Is Sudan a “Post-Islamist” State? II
Part II of The Sudanese Islamists’ Wars: Processes of Disintegration from Khalil to Turabi
The mutual hostility among the Islamists has been merciless. However, the same al-Turabi supporters who had subjected other political, social, and ethnic groups to such treatment now complained of their fate, after the state turned against them. But this hostility that came with the second republic has brought out into the open very serious elements with dire consequences. The first of these relates to the way that the Islamists’ will to order and strategies of control turned into impulses that brought in their wake claims of difference based on regional solidarity. In turn, these presented themselves as particularist individual and group demands which metamorphosed into everything that the Islamists, with their universalistic aspirations, had earlier resented and feared. It was one of the Islamists’ strategies to encourage those of their members who belong to Sufi turq or leading tribal families to penetrate these institutions and replace their fathers or relatives as leaders. Firstly, because of the high numbers of Darfurian students who had been joining the Islamist movement for the last four decades, especially at the University of Khartoum, and secondly because of the successful mini-intifada led by the young Darfurian Islamists that forced Ja”˜far Nimari to replace al-Tayib al-Mardi whom he appointed as a governor of Darfur in 1981. Among the leaders of the so-called al-Fashir intifada were Daud Bolad, al-Shafii Ahmed Muhammad, Amin Banani, and Farouq Ahmed Adam. In the period after the downfall of Nimairi, the Islamists discovered that their dreams about Darfur were far from reality as their gain in the 1986 elections was limited to the two seats won by Ibrahim Abakr Hashim and Abdel Gadir Adam. Later some of those young Darfurian Islamists began to turn against the movement as their two parliamentarians defected to the DUP.
As the Islamist movement started to expand after the 1960s, the Darfurians were at its heart. However, as the movement transformed into the “˜Corporation’ after the 1980s, the Darfurians became marginalized. The leadership designated some members and disqualified others for access to the highest strata of the Corporation and in doing so designated most Darfurians to a lower status. That is to say that there was a discrepancy between a person’s achieved prestige on the one hand, and that person’s ascribed prestige on the other. By the time the Islamists came to power, this identity management had produced well defined formations within the movement. Some of the Islamists from Darfur such as Daud Bolad””a prominent Islamist student leader in the al-Fashir intifada””dissented and allied themselves with the SPLM leading to a 1991 rebellion in Darfur against the government. Bolad’s experience within the Islamist movement convinced him that inconsistency between his achieved and ascribed status had located him in “a place of involuntary exile.” This tension led him to rebel against the regime in an attempt to change the system as a whole. According to some allegations, one tragic aspect of Bolad’s ordeal was that his rebellion was crushed and his life was believed to have been taken by an old friend and bodyguard from his university days, al-Tayeb Ibrahim (Sikha) the then-governor of Darfur. Another example comes from Ali al-Haj, who became the focus of the satire and ridicule of the other faction of the Islamists, and continued to feel bitter, evaluating his “own complicity with his position, as to what one did wrong” . These examples reveal a sharp conflict within the Islamist middle class.
Hence, the conflict among the Islamists, wrongly described by some as an issue of race and ethnicity, has entered the political center of both the regime and the country. This is truly a conflict between “˜domination’ and “˜subjection’ within the Islamist middle class. The “˜latent interest’ of each one of these two groups became “˜manifest’ when the Islamists assumed power and started using the state as a regulatory authority structure. It is certainly true that some of the Islamists on both sides like to characterize the conflict in racial terms. Others would like to see it as fitna bi al-sulta [obsession with power]. But what seems like an expressive language describing a deeper conflict with racial and ethnic terminology and labeling, has been transformed by some into a vehicle to political power. This in itself has recreated a new kind of an Islamist politics of belonging, where an in-group takes power.
As complex as it might look, the conflict that split the NCP into two antagonistic groups is actually another round in the battle within the Islamist middle class in relation to authority. In essence, it is about the struggle for domination, especially when the Islamist state community, including “˜Umar al-Bashir, felt that al-Turabi and his supporters were planning and taking serious steps toward a program that would threaten their presence in the house of power and eventually undermine their interests as a group. It is true that the groups of the so-called gharaba [western Sudanese] in general, and Darfur in particular, who stand behind al-Turabi constitute a substantial block in the PCP. This presented a project of substantial numbers of the Islamist elite with specific cultural and ethnic characteristics and “tactical necessity and common interest.” This construction in itself might help create a higher ideal and expectations, because al-Turabi himself is not a gharabi and his leadership to the new party might help to break the closure practices enforced by what have been described as the riverain Northern elite, the dominant group in the NCP.
In this respect, it seems that the regional issue and the race issue have added two tools to the Islamists’ kit in the political fight. Cultural prejudices on the one hand, and the creation of different techniques for breaking the barriers and closure on the other, have been played by both parties as ammunition in their ongoing fight against one another. When these two processes come together, an interesting phenomenon emerges that is worthy of exploration.
Certain developments were informed by and in turn influenced the latent conflict between the two groups before it came to the surface in 1999 and afterwards when it became manifest in the third regional Islamism of Khalilism or JEM. The first development relates to al-Kitab al-aswad [The Black Book], which was prepared and printed before, but only widely distributed immediately after the split. The book was published in two parts, the first in May 2000 and the second on August 2002. On the day it was published, as many as 1,000 copies of the book were distributed after Friday prayers in mosques and other places in Khartoum. The following day, copies were placed at the desks of senior government officials including “˜Umar al-Bashir. According to Professor Abdullahi O. El-Tom of the National University of Ireland, who translated the book into English, more than 50,000 copies were photocopied and circulated before eventually being posted on the internet.
William Wallis of the British daily Financial Times, who interviewed one of the authors of the book, was told that the group compiled the book “over a period of five months and with many clandestine meetings in which each member kept his own network of collaborators to himself – somehow plucked sensitive records from state archives. From these and more public information, they catalogued iniquities to rival apartheid in South Africa, documenting the narrow ethnicity of senior officials in successive governments, and castigating the moral bankruptcy of the incumbent regime that had based its legitimacy on Islam.” Although Khalil Ibrahim, the leader of the Harakat al-Adl wa al Muswaa [Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)], claimed that he wrote The Black Book, another member of the movement Idris Mahmoud Logma, told Wallis “that he and 14 others – including one former state minister, [a clear reference to Khalil Ibrahim] prominent among Islamists – developed the idea for the analysis. Most of them were young Muslims from black African tribes in Darfur who had graduated from Khartoum universities.”
Whatever the case, as Logma told the Financial Times, during the time when they were writing, they “were not thinking of rebellion”, but rather they “wanted to achieve [their] aims by democratic and peaceful means”. He concludes by saying, “Later we realized the regime would only listen to guns.” On its own terms, a second group of Islamists led by the fifteen personalities who wrote The Black Book followed the path of Daud Bolad, whom they described as a martyr in their book. Among these fifteen personalities, Mohi al-Din identifies Khalil Ibrahim, Idris Ibrahim Azruq, Suliman Jamous, and Jibrial Ibrahim as among the most devout and dedicated to the Islamist movement and regime. Here, as de Waal argues, “the “˜Black Book’ marked a symbolic rapprochement between the Islamists and the secular radicals of Darfur. Hence the unlikely alliance between the latter group, who were busy putting together the Darfur Liberation Front (renamed in early 2003 the Sudan Liberation Army, or SLA) and the Islamist-leaning Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).” It may be true that the book “caused a stir throughout the country and showed how northern Sudan was becoming polarised along racial rather than religious lines”, but it is equally true that the contenders on all sides operated with opposing arguments, accusing the other party that they were rallying along racist lines.
Here we must ask ourselves an important question. What made the regime so frustrated that it would act violently toward al-Turabi and his party after the Geneva agreement? Abdel Rahim “˜Umar Mohi el-Din argues that after the MOU and al-Turabi’s press conference, al-Turabi’s call for an intifada in which the Darfurians and southerners around the city would participate might escalate into an armed confrontation. The security apparatus alerted the government to this danger and advised swift action against al-Turabi and his party members. This fear came from the steady growth of an underclass in the shantytowns surrounding the cities of Khartoum, Omdurman, and Khartoum North as well as other urban centers in the country. The war in the south, the drought and desertification, and the instability and insecurity in Darfur led to massive dislocation and displacement of the citizens of western and southern Sudan. The migration and settlement of the rural and urban poor was a serious concern for this government and previous ones. The growing presence of these groups around the capital and its twin cities became a nightmare for the government. This has been especially true since the split of the NCP and the regrouping of al-Turabi’s faithful followers around the PCP, which draws most of its support from individuals and groups from western Sudan. In the past, this underclass and its younger generation that has moved into the cities, which is called Shamasa in the local Sudanese dialect, has added intensity and manpower to the street demonstrations. In this way, this underclass played an important part in the success of the uprisings of 1964 and 1985.
The underclass has been viewed as a political threat and has been stigmatized socially and culturally in the local press. With the surfacing of what could be interpreted as xenophobia or racism, even more severe forms of subtle and overt violence against the underclass might be instituted by the government. This kind of terror, in addition to the amputation of limbs, floggings, and kasha, which echoes some of the atrocities carried out by Nimairi and his NIF allies in the period 1983-84, could be repeated using past methods or by way of new techniques as the need arises. As they sustain the breeding ground for the growth of more Shamasa, the kind of punishment referred to is an introduction to upcoming orchestrated campaigns to chase them out of the areas surrounding the urban cities.
Taking into account the regime’s awareness that a massive force for riot and rebellion has always been at hand, any attempt of organized protest causes serious alarm and will be promptly subdued. So it seems that what made the government act decisively against the al-Turabi-Garang MOU was its fear about the possible manipulation of the underclass of the urban cities. The announced plan to work together””to escalate “popular resistance to force the government to depart from its totalitarian course” “”is hard not to read as an indication of collaboration in order to monopolize the western and southern segments of the underclass and the Shamasa to support a planned intifada.
The violence against al-Turabi and his party produced serious difficulties for the regime. In trying to secure their position by launching a preemptive strike against him and his camp, the regime moved the battleground from Khartoum to an additional field which is Darfur. Although the leaders of the rebel group of JEM deny their relationship to al-Turabi’s PCP, without the conflict among the ranks of the Islamists and the developments that ensued out of it, the situation in Darfur would have been very different. But does that make the JEM the military wing of the PCP? No, on the contrary, while there are indicators that regime is weakened and the more public despair of the regime’s political moves increases, the more the contending parties including the JEM see a window of opportunity to push harder on their ultimate target as an Islamist revolutionary alternative that could force the ruling Islamist clique out of power and stand al-Turabi on his feet. Was there coordination with one or more political and military groups to stage a military or popular move to monopolize the western segments of the underclass and the Shamasa to support a planned take-over? It would be outlandish if that were not the case.
The Dissenters’ War
With the transformation of the social structures of the Islamist movement into a Corporation and the development of a community built around the Islamist state and the regime’s nomenklatura, a gradual but continuously growing number of disillusioned Islamist intellectuals started to identify themselves and to make their presence known. While around the core group of the regime’s state community and the regime’s nomenklatura other layers had been established by appointments to major offices in the state as a reward for loyalty to the regime, other individuals and groups started to distance themselves from the regime. As totalitarian policies, which were presented as Islamic, and the new class made up of representatives of the Corporation, including a mixed bag of Islamists, serial opportunists, speculators, businessmen, and army and security personnel, began to exert their influence within the new Islamist state, a gulf opened between them and certain Islamist intellectuals. The disenchantment of these intellectuals with the regime’s political and economic performance led to the emergence a group of Islamist dissidents like Hasan Makki, al-Tayyib Zain al-“˜Abdin, and Mohamed Taha Mohamed Ahmed, which began to grow to include some of the young Islamist media cadres, chief among them Osman Merghani, Adel al-Baz, and Mahgoub Aurwa. Clearly disturbed by the performance of the regime, other Islamists distanced themselves from the entire project. Some of these, including Abdelwahab el-Affendi and al-Tijani “˜Abd al-Qadir, based their self-criticism and their criticism of the movement on different assumptions. Most, if not all of these dissidents still maintain their faith in an “Islamist” orientation of some sort despite their opposition to al-Turabi and the regime’s policies. Since their credentials as Islamists were unimpeachable, they could not be accused of being enemies of the Islamist project, and their commitment to the Islamist movement has given their attacks on the regime a special weight and credibility that are disturbing to the regime. Out of the intensification of the internal and external criticism and satire that marked the year that preceded the end of the first Islamist republic in 1999, trends of timid criticism by some of those inside the regime emerged and focused on certain ills of the system.
Nevertheless, during the lifetime of the Islamist regime, the camp of Islamist dissenters continued to grow. Until this day, they still present themselves as individuals frustrated with the performance of the past and current regimes. They sound angry and self defensive, as if they are seeking validation from the “˜sacred history’ of a movement which is no longer valid. It is healthy to have such a critique and examination to the past period, but it would be admirable, while they are within such a moment of historic potential, if they could rise above their frustration and anger in order to present something that would add to the national discourse with regard to their vision for the future of the movement.
Within these wars among the different groups of Sudanese Islamists, all factions are living in a “state of suspended extinction” as each side has been turned by the other into an object to be eliminated through the tools that they all mastered since the days when such tools were used against old enemies. These tools are the state apparatus of coercion and private violence. This state of suspended extinction generates disintegration rather than regeneration. The feature of Islamism that assures such disintegration is that the Sudanese political experience in general is ridding itself from Islamism. Paradoxically, many among the Islamists themselves, sympathizers as well as their detractors are not fully aware of that, and those who are aware are not yet sure where to go from there.
i. T. Abdou Maliqalim Simone, In Whose Image? Political Islam and Urban Practices in Sudan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 205.
iii. Cliford Geertz, Old Societies and New States (New York: Free Press, 1963),
iv. William Willis, The Black Book history or Darfur’s darkest chapter (London: Financial Times, Saturday 21 August 2004)
vi. Willis, The Black Book history or Darfur’s darkest chapter
vii. Muhy al-Din, al-Turabi wa al-Inqadh, 461.
viii. Alex de Waal, “Counter-Insurgency on the Cheap”; available from http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n15/waal01_.html; Internet; accessed on 31 March 2007.
x. Muhy al-Din, al-Turabi wa al-Inqadh, 460.
xi. Shamasa is an Arabic term meaning “the people of the sun”. It refers to the thousands of homeless children in the three cities. Some of them wash cars, some steal, and others beg. Some of them move across the railway line between big cities as transients. They have developed a certain language for communication and have tightly knit structure.
xii. Kasha is an Arabic term meaning to drive away or round up. It refers in this context to the mass arrest and deportation of thousands of displaced southerners and westerners from the Khartoum slums.
xiii. AP, Former Sudanese Parliament Speaker Arrested (2001, February, 21)