Have Sudan’s Islamists Reached The End of the Road?

The Islamist movement in Sudan has reached a state of political and intellectual weakness, yet still claims that Islamic rule is the solution.

al-monitor Sudanese Islamist supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi shout slogans in Khartoum during a rally to protest against the violence in Egypt, Aug. 16, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah.

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sudanese opposition, south sudan, sharia, political islam, omar al-bashir, islamists

Oct 23, 2013

Sudan’s Islamists used to brag about their quick ascent to power, extolling this achievement of theirs despite that they had seized power through a military coup. Their regime strove, early on, to establish a state that brought together all of political Islam’s activists and sympathizers throughout the world. Their efforts were reflected in the establishment of the Popular Arab and Islamic Congress in the early 1990s, when the coup-born regime realized how difficult it would be for it to find legitimacy among the Sudanese people, having betrayed that people’s standing democratic system.

As a result, they heavily relied on the solidarity of foreign and international Islamists, more than on the conviction and support of their own people. At the same time, Islamists abroad were in need of an allied regime in the region that espoused anti-Western, anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist ideals. The Sudanese Islamists therefore presented themselves as pioneers and leaders in this task by proposing what they called the Islamic Civilization Project and raising the slogan of “self-reliance, internal and external freedom.”

Observers of the regime’s press of the time noticed that external campaigns, and the influx of foreign Islamists to Sudan, gave the impression that the country had become the state or base of the new Muslim caliphate. The Islamists did face a number of challenges that, if dealt with correctly, would have made Sudan the model for any modern Islamic state. A model that, they believed, the Sudanese Islamic Movement was best qualified to produce. Among the aforementioned challenges: The establishment of a new democratic system, national unity and the status of non-Muslims, in addition to sustainable development within the purview of an Islamic economy. The Islamists, who ruled for a long time, could have advanced these issues by offering genuine contributions that would have served to enrich the stagnant Islamist political thought process.

But the Sudanese regime instead irrefutably proved political Islam’s inability to build a modern democratic state, and thus became a source of embarrassment to all Islamists in the region. That, then, was the beginning of the fall for political Islam, as further evidenced by the Muslim Brotherhood’s experience in Egypt. We are witnessing the end of political Islam’s era, which began in the mid-1970s, to be replaced by what Iranian intellectual Asef Bayat described as a “post-Islamization” era, when politically and socially, following a period of trials, political Islam’s vitality and attractiveness have been exhausted even among the most ardent of its supporters and enthusiasts.

This, then, is the regime’s current state of affairs, replete with internal contradictions and social pressures, requiring renewal as well as comprehensive self-criticism. But these requirements are difficult for the Islamist mind to deal with, because of that mind’s belief that it alone is the possessor of the ultimate truth. As a result, Sudan’s Islamists, in their multitude of tribes, continue to wage political and philosophical civil wars. History has outsmarted them, and the battle that was supposed to pit Islamists against secularists and liberals has been transformed into one pitting Islamists against Islamists. Their inter-war began when Hassan al-Turabi supporters fell out with President Omar al-Bashir and his followers, culminating in the Turabis allying themselves with the communists and Popular Movement.

The latest coup attempt was organized by prominent Islamists, and the last demonstration was led by the Islamic and National Forces Alliance, which is made up of lesser-known Islamist factions. There also is a group causing quite an uproar by the name of the Reform Movement, which represents Islamist leaders who remained in leadership positions during the most dangerous stages of the rescue period, but who suddenly discovered that there existed a regime in urgent need of reform. This awakening came about after the main movement in the National Congress excluded all those calling for reform from important posts. It is an existential war to recover lost positions; it has nothing to do with God, country or Islam.

Abdul Aziz Gawish distanced his Muslim Brotherhood from the regime when he said that the Sudanese experiment could not be considered an ideal model for other Islamist movements to follow. But, at the same time, he warned of the dangers engendered by calls for the regime to fall. His position was also espoused by the Sudanese Ansar al-Sunna, as well as the Salafists and the Association of Muslim Scholars.

Amid this far-reaching dispute between the Islamists, the National Congress Party sought to create a mechanism by which an Islamist reference point could be established to contain this bloody inter-Islamist fight. Toward that end, the “Sudanese Islamic Movement” was dispatched after the conclusion of the Eighth Congress last November. But the movement lacks the intellectual capacities allowing it to set a new and comprehensive vision. Its leader, Al Zubeir Ahmad al-Hassan, is not known for his particularly impressive intellectual contributions.

The current post-Islamist period is characterized by its intellectual poverty and complete departure from dialogue and knowledge. It has become noticeable that Islamist personalities known for their interest in thought and discussion are now against the regime and form the nucleus of an outspoken movement that criticizes it. Among them are Al Tayyeb Zein al-Abideen, Abdul Wahhab al-Afandi, al-Tijani Abdel Kader and Hassan Maki. The easiest form of compensation for the Islamists was to increase their oppression as they institutionalized the security-based regime, once it became impossible for them to develop intellectually. The Islamists, in the early 1980s before coming to power, were very active in the fields of publishing, writing and discourse. They were behind the formation of the Association of Islamic Thought and Culture, which held its first congress in 1982. The movement endeavored to publish a printed series of works, such as: "The Cultural Renewal Letters," in November and the "Islamic Students’ Movement Letters," as well as the "Cultural Renaissance Letters." This was all under the supervision of the so-called Institute for Research and Social Studies, and in line with what the Islamists called “exposure efforts.”

The Islamists also had a plan and a dream for their opponents, as Khaled Moussa Dafallah touched on in his Fikh Alwala’ al Haraki (Jurisprudence in Movement Loyalty), when he wrote: “Their ultimate immediate challenge lies in the formation of an Islamic cultural identity that would supersede the Sudanese national identity.” But today, and after a long experience rife with failure, the Islamists no longer possess a future for which to preach. It was only natural for their ideologies to mutate in the post-Islamization period into mere Islamic folklore filled with slogans and falsehoods that only reflected the dichotomy engendered by the reality that they created throughout years of absolute rule.

The Sudanese Islamists’ current crisis lies in their insistence, despite their inconsistencies and differences, to raise the slogan “Islam is the solution.” Their repeated call is for “the need for consensus on the fundamentals of Sharia, and the attainment of power through elections, keeping in mind that these fundamentals cannot be bargained with. We may disagree about everything, but not those fundamentals,” according to a speech from Vice President Ali Osman Taha on Oct. 16, 2013.

The aforementioned developments and sharp disagreements emphasize that they themselves have yet to agree on the fundamentals of Sharia. In fact, President Bashir stated that what was in force prior to the South seceding was not Sharia proper, and promised to instill the “real” one this time around. In addition, the majority of the members in the constitutional committee talk about the new constitution’s inclusion of clauses pertaining to the implementation of Sharia. I have no objection toward that, on the condition that the Islamists present Sharia in the form of a detailed implementable program, and not in the form of slogans aimed at stirring up religious fervor. This means that they have to agree upon which Sharia they want implemented. In this regard, the Sudanese differ from other Arab peoples, in that they have experienced and are still living under the rule of political Islam's Sharia, which never ceased to impoverish and humiliate them, to the point of ripping away a precious part of their country.

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