Sudan religious groups meet under Arab Spring pressure
* Reformers say Islamic regime has drifted from religious foundations
KHARTOUM: Thousands of government-linked religious groups met in Sudan on Thursday, under pressure from Arab Spring-inspired reformers who say the Islamic regime has drifted from its religious foundations.
Reformers say corruption and other problems have left the vast African nation’s government Islamic in name only, and question how much longer President Omar al-Bashir should remain in office.
But those calling for change lack the power to impose their views, and their hopes for the three-day meeting will be dashed, predicted Khalid Tigani, an analyst and chief editor of the weekly economic newspaper Elaff. “So this may lead to a new split” in the Islamic Movement.
Sudan’s religious groups divided more than a decade ago when Hassan al-Turabi, a key figure behind the 1989 coup, broke with Bashir and formed the Popular Congress opposition party. The Islamic Movement, a social group at the heart of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), is holding its first national conference since uprisings and civil war began driving out authoritarian leaders around the region in 2011.
More than 170 foreign religious groups have joined 5,000 local delegates, many wearing traditional white jalabiya robes and turbans, for the conference which opened with prayer. One of the guests is Khaled Meshaal, the exiled chief of the Hamas movement which rules Gaza. While religious groups gained power through democratic elections in Egypt and Tunisia after the Arab Spring uprisings, a coup 23 years ago installed Sudan’s religious regime — and it is still there. Among the great challenges facing the country’s religious movement “is how to restore the confidence in the new generation”, an editorial in the English-language The Citizen said on Thursday. “The movement has to unify itself by all means,” the paper said, calling for adherence to “Islamic values” and a fight against corruption, nepotism, tribalism and other ills which, critics say, are products of the current government.
It is a “corrupt dictatorship, cruel dictatorship,” said Turabi, who does not want Bashir’s regime associated with Islam. Amin Hassan Omer, from the Islamic Movement’s ruling secretariat, said he expects such comments from critics but it is “nonsense” to suggest there is widespread dissatisfaction among younger generation over corruption. Omer said reformers would be disappointed despite “a general sense of urgency for change” in the Islamic Movement, including the need for a younger leadership. One possible candidate to head the movement is Ghazi Salaheddine, a former presidential adviser and moderate person. Writing in the Al-Sudani newspaper ahead of the meeting, Salaheddine said the Islamic Movement should be independent of the government.
While only about 12 percent of NCP members come from the Islamic Movement, most of the party leadership belongs to the movement, said Omer, a state minister in the presidency.
The Islamic Movement is simply a tool used by those in power to continue controlling the government “in the name of Islam,” said Tigani, who calls himself an independent Islamist.
Tigani sees potential candidates to replace Bashir jostling for influence within the movement.
Ali Osman Taha, a government vice president, has been the Islamic Movement’s secretary general for two terms and is not eligible to run again.
Analysts say he is a possible successor to Bashir, who has announced he will step down as ruling party leader late next year. Questions over Bashir’s future were reinforced when, according to official media, he “underwent a successful surgical operation in the vocal cords” last week in Saudi Arabia. It was his second minor surgery in less than four months.
A smiling Bashir returned to Khartoum on Thursday in time to attend the conference. afp