On Saturday, the long awaited launch of the National Dialogue took place at the Friendship Hall in Khartoum. The leaders of the three holdout Darfur rebel movements strongly denounced the process. A broad spectrum of opposition parties boycotted the opening session.
In his address to the participants, President Omar Al Bashir pledged to implement the outcomes of the conference, and said that "we have not and will not close the door” to the opposition forces that declined to participate in the conference.
He pointed to his pardoning of rebel leaders who would attend the Dialogue and his declaration of a two-month ceasefire in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, and expressed his willingness to extend the period, “perhaps making it a permanent ceasefire”.
Al Bashir proposed the establishement of a National Dialogue in January 2014, to find a solution to the country's ailing economy and the conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, but spent more than a year making preparations for the launch. During this time, the regime enforced its grip on the country by further curbing the opposition and gagging the media.
The launch of the Dialogue was attended by the President of Chad, Idris Deby, who attempted -in vain- to convince the main Darfur rebel leaders to attend the dialogue in a meeting in Paris last week.
Minni Minnawi, head of the Sudan Liberation Movement-MM described the “gathering of the ruling National Congress Party and its allies held at the Friendship Hall in Khartoum” as a “just an empty show designed to block the road for any serious national dialogue”.
In an interview with Radio Dabanga broadcast on Saturday, Minawi said that the National Dialogue, initiated by President Al Bashir early 2014, is “meant to mislead the Sudanese people about Khartoum's intentions, in the same way they attempted to mislead them with the fraudulent general election.
“The election brought nothing new. The puppets were rearranged and the regime's status adjusted, while the genocide continued. The people continued starving, freedoms were confiscated, and corruption and displacement were kind of legalised.”
The rebel leader added that “any comprehensive Sudanese dialogue must contain items such as a ceasefire and the restoration of civil freedoms. It must be chaired by a neutral facilitator, and preceded by a preparatory conference to establish a real and serious dialogue”.
According to Dr Jibril Ibrahim, head of the Justice and Equality Movement called the first session of the National Dialogue “a festival of fools. The Dialogue is just an internal monologue between the regime and the parties it has created to obtain false legitimacy.
“This fake National Dialogue will not contribute to any change in the country, but it will complicate political reform and increase tension,” he stated. “The only positive thing that can come out of it, is the decision to participate in a preparatory conference in Addis Ababa to arrange for a genuine dialogue.”
Abdelwahid El Nur, leader of the mainstream Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM-AW), told Radio Dabanga that “the Khartoum regime, after it had come to power, also held a national dialogue, in which it enforced its dominance. The aim of this dialogue is an attempt by the regime to further monopolise power”.
Pointing to numerous peace agreements “by none of which the Sudanese government did abide”, El Nur repeated his movement's stance that the ruling party is not to be trusted. “We do not believe in any dialogue with Al Bashir's regime, but are seeking to overthrow it by popular and military uprisings. Only after the demise of the National Congress Party (NCP), a true and genuine national dialogue can be arranged to resolve the country’s crises”.
Darfuri academic and politician Dr Sharif Harir, also described the opening session of the National Dialogue as a waste of time. “It is set up to deceive the public opinion in Sudan and abroad, to show that the regime has reached a kind of agreement with its opponents,” he told Radio Dabanga.
“This version of a national dialogue will never contribute to the solution of Sudan’s problems because the regime is holding a dialogue with itself, with the aim of keeping together the already scattered Islamic Movement after it lost credibility in Sudan and the Middle East”.
The pro-government Ashorooq channel reported that Abulgasem Imam El Haj, head of an offshoot faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdelwahid El Nur (SLM-AW), and El Tahir Hajar, leader of the Liberation Movement for Justice, did participate in the Dialogue. The Chadian president had pledged them full guaranty that they would not be arrested. A third rebel leader of the Sudan Liberation Forces, Abdallah Yahya, declined.
After their return to the Chadian capital of N'Djamena on Saturday evening, Imam and Hajar told Sudan Tribune that President Al Bashir’s initiative to launch a National Dialogue is the only way to resolve the political crises in Sudan.
However, they requested the Sudanese president to separate the peace negotiations and the National Dialogue process. The situation in the Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan conflict areas require special treatment because of their specific problems, Hajar explained.
Apart from the main Sudanese armed movements, a broad spectrum of opposition parties boycotted the opening session of the National Dialogue on Saturday.
The National Umma Party and the National Consensus Forces (NCF, a coalition of 'leftist' opposition parties) announced their boycott of the Dialogue last week.
The 21 'rightist' and Islamic parties allied in the National Unity Parties also declined to participate. They said in a statement on Thursday, that “the government has disregarded the substantial requirements for any dialogue”. The parties also warn that the current Dialogue “will deepen the national divisions, and will delay the start of a serious dialogue and comprehensive solutions to the problems afflicting the country”.
Correction 16:34 13/10/2015: Tahir Hajar is the leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement for Justice, formerly led by Ali Karbino (LMJ-TH), and not of an offshoot faction of the SLM-AW as previously written.