1 November 2018

Sudan: Looking for a Role

Back on November 15, 2012 the late Dr. Hassan El-Turabi made public a message he wrote and addressed to foreign members of various Islamic movements that landed in Khartoum to attend the sixth general conference of the Sudanese Islamic Movement that has inspired many sister movements in the region and more important it has managed to grasp power through the barrel of the gun and became the first movement to do so and continue controlling that power for decades.

The central point of that public message was that it distanced El-Turabi from the movement that he successfully turned from a mere small lobby group into a weighty political organization that occupied the third parliamentary bloc before the 1989 coup. Moreover, it has the chance to oppose in the parliamentary regime or join the government in a coalition, all under its independent flag.

In his message El-Turabi blamed the military faction in the movement that took things into its own hands at the expense of the movement's tradition of respecting freedom, human rights, accountability and building of civil society.

However, there were two main problems with such analysis. The first is that El-Turabi's public criticism came only after he fell from grace and having his power curtailed back in 1999. And the second is that the movement was not sidelined after El-Turabi lost power, but that marginalization started early on when Al-Manshia outskirt, where El-Turabi lived, became the sole center of power for a whole decade.

But that is history.

The big question now is what is the future of this Islamic Movement, who convened its ninth general conference last week? Or more specifically, what role, if ever, it can play from now on in Sudanese politics.

That question is not raised by observers, political scientists or adversaries, but more by many who spent years promoting and defending the movement and see now it is completely irrelevant and has no say whatsoever in running the state that was supposedly is performing under its name and banner. Moreover, it is not fully clear what is the actual role for the current movement?

The starting point is to go back to the basic sin, which is taking power through violence, a military coup. At the time the justification put was that regional and international powers would not allow Islamists to gain power through parliamentary means. Some like former First Vice President Ali Osman still believe that is the case up to now, but such theory forgets the most important aspect and that the way the government was grasped would dictate how the new government would behave. And that is exactly what happened.

The new Islamists' regime that came to power through a military coup has to resort to violence and coercion to ensure having its grip on power last. That could have been accepted somehow if there are remarkable achievements that can bring in some legitimacy. After all this is the regime that ruled Sudan for the longest time since its independence; besides it received the biggest inflow of financial resources during the oil boom. Regardless of the actual figure that got into the government coffers, but for sure it is the biggest amount of hard currency that Sudan ever enjoyed.

Yet despite all that the country is juggling with incessant crises from bread to fuel to even liquidity availability to the extent that the government role is reduced to mere crises management.

This is a crude outcome of the vague motto adopted by the movement: Islam is the solution. The movement that weaved a clever strategic and tactical approach to its reconciliation with former May regime of Nimeiry has in its agenda a crystal clear objective of controlling the center of power in Sudan and made the necessary arrangements for that except for one thing: how to handle the country's problem from an Islamic perspective.

This failure stems from a paradoxical structure that was summarized by the movement's former name: the National Islamic Front. While the word "National" has a specific connotation related a certain piece of land, "Islamic" on the other hand conveys the pan-Islamic orientation of the movement. It was this paradoxical situation that led the Ingaz regime to lose its political and moral compass with the "National" paying the price for the ill-advised policies by the "Islamic".

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