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The Arab Spring and the Future of Islamists in Sudan

Hasan Makki
17 Nov 2014
Introduction
Abstract

Who are the Islamists in Sudan? ˜˜The answer to such questions leads us to discussions about varied groups affiliated with Islam, such as the Sudanese Islamic Movement, headed by Alzubair Ahmad Alhasan. This movement has been patched by Islamists who supported the government, and they maintained their connections with the ruling party in Sudan, the National Congress Party. Ali Othman Mohammad Taha was the Secretary General for this movement for two terms, followed by Alzubair Ahmad Alhasan, once a Minister of Finance, and a graduate of the Economy Department at the University of Khartoum. Alhasan is an agreeable man in his sixties, memorized the Holy Quran, and he avoids disputes and political quarrels. His temperament and capabilities are not comparable to those who preceded him, like Hasan Turabi or Ali Othman Taha. The attitude of the new Secretary General and his limited abilities reflected negatively on the effectiveness of the Islamic movement in Sudan and the agility of its members. It is probably believed that the current international and regional circumstances require a certain degree of lowliness, which might as well be linked to the intellectual formation of the man, and the dissension among Islamists themselves as well, that also behooves him to maintain the integrity of the movement. During the term of Alzubair Ahman Alhasan the ruling government had the say regarding the affairs of the Islamic movement and even its leadership. The new constitution of the Islamic movement introduced a high secretary for the Islamic Movement in Sudan, and made president Omar al-Basheer the head of this Secretary, and his deputy, Lt. General Bakri Hasan Saleh, one of Alzubair’s deputies in the Islamic movement. Therefore, the Islamic movement might not be able to distance itself from the authority in Sudan, although this is not necessary if competition and disagreement is absent, and if there are mutual interests for the ultimate service of the public between the Islamic movement, the National Congress, and the government. These three bodies function based on a shared background, since the Islamic movement led a coup through its members in the military supported by civilian members. Later on it established the National Congress party that includes the Islamists, nationalists, and their supporters. There is another Islamic movement led by Dr. Alturabi, who is considered the historical continuity of the project of the Islamic movement. Nevertheless, the government has always intimidated this movement, and its voice is hardly heard, although it is led by an extraordinary figure, who accumulated lots of experiences and enjoys wide international and regional relationships. His name is now almost equivalent to the movement in itself. The Muslim Brotherhood movement is also present in Sudan, and its led by one of its early members, Ali Gawish, among other figures such as Sadiq Abdullah Abdul-Majid, and Dr. Alhabr Yousuf. This movement is presented is participating in the parliament, and Dr. Issam alBasheer had been its representative in the government, before he joined the National Congress party and the Islamic movement affiliated with it, describing his move as (a move from brothers to the brothers). There is also the Salfi movements in Sudan, which are religious groups concerned with traditional religious discourse and preaches what is known as the three fundamental principles of Imam Mohammad bin Abd Alwahhab. They also condemn practices of polytheism and heretical innovations in the religion, and also opposing Tsawwuf to a certain extent. Some Salafi movements in Sudan chose to participate in the political process, such as Ansar Alsunnah movement, represented in the government by a minister of state. This movement itself is divided into two groups; The Headquarters, led by Sheikh Ismail Othman, and the other group led by Sheikh Abu Zaid Mohammad Hamza. There are other popular Salafi figures in Sudan, but had no role in politics. While other Salafi groups adopted a Jihadist ideology, some of which were attacked and weakened after some young members assassinated an American diplomat in January 2008. Security crackdowns on such groups forced them to work clandestinely without known leadership. Other Islamic groups include the Association of Scholars and Preachers, headed by Dr. Alamin Alhajj. This association combines the Muslim Brotherhood approach in politics, and the Salafi movements discourse in Da’wa. Sufi movements in Sudan have great influence, especially the Samaniyya order, which is the largest Sufi order in Sudan. This movement is not centralized, which means that it has several leaders in different areas. It has two centers in Umm Durman alone, in addition to other centers in the center of Sudan, Kardafan, and other regions. Ansar Imam Almahdi (Partisans of Imam Mahdi) movement, which has the Umma party as its political entity, headed by Alsadiq Almahdi. This movement advocate what is called moderate Islam, although it is a traditional Sufi movement popular in the Sudanese countryside. Almahdi is a well-educated figure enjoying wide international and regional relationships, and he is concerned with reform and modernity, and interested in issues like modernization and foundation, and therefore the movement adopts the principle of modernization in its activities. Almahdi has several controversial ideas related to women, intellectual freedom, and the issue of Riddah (Apostasy). Khatmiyya order is another Sufi movement (Tariqa) that restricts itself to a series of prayers and supplications in mosques and takaya. This order is now headed by Sheikh Mohammad Othman Almirighni and his sons, and it has established a political party, called the Democratic Union Party. The political discourse of this movement is restricted to issues related to family and its privileges, adopting a general political position that enables it to remain part of the political scene in Sudan while achieving some limited-scale goals. There are also dissident groups such as the Reform Now movement, led by Dr. Ghazi Salah Addin Alatbani, which withdrew from the ruling party and the Islamic movement, and endeavors to find its own way in the political life in Sudan. Another group is called The National Movement for Change, which includes intellectual figures and university professors who have been intellectual leaders in the Islamic movement in Sudan for some decades. Among those are Dr. Zain Alabideen, Dr. Altijani Abdulqader, Dr. Khalid Altijani, and Dr. Mohammad Mahjoub Haroun. Islamists in Sudan and the Arab Spring Dr. Qutbi Almahdi, a leader in the ruling party, argues that “the impact of the Arab Spring revolutions has been positive. The people of Sudan saw that their struggle and achievements since the Salvation in terms of protecting their independence and the assertion of the national identity in Sudan have now become the demands of other peoples in the region”. Dr. Nafi Ali Nafi, the former assistant of the president claims that the spark of the Arab Spring was in Sudan, since he believes that the Arab Spring started on June 30, 1989. This might be true in respect to the references he makes, but the fact is that the Arab Spring revolts demand freedom, social justice, and participation in a democratic rule. These demands have also been echoed in Sudan, and the opposition have similar demands, especially that Islamists have been in power for over 25 years (since 1989). Although there is constant change in ministries, but the presence of one ruling president for such a long time does not indicate a change in the political system in the country. Therefore, Khartoum witnessed a wave of unprecedentedly huge protests in September 2013 after president Bashir raised the fuel prices. It should be noted that these protests were not called for by the opposition parties, instead they were staged by young people influenced by the Arab Spring revolts, with the participation of economically and socially disadvantaged people who exploited the protests for their own means. Additionally, there have been some discussions and debates within the Islamic movement and the ruling party about a candidate to replace the current president, who has been in power since June 1989, in commitment to the 2005 constitution. Dr. Ghazi Salah Addin, leader of the parliamentary bloc for the ruling party at the time, wrote for Aljazeera.net in April 2013: “The president now has a chance to win history and the hereafter. If he would just abide by common sense, and rule the country in what has remained of his term, to lead it towards a vital political reform. This does not necessarily means that he should abstain from running for elections, it rather means that he has a responsibility to play a positive role in comprehensive reforms for the country. He should accomplish a number of important goals, such as building consensus in regards to presidency based on the general national will, and reconstruct the structures of public work and renovate its ethics. He should also create an atmosphere of fair competition in a form of governance that rejects prejudices and fanaticism. Had the president done this, he could have succeeded and served his society by providing a long-awaited “alternative”; a Sudanese person, who is capable to lead the country, equipped with the principle of justice for all the citizens; A leader chosen by in free elections from among the people. Had this happened, we could have saluted the current president and welcomed the next.” Such request submitted by Dr. Ghazi and his supporters was met by dismissing them from the party. Nevertheless, it proved fruitful in bringing the reform demands in Sudan to the fore, where the leadership in Sudan, the Islamic movement, the ruling party, and even the opposition parties became concerned with such demands and how to achieve them. Islamists in Sudan and the Egyptian Situation The Arab Spring revolutions have been experiencing some setbacks, in Yemen, the bloodshed in Syria, the chaotic situation in Libya, and the return of the military rule to Egypt after deposing the first elected president in Egypt who ended up behind bars. The political powers in Egypt allied with the military rulers in order to launch a crackdown on their Islamic rivalries who have been elected by the people. This regional situation forced the Sudanese government and the Islamic movement in Sudan to reconsider the political future of the country in light of such developments. The ruling party decided to bring about some essential changes in the leadership of the cabinet and the presidential palace. The latest cabinet reshuffle excluded some figures such as Ali Othman Mohammad Taha, and Dr. Nafi Ali Nafi, who were among the strongest candidates to succeed Albashir, in addition to the Minister of Energy Awad Aljaz. The president followed the unexpected cabinet reshuffle by communicating with the different political actors in the country, especially those close to the government (The Popular Congress Party, led by Hasan Alturabi, The Ummah Party led by Alsadiq Almahdi, the Unionist Party led by Mohammad Othman Almirigni, and The Reform Now party, led by Dr. Ghazi Salah Aldin). On January 27, 2014, the president launched a reform initiative, in the presence of his political rivalries from other Islamic movements. The objectives of this initiative could be summarized in the following points: achieving comprehensive peace on the national level, increasing political participation, improving foreign relations, improving the economic situation and fight poverty, reviving the Sudanese identity, and enhancing the principles of coexistence in Sudan. The president call on the main political actors and the representatives of the society to engage in constructive dialogue based on the immediate needs of the state instead of clinching to abstract idealisms and unachievable perfection, by breaking with the past and build on the fundamental principles shared by the Sudanese people. This initiative tests the willingness of the Islamists currently in power to provide partial solutions to the situation in Sudan, and realizing the common good for the whole society instead of concentrating on the interests of one party. It also tests the willingness of the other Islamic movements in the country to accept a political compromise to overcome the critical situation the country is going through. The Islamic trend in Sudan has an opportunity to reach an agreement with the armed groups in some provinces in the country, especially in light of the deteriorating situation in South Sudan, and the bloody conflict between Salva Kiir Mayardit and Riek Machar. This conflict had repercussions on the Sudanese military militias that were one supported by the government of South Sudan. The current situation presents an opportunity to reach a political agreement with these movements that opens the doors for political participation in order to share the resources of the country evenly among the different regions and provinces. There are different scenarios through which an agreement could be reached at in the country. One suggested scenario is forming a transitional government headed by a prime minister chosen by president Bashir and agreed upon by the national powers. This new government could be entrusted with communication on the international level in order to alleviate the economic sanctions imposed on Sudan and settle the debts, and eventually call for elections. The Prospects of Islamists in Sudan It could be said that the various Islamic movements in Sudan will always influence any future political change or reform introduced by the ruling party. It is not portended that the status of the political Islamic movements in Sudan would be undermined, since these movements have become integrated in the Sudanese society through 24 years of control in the country. They are deeply rooted in the economic, military, and societal institutions, in addition to their control of the religious discourse and their efforts in Da’wa and moral formation in the organizations, centers, and mosques. Nevertheless, these Islamic movements are faced with certain problematic issues: The status of president Bashir Omar Albashir has been in his position as president for over quarter a century now, and some demands removing him from power and find a replacement for him. This issue is sensitive, if elections take place and the ruling party loses, Bashir will no longer be the president, and the party itself would become in the opposition after it has been the ruling one, or even a party in a bloc with other parties. There are also parties that are expected to rise and develop, such as the Reform Now party and the National Movement for Change. The Regional Communities The regional communities and other ethnicities in Sudan should be represented in any future political agreement in order to guarantee that conflicts would come to a halt, and these movements become part of mainstream politics in Sudan. No one is supposed to question the right of the people of Darfur, or the south, or residents in the east or north, to play a role in leadership and innovation within a common Sudanese identity. They should be seen as vital components to revive the country and change the course of its history. Conclusion The Islamic movements in Sudan are definitely on the rise despite the failures in the current system and the tight international sanctions. There are no strong candidates to replace the Islamists in Sudan, and the discourse of the leftists is no longer effective due to the global changes in the world economy, and the disappearance of the syndicates and student unions. The population is increasingly religious, and the left parties are incapable of finding a voice in a country replete with mosques, where Khartoum only has over 6000 minarets. The Sudanese Left is now deprived of any literary or art movement, with the scarcity of charismatic historical leaders like Abdul Khaliq Mahjoub, Mohammad Ibrahim Naqd, Alshafii Ahmad Alsheikh, John Qarnaq, and others. Some leftist figures chose to join the Salvation movement, like Ahmad Ibrahim and Khalid Almubarak and others. The change in Sudan is eminent, and whether this change was through the military or civil means or a combination of both, the common factors in any political consensus in the country will remain within the boundaries of religion

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