Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-

Ahram Weekly

A troubled legacy

Sudan looks back on a quarter century of Islamic governance, writes Asmaa Al-Husseini

Al-Ahram Weekly

Reports about the health of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir following two surgeries have opened the door to rumours and speculation about the struggle over succession. The eighth conference of the Sudanese Islamic Movement (SIM) — despite the festivities and broad participation by Arab Islamic leaders — confirmed this. The election of the movement’s secretary-general appears to have been part of this power struggle, and the conference also unveiled many fractures in the structure of the SIM and opened up many wounds.
The SIM is suffering a serious crisis on several fronts, and the conference also evoked bitterness from Islamists and the Sudanese masses in general after 25 years of the movement being in power, during which the country was carved up. Meanwhile, wars continue in several regions and there is intense foreign interference in its affairs, as divisions continue and demands persist for democratic transition and wise governance.
Hassan Al-Turabi, the godfather of Islamic rule in Sudan, pre-empted the conference by disowning SIM and described the gathering as “a hoopla” which is nothing more than a waste of state funds. Al-Turabi, who is the leader of the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP), described the incumbent government which he quit in 1999 as “a corrupt government overwhelmed by dictatorship”.
Al-Sadek Al-Mahdi, president of the Umma National Party, stated that SIM burdened the country with wars and divisions. Bashir’s adviser Nafie Ali Nafie responded by saying: “SIM is not at all harmed by Turabi’s statements. It is in the interest of the movement that Turabi left it, and there’s nothing new in what Mahdi said about the movement.” Nafie added: “His statements are useless because we know his influence on the street.”
The presidential adviser further described statements by Dubai’s police chief that the SIM conference poses a threat to the security of Gulf states as just one opinion. “Anyone who fears Islam has no means of correcting their mistake because his ideas harm only himself. I do not believe the conference disrupts our relations with Gulf states or the Arab world.”
Press reports stated that one of the goals of the conference was to coordinate efforts by Muslim Brotherhood (MB) groups to take over power in Kuwait and UAE to fund their poor countries as part of the Arab Spring. Thus, Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan said that the MB now wants control after enjoying Gulf donations for many years. Gulf states are also worried about Iran’s infiltration of Sudan, especially after revelations about Iranian arms production and a visit by Iranian battleships to Port Sudan on the Red Sea — a key route for oil and security for Gulf states.
There were many debates and discussions about the relationship between the movement and the state and the amendment of the constitution. There was also strong criticism of the performance of the executive and legislative branches, rampant corruption, and failure to address successive crises. Some participants proposed that more qualified cadres should be allowed to rescue the movement from the clutches of corruption and cronyism which have become rampant in recent years. These calls echo reformist testimonials published in recent months by members of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).
Al-Zubeir Ahmed Al-Hassan was elected SIM secretary-general after Ghazi Salaheddin turned down the nomination once constitutional amendments were made to the movement’s regulations. The amendments change the process of electing a secretary-general and gave senior SIM positions to senior government officials, which means the movement will be entirely subordinate to the state.
Salaheddin was a popular choice and most members indicated they would vote for him, but several influential figures in the government intervened and made specific amendments opposed by Salaheddin which prevented him from remaining a candidate. The conference approved the election of the secretary general by the Shura Council instead of a vote by the general assembly. The amendments also created a supreme leadership representing the executive, political and private spheres according to the rules and regulations of their institutions. This way, the supreme leadership of SIM would be headed by the leader of the executive branch (the prime minister) and his deputies. Thus, President Bashir would become the head of the supreme leadership.
Before the conference took place, Salaheddin, who previously served as Bashir’s adviser, wrote that “the movement must remain independent of the government.”
Al-Tayeb Ibrahim Mohamed Kheir, the president of the general conference, whose chairmanship was a surprise after his absence from public affairs, said that discussions at the conference focused on core issues. Discussions were heated and most speakers asserted that the movement must be pioneering and independent.
Sanaa Hamad Al-Awad, the chairman of the media committee, admitted there were successes and some mistakes during SIM’s experience in government for a quarter of a century. Al-Awad said that Islamists are disappointed with this legacy but she refused to label it as “failures”. She added that the NCP is the political arm of SIM which believes in the peaceful rotation of power and democracy. Al-Awad continued that the process of choosing the secretary general via the Shura Council gives him more support and an opportunity to choose his own deputies and aides, allowing him a broader mandate.
She added that SIM is ready and willing to listen and accept other choices and not exclude anyone. The movement is part of a national project that everyone is a part of, without exception. “The Islamists cannot monopolise power in their countries and must heed past experiences,” she added.
Vice President Ali Othman Taha, who is a strong candidate to succeed Bashir, said in his opening address to the conference: “Sudan’s Islamic Movement needs to rejuvenate itself.” Taha, who will leave his post as SIM secretary general at the end of the conference after two terms in office, added: “Change in the movement is heading towards adopting a new constitution in Sudan that will boost freedoms. The programme requires new blood at the top and the rejuvenation of its platform.”
Despite the money spent on the conference and mobilisation for the gathering that was attended by senior guests, SIM is still in trouble with its members, especially the youth, and with the masses after its rulers bogged the country down in serious trouble, which the movement does not have the courage to deal with and take the blame. Many believe that the movement must commit itself to the principles of Islam which it claimed it would apply once in power. This means fighting corruption, moving away from tribal partisanship and upholding the unity of the country.
Many SIM members are angered by its condition and what has happened to Sudan under its reign. In his book titled Islamists: a crisis in vision and leadership, Abdel-Ghani Idris, a young Islamist leader, states: “The platform for change that the Salvation regime proposed in 1989 aimed at establishing a regime based on Islamic principles. What have we done about this goal for which we came to power?”
Islamist writer Khaled Al-Tijani Al-Nour adds: “Islamists had an opportunity to make these corrections, but they squandered it by being silent for so long or through their complicit silence about conditions until we have reached this lamentable state. What we need now is not how to save the regime or SIM but how to salvage Sudan itself.
“What is needed now from Islamists is to join a broader national Islamic current, not to strengthen the Islamist grip on power but to establish a genuine pluralist democratic system in Sudan. Also, to give the Sudanese people the right to choose their political regime, create truly democratic institutions, and thus an opportunity to gather what is left of Sudan. Perhaps this might revive hope of reuniting the country.”

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