The RCC-NS banned all political parties following the 1989 coup and arrested several political leaders including the deposed prime minister, Sadiq al Mahdi. Nevertheless, all northern parties that existed at the time of the coup maintained their party structures outside the country or in southern areas controlled by antigovernment forces. Some banned political parties actually operated fairly openly in Khartoum and other urban centers. The National Islamic Front, whose leaders were considered to have close relations with several RCC-NS members, was particularly open. Both supporters and opponents of the regime asserted that in the past most government decisions were made by a secretive council of forty men whose members included both top military leaders and prominent figures in the NIF, a coalition dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, several cabinet ministers belonged to the NIF. With the exception of the NIF, however, the precoup parties generally did not cooperate with the military government and were committed to its overthrow.
The RCC-NS attempted to broaden its legitimacy by meeting with members of the various opposition parties. Its first effort to reach out to the banned parties was to invite them to send representatives to a National Dialogue Conference, held in Khartoum in the autumn of 1989. Most of the parties sent delegates, but the SPLM was conspicuously absent. The substantive results of the National Dialogue Conference were meager because the RCC-NS controlled the agenda and did not permit any criticism of its rule. Various meetings in 1990 and 1991 appeared to be aimed at coopting individuals rather than engaging in serious discussions about the country's government. The state-controlled media covered these meetings, but the participants rarely were prominent party leaders. In fact, Sadiq al Mahdi's Umma Party disassociated itself from contacts with the RCC-NS by announcing through its publications that the person with whom the RCC-NS met was not connected with the party. The DUP expelled two members for unauthorized contact with the government.
After the 1989 coup, the banned parties gradually coordinated a common opposition strategy. Northern political leaders initiated a dialogue with the SPLM that resulted in early 1990 in a formal alliance among the SPLM, the Umma Party, and the DUP. This grouping, known as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), an organization in exile, most of whose leaders lived in Cairo, provided the Umma and other parties with access to valuable radio transmitting facilities in SPLM-controlled areas. The NDA was further strengthened when several high-ranking military officers whom the RCC-NS had dismissed from service in 1989 established informal contacts with it. The most prominent of these officers was Lieutenant General Fathi Ahmad Ali, who had served as armed forces commander in chief prior to Bashir's coup. In January 1991, the NDA proposed to establish a government in exile for the purpose of overthrowing the Bashir regime. General Ali was named head of the government, and Garang his deputy. In March 1991, the NDA met in Ethiopia with representatives of military officers, professional associations, trade unions, and the Sudanese Communist Party to discuss ideas for organizing a national government.
Although all political parties remained officially banned in 1991, many precoup parties continued to operate underground or in exile. All the major Sudanese political parties in the north were affiliated with Islamic groups, a situation that has prevailed since before independence in 1956. Among the important religious organizations that sponsored political parties were the Ansar, the Khatmiyyah, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Although several secular parties had been set up between 1986 and 1989, except for the long-established Sudanese Communist Party and the Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party, none of these had effective organizations after the coup.
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