

The National Congress Party (NCP) regime never saw a negotiation it didn't like. A pack of compulsive negotiators, the regime is in a constant state of negotiation with friends and foes alike, and has no qualms about making or breaking agreements if circumstances change, and the regime can subsequently broker a better deal. It is also important to remember that the regime often strikes deals it never intends to implement, purely as a delaying tactic or to pursue other options even while engaged in the process of negotiating.

The NCP uses negotiations as a means of holding onto power, to level the playing field against stronger opponents, and to co-opt and disarm opponents. The NCP also uses negotiation to assert that it is the principal partner for any and all deals in Sudan - thus legitimizing itself and extending its time in power as the key player. The reason the NCP needs to rely on negotiations is that it is not powerful enough to enforce its will on all of Sudan's other factions all the time, but is strong enough to hold onto political and economic power at the center. In the end, negotiations are cheaper than fighting. The NCP also negotiates and makes deals that can be implemented over time (or partially ones that are partially implemented, only to be renegotiated,) because this strategy allows the regime to hedge its bets. If circumstances change, the regime can always renegotiate based on the new reality.





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