Sudan's ruling elite and "security cabal" the National Islamic Front: the men who control Africa's largest country
Tight web of savvy leaders withstands international criticism
The men who control Africa's largest country -- the key architects of the conflict in Darfur -- hail from two tiny, interwoven Arab tribes. Many of them grew up together and graduated from Khartoum University. They often sit together in cafes beside the Nile, bickering about politics and religion over endless cups of sweet tea.
They attend the weddings of one another's sons and daughters, who frequently marry within the two tribes. They are neighbors and rivals, nephews and cousins. Politics in Sudan is often a family affair, and as in any family, there are occasional feuds.
For instance, Hassan Turabi, a college professor and radical Islamic cleric, led a military coup in 1989 against his brother-in-law Sadiq Madhi, the country's popularly elected leader. The main backers of the coup were Turabi's proteges, Omar Hassan Bashir and Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, now Sudan's president and vice president. Yet not long before that, Madhi had presided over the wedding ceremony of Taha and his bride, Turabi's cousin.
"In Sudan we say, 'You meet your enemies at weddings,'" said Turabi's son Issam, 39, whose father has been jailed or under house arrest for nearly five years after a bitter falling-out with Bashir and Taha. "All of politics in Khartoum is a bunch of warring families trying to stay in power over one another."
This is Sudan's ruling elite: shadowy and insular, cliquish and fractious. It's an unusual arrangement for a continent more accustomed to the rule of patriarchal Big Men, such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, with a single personality dominating the national psyche.
Despite their tendency to feud, the ministers and security officials in Sudan's inner circle form a tight web of power that combines tribal, religious and military elements. Its formal name is the National Islamic Front, but it is known in Khartoum as the "security cabal."
The cohesion of this club has enabled the government to weather the chill of world condemnation for years -- first in the 1990s for harboring terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and waging a protracted war against African rebels in the south, and now for carrying out a second armed campaign in the western region of Darfur.