11 November 2012

Sudan: Turabi's Party to Boycott Islamist Conference

Khartoum — The opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) led by veteran Islamist Hassan Al-Turabi has announced that it is not going to take part in the Islamic Movement (IM) conference due to be held next week, dismissing the event as mere cosmetics to serve the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

Speaking to reporters in the capital Khartoum on Sunday, PCP's secretary of justice and human rights, Hassan Abdella Al-Hussain, poured scorn on the IM General Conference of 2012, saying it's nothing but an attempt by the NCP to beautify itself. He further claimed that the funds that went into organizing the conference came out of the state's coffers, citing his allegation as evidence that the IM is a state-affiliated entity.

The IM is the Islamist intellectual constituency whose political wing, the National Islamic Front (NIF), took power in the 1989 coup before rebranding itself as the NCP which later split after NIF leader Hassan Al-Turabi was ousted following a power struggle with President Omer Al-Bashir and other Islamists in 1999 and went to form the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP).

Although the IM maintains its separate organizational structure and seeks to paint itself as a non-partisan group of Islamists who are distant from the NCP-PCP animosity, it has been effectively under the control of the NCP with Taha serving as its secretary-general. Some analysts argue that the IM was kept to exist as a parallel and broader political base to support the Islamist orientation of the NCP regime and rally Sufi and radical Islamist groups under its umbrella, while excluding the PCP.

Al-Hussain said that the PCP rejected an invitation to participate in the conference which is due to be held on 16 and 17 November. He added that the NCP is feeling weak and trying through the IM conference to pump new blood into its veins.

The PCP official however insisted that despite their refusal to participate in the conference, the PCP still considers itself as an important part of the IM even if the NCP is trying to hijack it.

PCP leader Hassan Al-Turabi said, in an interview with Sudan Tribune last week, that the IM was nothing but an NCP-affiliated organization, adding that its members are united only by power and tribal links. Al-Turabi also revealed that his party intends to meet Islamist figures from outside the country to explain the PCP position on the conference and why they decided to boycott because they want to disassociate themselves from the "faces that tarnished the image of Islam"

Meanwhile, the media secretary of the IM, Sana Hamad Al-Awad, has denied that state funds were used to finance the conference. She told Al-Sudani newspaper on Sunday that the amount of money spent on the conference was more than 10 million Sudanese pounds collected from contributions and membership fees.

Al-Awad confirmed that the PCP informed them of its decision to boycott despite the invitation it received. She added that the conference aims to absorb the Islamists "who have been standing on the sidewalk" due to the 1999 schism or failings of the NCP. Al-Awad also acknowledged that there is a great deal discontent among NCP youth members.

The 2012 IM conference is expected to discuss the secession of South Sudan last year as well as the rise of Islamists to power in the wake of popular revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya in the "Arab Spring". The conference is also expected to witness heated debates in light of growing criticism against the perceived corruption of the NCP government and its violations of human rights as manifested in the mass arrests of opposition activists in the Sudan Revolts campaign.

There is also a great deal of discontent among Islamists, especially those who stepped away after the coup, against what they describe as the "undemocratic behaviour" of the NCP leadership as well as against the continued wars in the regions of South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur.

The conference will create a new constitution for the movement and discuss proposed papers on the concept of an Islamic State, the impact of South Sudan secession, general guidelines for the country's constitution and the economy. The event will also elect 400 members to the Shura Council.

The IM's secretary-general and Sudan's first Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha will not be able to run as an incumbent because the current constitution does not allow more than two terms in the position. Taha was elected to the position during the last conference after facing strong competition with current presidential adviser Ghazi Salah Al-Din Al-Atabani.

It is not clear whether Al-Atabani intends to run again but insiders say the man has recently stepped out of decision-making circles due to what they described as his unhappiness with the way the NCP has handled a number of sensitive issues lately.

Separately, the official spokeswoman of the PCP, Iman Mohammed Hussain told reporters on Sunday that her party agreed to respond to the NCP's challenge to the opposition to enter a public debate on the issue of Sharia laws and the Islamic state.

She was referring to statements in which the NCP's deputy chairman Nafe Ali Nafe challenged the opposition this week to hold a public debate with his party over the issue of Sharia laws, saying they have documents proving that the opposition coalition National Consensus Forces (NCF), which include the PCP, is opposed to Sharia laws and trying to create a secular state.

"I wrote to the NCP's media secretariat informing them of our readiness as an opposition and a party to enter a debate and we have a team ready for this task" Iman said.

Al-Turabi said in his interview with Sudan Tribune that he is at odds with his NCF allies, which include the National Umma Party (NUP) and the Sudanese Communist Party, over the issue of Sharia and Islamic state. The PCP leader said he was still committed to creating an Islamic state while his allies call for a civil state. He however claimed that they agreed to defer their ideological disagreements and focus on achieving the common goal of regime change.

PCP denies coup report

The PCP's secretary of justice and human rights, Hassan Abdulla, denied reports on Sunday that his party was involved in a failed coup attempt. Abdulla was responding to a report by a Sudanese website that the authorities foiled a coup attempt planned by PCP members in security forces and the army. The report alleged that the authorities carried out a number of arrests among army and security officers thought to be linked to the PCP.

But the PCP official stressed that his party has long forfeited the game of military coups and will not seek to change the regime through the power of the gun. He added that the regime had failed but this is no justification to change it through violence because such move will make matters worse.

The government repeatedly accuses the PCP of seeking to overthrow it by force through alliances with armed rebel groups but PCP officials deny the charge.

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