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Cablegate: Umma Seeks to Repair Its Perceived Image

VZCZCXRO8213
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #0164/01 0341446
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 031446Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9868
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 000164

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/SPG, S/CRS, AF/SE WILLIAMSON
ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KPKO KDEM SOCI AU UNSC SU
SUBJECT: UMMA SEEKS TO REPAIR ITS PERCEIVED IMAGE

REF: (A) 07 KHARTOUM 1873
(B) KHARTOUM 161

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Umma party members are concerned that the USG has
a "distorted perception" of their party and they are eager to set
this image straight. Additionally, they call for USG support for a
multi-opposition party dialogue on critical issues such as Darfur
and the CPA. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) On 31 January Umma party members Professor Balgees Badri, Dr.
El Sheikh Mahgoub and Mr. Mohamed Abdulla Adouma called on CDA
Fernandez to discuss what they perceive as a "distorted perception"
of the Umma Party by the USG. Professor Badri introduced herself
and her two colleagues as a three-person Umma committee that will
specifically focus on "Western issues" and dialogue with Western
diplomats on Umma party activities. The committee began its mission
by meeting with the American Embassy.

--------------------------
"DISTORTED IMAGE" OF UMMA
--------------------------
3. (U) Professor Badri laid out what Umma party members believe are
incorrect USG perceptions about Sudan and the Umma Party: (a) all
Northern political parties are the same (fundamentalist Islamic),
(b) when the Umma party was in power (1986-1989) it committed human
rights violations, and (c) Umma has lost all of its constituencies.
Badri rejected these perceptions and claimed that the Umma Party has
a history of democratic rule and preaches moderate Islam. She went
on to say that the Party is committed to the Millennium Development
Goals and has no record of corruption. She questioned CDA Fernandez
as to how Umma could change this "distorted image" of her party in
the US.

4. (U) CDA Fernandez responded that it is important that Umma party
members understand USG perceptions and priorities in Sudan. He
emphasized that the top two USG priorities in Sudan are: finding a
solution to the violence in Darfur and seeing that the CPA is
implemented. CDA Fernandez said, "We respect the Umma Party. We
believe it is democratic." He explained that Americans do not have
"bad feelings" about the Umma Party, but said that the Umma Party
faces a challenge. There is a perception that "maybe your time has
passed." You must therefore work hard to prove your relevance to
your fellow countrymen and the USG, said Fernandez. He urged the
party to unite and speak out on issues that are important to
Sudanese citizens. Show your relevance on Darfur and the CPA, said
Fernandez. He encouraged them to fill the current "political
vacuum" that exists between the NCP and the SPLM. "There has been a
new politicization of Darfur" and Darfurians now look to rebel
leaders such as SLM's Minni Minnawi or SLM/A's Abdelwahid al-Nur
instead of political party leaders, said CDA Fernandez. "Become
strong, find a position, and be vocal" on issues that are important,
urged Fernandez.

5. (U) Professor Badri retorted, "We believe that if we weren't
powerful, we wouldn't exist." She said she believed that the Umma
party still had large constituencies in Darfur, despite the fact
that many Darfurians now associate themselves with rebel movements
instead of political parties. She and the other members agreed that
there is indeed a political vacuum to fill and that perhaps Umma can
find its way into that space.

------------------------------------------
UMMA SEEKING HELP WITH POLITICAL DIALOGUE
------------------------------------------
6. (SBU) Professor Badri said that Umma would like to see an
"international conference on Darfur with proper negotiation on a
grass-roots level." She asked for USG support on this idea. Badri
also announced that Umma would like to start dialogue with "warring
factions" from the East, Darfur, and the SPLM and potentially form a
coalition with these groups. She asked that the USG help Umma bring
these groups together to start a dialogue. She said that Umma, as a
moderate Islamic party, would be accepting of all tribal groups in
the South. Badri said that the NCP has tried to weaken Umma and
seeks to make all opposition political parties powerless. CDA
Fernandez agreed and observed that the NCP's actions have succeeded
in destroying almost all northern political parties by dividing them
from within. Because of the NCP's ability to control State
finances, the military, and the intelligence services, it has
amassed wealth and power, even though it may have little popular
support among Sudanese citizens, he said.

-------------------------------
ELECTIONS - A TOOL FOR CHANGE
-------------------------------
7. (SBU) Professor Badri emphasized that the upcoming national
elections must be held in a free and fair way. She described the
elections as "the only tool for change." Badri said the elections

KHARTOUM 00000164 002 OF 002


could help solve many issues, including the problems of Darfur and
Abyei. Badri promised that the Umma party would offer good
governance and claimed "we have nothing against anybody." At the
same time, she warned that even if the NCP loses majority
representation in the GNU, it does not mean they will lose control
over State finances or the economy.

8. (SBU) COMMENT: Although the Umma Party wants to regain the
political power and broad-based support it had in the late 80s, it
will have to effectively articulate positions on key issues such as
the Abyei dispute, Darfur, and CPA implementation to catch the
attention of the populace. It will also need to democratize
internally beyond the immediate control of the Al-Mahdi family
circle, something it has so far been loath to do. Additionally, it
will have to wisely seek out coalition partners ahead of the 2009
elections in order to reasonably compete against the NCP or the
SPLM. As supposedly the largest political force in Sudan after the
NCP and the SPLM, an alliance by one of the CPA partners with the
Umma Party could tip the balance in its favor. Re-building its
battered constituency in Darfur would greatly strengthen its hand
and the Umma Party would likely be muzzled if it begins to speak out
aggressively on Darfur. Repression of Umma Party leader Al-Mahdi
would carry many risks for the NCP, however, so we would expect the
Umma party to begin to speak out. A quiet Umma party may mean an
alliance with the NCP is already in the works.

FERNANDEZ

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