Is Sudan Transitioning to a post-Islamist State?
Islamism has been defined as “˜political Islam’ or a “˜politicized Islam.’ It emerged as the major Western diagnostic reference for “˜extremism’ in Muslim nations after terms such as Islamic “revival,” “resurgence,” or “militance” were generally abandoned. Oliver Roy (1992) argued that Islamism– defined as the populist and often revolutionary ideology with the goal of the establishment of an Islamic state and governance according to Islamic principles— peaked in the 1970s with the Iranian Revolution, and thereafter declined. Notable other experiments in Islamism include contemporary Iran (from 1979, preceding Sudan by four years””why does Gallab argue for the Sudan being the “first” Islamist Republic?), Afghanistan under the Taliban, and most of the history of Saudi Arabia. Post-Islamist theory emerged in the early 1990s as the differing outcomes of various Islamist experiments were examined in Europe. Sudan was not one of the cases reviewed, perhaps due to its historic liminal status. One important indicator of post-Islamism is the shift toward evolution of the Islamic state away from models of state-imposed Islamist rule by militarist or autocratic regimes, such as in Sudan in 1983 and 1989.
Key to Islamist the goal of an Islamic state is Shari`a as the main instrument. Sudan is indeed one of the major examples of Islamism and Shari`a was the engine of mobilization for its Islamic state. Gallab dates the “first Islamic Republic” from the 1983 mandate of Shari`a as national law. Sudan is the only African state to apply Shari`a comprehensively as a national law, a well-known move that figured importantly in its second period of civil war from 1983 to 2005. Moreover, Shari`a was the major symbol of northern intransigence and the major stumbling block to a negotiated peace agreement from Abuja I and II in the early 1990s until the 2003 Machakos breakthrough of “one country””two systems”””Shari`a in the North and secularism in the South. With the signing of the historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Shari`a was officially withdrawn as state law in Sudan, ending its 22 years as national law, and thus beginning the transition to post-Islamism.
However, the disengagement of Islamism has not been clear or decisive as implementation of the CPA has slow and lacking in political will. Withdrawal of Shari`a from non-Muslims in the North has been partial, and the CPA-mandated Commission on their status in the capital city was delayed for two years.
Post-Islamism has been analyzed as (Lauzií¨re 2005, 241):
1) post-Islamists who evolve more modest agendas
2) post-Islamists who create a secular space by re-routing religious activism away from the state, such as the revival of Sufi orders
3) post-Islamists who employ reformist theology.
If the case is to be made for post-Islamism in Sudan, it would be the first example, a regime that has evolved a more modest””i.e. less extremist””agenda. Gallab argues that the Muslim Brotherhood movement- later the NIF and NCP, in other words Sudan’s Islamist movement– has undergone remarkable evolution. Whether they used multi-partyism or militarism, they always seek the shortest path to power. Turabi led the movement for 40 years and his downfall in 1999 signaled a shift from idealistic MB Islamism to rank opportunism. The question today is how far from the levers of power and for how long has been Turabi’s fall from power? His ability to opportunistically reinvent himself is legend, and his role as an instigator and backer of JEM and of internally divisive Darfur-national politics is clear. A further question is whether this is a new stage in Sudan’s Islamism, shifting the political base from the center to the West, or simply a new game in the old rivalry among the unchanging national elite power base?
Gallab argues that the fall of the Islamist regime was marked by the split in the movement after Turabi’s fall in 1999. Further he says that the party shift from totalitarianism to authoritarianism is in transition now, and we may be witnessing the passing of the Islamist order. Some scholars whom I interviewed in Sudan refer to the present era as “post-extremist.” Sudanese and Sudanist scholars in the West may be reluctant to accept the post-CPA period as “˜post-Islamist’ as so much anti-regime rhetoric is invested in the abuses associated with its pursuit of an Islamist agenda. Moreover, international press coverage of incident such as the “Teddy bear named Muhammad” with the arrest and detention of a British teacher, as well as Bashir’s references to the “Crusaders and Zionists” behind the troubles in Darfur, leave western observers and Sudanese in the Diaspora cool to the idea of “˜post-Islamism.’ The few active Western researchers and the Sudanese who have returned after, in some cases decades of exile, are seeing a different–and in many ways a transformed– reality on the ground. This new reality needs further exploration and analysis.
Gallab concludes that the Sudanese Islamist model is actively being contested, an observation with which I agree from my own research from 2005-2008. However, in my view this space has been opened more by the historic CPA than by the internal politics of the “˜fall’ of Islamism. As with the collapse of other colonialist and authoritarian regimes in Africa””such as the end of Portuguese rule and apartheid in South Africa”” the potential for liberation among the communities of the oppressed is a fortunate by-product of the successful struggles by the oppressed. The democratic space opened by the CPA in the demographically transformed North is at least an important factor (or one of many factors) in the evolving Sudanese polity as are the squabbles and rivalries of the core elites.
Assessing post-Islamism is a vital part of the analysis of the future of Sudan– as a less or more peaceful unified state with a more restrained Shari`a, or as conflict-ridden and divided into two or more nations, de facto in the short term and de jure after 2011.
Islamism has been critiqued by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars for its apparent focus on the faith of Islam as the source of the alleged extremism and resulting abuses in Islamist states. These critics observe that a comparable use of “Christianism” for extremist advocates of Christian values or rule in a state has not been applied, thus Islam has been singled out as having a particular penchant for religious extremism.
Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, Ph.D. Professor of Anthropology, RIC: email@example.com