|Nugud, Sudan Communist Party chief|
In a recent interview with Khartoum’s al-Ahdath Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud, Secretary of the Sudan Communist Party, re-tabled his concept of the ‘civil state’ as an adequate replacement of the ‘secular state’ marred in Sudan everlasting feud over sharia. Nugud suggests that the notion of a civil state includes by definition the rule of law and democratic institutions, whereby Sudan’s secular experience did not preclude dictatorial rule as under the secular Abboud, and again under the twice secular Numayri, in his pre-sharia phases. In his argument for civil instead of secular Nugud makes notice of the European experience that the idea of secularism suggests, whereby the concept civil guards the virtues of democratic rule, and does not ban religion from public life but seeks to house it within the institutions of a democratic state.
Nugud presented his concept as an opposition MP in 1988 during the short lived 1985-1989 democracy in the midst of the heated constitutional debate over the fate of Numayri’s sharia laws. At the time Sadiq al-Mahdi had just sacked his second coalition cabinet (Umma-DUP) and was about to invite the National Islamic Front into government with the promise of enforcing comprehensive Islamic laws within 60 days. The Umma-NIF government of May 1988 featured the NIF chief Hasan al-Turabi as attorney-general. He declared then that ‘the draft (sharia) laws may stir up controversy, but eventually the assembly is likely to endorse them by a large majority’. The balance of ‘parliamentary’ power did not remain long though in NIF’s hands. Pressured by the public will to peace, and more directly by the army officers’ memoranda of February/March 1989 endorsed by the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition the prime minister eventually gave in announcing a broad coalition government of Umma, DUP, Communists, Ghaboush’s Sudan National Party, Southern Sudan Political Association, Sudan African Peoples’ Congress Organisation, and representatives of trade unions, his fifth and last cabinet. The re-configured house voted on 10 April to delay the debate on sharia till convention of the planned ‘constitutional conference’ with SPLM participation according to the clauses of the DUP-SPLM accord. Sadiq al-Mahdi did not attend the session in person, apparently in protest over a vote to freeze sharia. NIF MPs walked out voting next time with their guns on 30th June 1989 (for a full account see Ann Mosely Lesch, The Sudan, Contested National Identities).
The attempt to house sharia within the institutions of democratic rule, as Nugud suggests, did not succeed at the time. The politics around sharia were perceived by the players as a zero-sum game, where accommodation was not permissible. The NIF, fearsome of lasting marginalization before an alliance joining the political establishment, the left, and the coming SPLM, snatched government and ran away with it over the disparity between ‘freezing the September 1983 laws’ as proclaimed by the coalition, and its upper limit of ‘complementing sharia laws’.