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[Dehai-WN] Weekly.ahram.org.eg: The end of the road

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Wed, 7 Mar 2012 00:02:58 +0100

The end of the road

Testimonials of Islamists in Sudan reveal problems that they experienced in
political practice, says Asmaa El-Husseini

1 - 7 March 2012


The experience of the Islamic movement in Sudan and its rise to power as the
first Islamic rule in an Arab country is an eye-opener. Before coming to
power, it was very promising because its cadres were qualified in many
fields and its progressive positions promised to revive and benefit the
people of Sudan. But there is a big difference between beginnings and

Criticism of the movement is no longer confined to opponents who blame it
for all of Sudan's maladies over the past 23 years -- ever since "Salvation"
came to power. Members of the movement have become its own critics, and
recently raised their voice in what is known as 'testimonials' by members to
revise the entire experience and correct mistakes. But these efforts seem to
have fallen on deaf ears in the corridors of power.

Revisionists inside Sudan's Islamic movement have a strong sense of the
mistakes that were committed, and the dangers not only to their movement and
its hold over power, but also for the entire country. This is especially
true after the secession of South Sudan and the possibility of partitioning
what remains in response to current policies and other wars in Darfur, South
Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as other tensions around the country.

The testimonial of Al-Tayib Zein Al-Abideen, renowned Islamic thinker and
founding member of the Islamic movement in Sudan, is key. "We never thought
that when we come to power we would set the worst example of democratic,
military, secular or Islamic rule that Sudan has ever witnessed. The sins
committed under the 'Salvation' are unprecedented; the North fought a
leftist rebellion in the South that despised the rule of 'Salvation', but
this war evolved from a national one to maintain Sudan's unity into a
religious jihadist battle against the infidels in the South that took the
lives of more than 20,000 Muslim youth.

"The religious war triggered the ire of neighbouring states and Western
powers, and we ended up with an amputated South that for more than 150 years
was united with the North. Then other rebellions broke out in Darfur, Nubia
Mountains, Blue Nile and East Sudan. The government committed many mistakes
and atrocities against the people of Darfur and brought on international
criminal court charges even against the president and senior officials. It
also botched foreign policy with neighbouring Arab and African states by
supporting violent groups and political assassins, resulting in justified
hostility by these countries and international diplomatic and economic
sanctions against Sudan.

"Tribalism and ethnicity spread across the country, while the government
politicised civil services, regular forces, the judiciary, and academia
under the slogan 'empowerment'. Meanwhile, financial and moral corruption
reached unprecedented highs.

"This was the reality of the country, and the Islamic movement, in whose
name they ruled, did not fare much better. It lost its revolutionary purity
and Islamic slogans were irrelevant and an embarrassment. Its elected bodies
were dissolved by the leadership and its ranks divided in an overt power
struggle. Other activities were suspended to prevent interference in the
business of government, which opened the door to Sufi and Salafist movements
to infiltrate universities and higher education that were the monopoly of
Islamists. And so, a handful of aging influential figures in the Islamic
movement took over power and the affairs of the ruling party.

"Most activists in the Islamic movement became civil servants or
beneficiaries, and therefore were mute about the mistakes being committed
against the movement and the country. This was the painful demise of a
promising Islamic movement that was going to make progress in a plural
democratic -- albeit fragile -- system. It had once thought that it would
deliver something its predecessors couldn't and would be a model that
surpasses anything known in the Muslim world. Perhaps vanity, greed for
power or using the military -- who always corrupt politics -- was its

"If I had not lived alongside these people for more than three decades I too
would believe what leftists say about the Islamic movement only using
religious slogans to make personal, material and political gains."

Zein Al-Abideen continued: "The appalling model of Islamic rule by the
Salvation government is the result of fatal mistakes by both the Islamic
movement and Salvation government, not out of ignorance but based on a
faulty strategy, imprecise Islamic vision, wrong priorities, lust for power
and influence.

"The first mistake by Sudan's Islamic movement is exaggerating the role of
power in bringing about Islamic change, and therefore the eminence of
political action over any other. The second was taking over power in a
military coup despite sizeable political gains in the 1960s and 1980s. The
long reign of the military under president Numeiri and persecution by the
regime left Islamist leaders despondent about the democratic process, but
rising to power through a coup contradicts the movement's advocacy of
democracy and makes it difficult to remove the military junta once they are
in power. More importantly, a military regime by nature will do anything to
stay in power, even if it violates religious and moral values.

"Salvation violated key religious values such as justice, equality, freedom,
honesty, integrity, consultation and accountability more than any of its
predecessors, and opted for mostly military solutions for political

"The third error was to dissolve the Islamic movement shortly after the
military coup, along with parliament, political parties, labour unions,
syndicates, confiscating political newspapers and banning all forms of free
expression and organisation. The Islamic movement would have been the only
body capable of advising the regime, holding it accountable and directing
it, but the overt and covert regime leadership did not want any advisers or
oversight even from within its own group. The movement accepted this
humiliating reality because most of its leaders were employed by the state
and had become part of the regime.

"The fourth misstep was the regime's categorical policy of cleansing and
empowerment in order to control all facets of the state which marginalised
the skilled and competent, and dilapidated civic services, institutions and
economic projects because politics -- and sometimes tribalism or cronyism --
were the deciding factor in appointing officials in these sectors, and later
covering up their failures and corruption.

"The fifth blunder is the regime's overzealous ambition to influence
neighbouring Arab and African countries and beyond, which exceeded Sudan's
abilities and capabilities, especially after the Ethiopian and Eritrean
revolutions succeeded with modest arms supplies from Sudan. The regime
vainly believed that it can confront superpowers and formed the Organisation
of Islamic Conference (OIC) that included political and armed opposition to
Arab regimes. They embraced the leaders of Al-Qaeda and violent Egyptian
groups, and tried to overthrow some Arab regimes especially in Egypt and
Libya. Sudan's foolish ambition resulted in diplomatic, economic and
political sanctions that it continues to suffer.

"The next miscalculation was sacrificing Islamic values such as justice,
consultation, freedom, equality, fighting poverty and corruption. Instead,
it relied on superficialities to deceive the public such as growing beards
and making women wear the veil, raising religious banners and patronising
religious singers, as well as Sufi and Salafist leaders."

Another Islamic thinker, Khaled Al-Tijani Al-Nour, spoke about the
movement's troubles and the reason behind recent Islamist testimonials:
"There have been many critical testimonials by Islamists lately after they
reached the end of their tether, and could no longer live in denial or
silence about the dire consequences for political Islam in Sudan or the
serious threat to what remains of the country.

"The Arab Spring revived the Islamic movement in Sudan once the winds of
change uncovered the deception and hollowness of the political project of
Sudan's Islamic Movement.

"It caught them red-handed on the wrong and losing side of history, while
Islamic movements in the region rose to power on the shoulders of genuine
popular legitimacy, and preferred the model of Turkey's Justice and
Development Party although it succeeded in a secular setting and is perhaps
the most eloquent criticism and historic condemnation of the Sudanese

Al-Tijani continued: "The partition of South Sudan coincided with the Arab
Spring and revealed the most serious mistakes of Islamic rule in Sudan.
Although it came to power under the pretext of saving the country, it has
resulted in the exact opposite by partitioning Sudan and triggering other
conflicts inside the country. Ironically, none of the rulers are willing to
take political, national or moral responsibility for what happened.

"The critical testimonials by Islamists are the harbingers of an awakening
after more than two decades, a metamorphosis from restlessness and
discontent to nebulous action that needs more time to take shape and
influence events. However, they do not diagnose the root causes of the
movement's crisis and serious consequences for Sudan's fate and future, nor
do they present a bold strategy to quickly exit the dark tunnel the country
is in."

"The majority of Islamists holds the ruling elite -- who have been in power
for two decades -- as solely responsible for deteriorating and unstable
conditions of the Islamic movement, and putting the country in this sinister
dilemma by monopolising power and ignoring the movement's principles. The
solution, they suggest, is to revive the Islamic movement, close its ranks
and rejuvenate its leadership. This position is rooted in traditional
conservatism and rationale that is oblivious to the movement's loss of
credibility. Neither is it ready for real reform, but solely focussed on
maintaining the status quo by making minimal cosmetic changes and rotating

"The problem with this conservative type of reform is that it recognises the
dire situation after 25 years of absolute Islamist rule, realises that the
reasons and chances of staying in power have diminished, and was forced to
take belated action to redress the problem. However, it does not entirely
understand this barely remedies the real problem and that these are only
symptoms of an underlying disease. The true crisis of the Islamic movement
is one of thought and doctrine that promoted Machiavellian policies under
Islamic slogans, while ignoring Islamic values that require a high degree of
commitment, morality and conscientiousness.

"This is rooted in the movement's narrow outlook that there is only one
Islamic model for Sudan, without a deeper understanding of the character of
a country with multiple ethnicities, cultures and religions. The Islamic
movement in Sudan was known to be innovative, but there is no evidence of
this except for fragments that could not withstand the challenges of
Sudanese society. After a quarter of a century in power, there are
unprecedented levels of tribalism, racism and regionalism that have torn the
country apart. This happened because of premeditated policies to stay in

Al-Tijani concludes: "The only option for Islamists in Sudan today is to be
courageous, vigilant and open-minded in extensive revisions that examine the
fundamentals and basic outlook of the Islamic trend, and the outcome of the
dire failure of the coup that cursed them and all of Sudan. Islamists don't
have to be infallible, but they should be prepared to admit their mistakes
and genuinely work on rectifying them.

"Islamism will always exist and there will always advocates of an astute
Islam trend that expresses notions and visions rooted in Sudanese society,
and will rely on acceptance by the people and severing ties with those who
corrupted religious values for the sake of gaining and maintaining power at
any price.

"Inevitable revisions and denunciations of the coup mentality, attempts to
rectify its effects and restore due rights are not a luxury or a tool to
manipulate to play a role in the future. No Islamic or other political
agenda will succeed unless it based in freedom."

Revisions by Islamists of their experience in power are worthwhile, but the
question remains: Do these testimonials usher in reform or signal the end of
the road?


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Received on Tue Mar 06 2012 - 18:03:07 EST
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