On November 23, Sudan lost an invaluable activist, writer and leader.
Al Tijani Al Tayeb was one of the founders of the Sudanese Communist Party and the editor of the SCP’s newspaper Al Midan. He dedicated his entire life to the movements against colonialism, dictatorship and capitalism in Sudan and against imperialist exploitation of Africa and the Middle East.
Al Tijani was born in 1926 in a poor village near the town of Shendi in north Sudan. His father was heavily involved in the Sudanese independence movement, fighting against the British occupation.
Al Tijani learned much from his father’s ideas.
His family moved to Omdurman in Khartoum when Al Tijani was young. He attended school there and studied at Gordon College, which later became Khartoum University.
Al Tijani then went to Egypt to study, where he became involved with Egyptian communists and other leftists. After one year, he was arrested for helping the Egyptian people fight against the British, capitalism and the caste system in Egypt.
Al Tijani was deported to Sudan where he continued to fight the British occupiers.
Al Tijani and some fellow activists formed the SCP in 1946. He also helped to establish Al Midan and was the paper’s editor for some 50 years, until his death.
Al Tijani was a leader of the movements against the various post-independence dictatorships. He spent most of his life either in jail, underground or in exile, but all these challenges only strengthened his convictions.
His time in prison totalled 12 years. He spent another decade underground, where he relied on the help and bravery of ordinary people to keep him safe while he was constantly on the run.
Al Tijani was known for his activism, but also his honest writing. Even those in other political parties respected him and learned from him.
In 1982, after spending two years in solitary confinement, jailed without charge under the Jaafar Al Nimeiri dictatorship, Al Tijani was brought before Nimeiri’s State Security Court. In his defence statement, he boldly refuted the regime’s allegations against the SCP and eloquently outlined the party’s vision for his country.
In response to the claim the SCP was sabotaging national unity, he pointed out how Nimeiri’s reign was based on repression of the majority in the interests of the minority: “It reaps the toil of the masses and plunders the resources of the country, heeding nothing but their narrow interests and those of their imperialist masters.”
The SCP’s goal of power in the hands of the working class would mean government “not by repression or subjugation, but by the willful consent of the absolute majority of our people … it is only the national unity built around the interests of the workers that can transcend the parochialism, chauvinism, and religious strife that bisect our society.”
Al Tijani told the court: “The experience of our people shows that a serious and deep-rooted opposition will be impossible to eradicate by force. The objective causes of such an opposition are related to the distinctions between the various social forces in the society.”
He explained the contradiction that developed in Sudan after independence from British colonial rule, “between all bourgeois parties and the classes they represent on the one hand, and the masses of workers, peasants and revolutionary intelligentsia on the other”.
“The former tried to perpetuate the colonial political and economic structures, while the latter aspired to translate independence into better living conditions for the masses.
“The progressive camp wanted to participate in the building of a new Sudan by means of a national democratic revolution that paves the way for socialism.”
Al Tijani outlined a program for “building the Sudan of the future”, including establishing the foundations of a democratic society.
He called for Sudan to “revert to our positive role among the Arab and African progressive movements. We should follow an independent foreign policy built on vehement opposition to neo-colonialism, on the one hand, and cordiality with the socialist and non-aligned countries on the other.”
He also called for the economy to be released “from the fetters of foreign monopolies” and for an urgent development program “that should aspire to uplift the sufferings of the masses”, including a fair wage structure and affordable prices for basic commodities.
“Simultaneously”, Al TIjani argued, “we should embark on a long term development plan whose primary objective is redressing the uneven development between the various regions”.
Sudan would be a very different place today if such a plan had been implemented.
The military court sentenced Al Tijani to 10 years’ jail. However, his term was cut short when the people’s uprising of 1985 overthrew Nimeiri.
Al Tijani was freed from jail by the people protesting in the streets. In a 2004 interview with the Egyptian Al Ahram newspaper (conducted during one of Al Tijani’s long periods in exile), he recalled how the people “literally carried us home on their shoulders! … It was thrilling, quite unlike anything I'd ever experienced in my life.”
Just four years after the successful uprising, Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir seized power in a brutal military coup masterminded by the National Islamic Front, whose attempts to crush the SCP were unmatched by previous rulers.
Al Tijani told Al Ahram: “I personally know of at least 20 Communists who were tortured to death under the NIF."
Fighting this brutal regime is how Al Tijani spent the remainder of his life.
Summing up his relentless dedication to the struggle to liberate his country, Al Tijani explained in the concluding remarks of his 1982 defence speech: “I find no gratification except in welding myself to the whole which is the Sudanese revolutionary forces …
“I realise myself only through identification with the values and aspirations of my people's struggle. I identify myself with the heroic history of our people, and I am a product of that history.”
Al Tijani will be remembered in Sudan and throughout the world for his remarkable contribution to the long struggle for peace, justice and democracy for his people.