Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Shari’a with a human face

Hassaballa Omer

Hassaballa Omer, a senior officer in the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and the Secretary General of the Presidential Security Advisory, a man unaccustomed to media exposure, probably did not imagine that a slip of the tongue on air would cost him his post. Omer who till Sunday evening chaired the steering committee of the Strategic National Dialogue, an initiative launched by the Security Advisory presumably under instructions from the Presidency, told Omdurman Radio a week or so ago “if the political parties agree to repeal the shari’a laws then shari’a should go”. The statement was picked up by the chief of al-Intibaha, al-Tayeb Mustafa, who launched a vicious attack on the man and the very possibility of a government-endorsed political process that could question the enforcement of shari’a laws. On al-Intibaha’s heals the Shari’a Association of Scholars and Preachers, a seasonal forum of Sudan’s Moslem ‘evangelical bloc’ so to speak, declared Omer an apostate, the first I presume in the ranks of the National Congress Party (NCP)!
Omer’s public reprimand, the manner in which it was staged and the response it prompted, served the function of demarcating the ideologically impermissible in post-secession North Sudan. Addressing a press conference on Sunday, a few hours before Salah Gosh announced his dismissal, Omer attempted to defend his position with the claim that his statement was wrought out of context, and that he, a man who has served the Islamic Movement for more than 30 years, cannot be accused of wavering on shari’a. However, he also stated “millions of Sudanese guard shari’a, and it is in no need of those who claim a monopoly on it”, adding “even if shari’a needed defence it occupies the core of the ruling party’s programme, and the party is capable of defending it”.
I suppose it is these two statements rather than the original blunder which eventually signalled his fall from grace. In a certain sense, explicable only with the help of Stalinist hermeneutics, Omer’s folly as an insider is greater than any a standard contender of the NCP can commit. While he did not actually question the rule of shari’a, a claim usually raised by the secular intelligentsia on the grounds of cultural and religious pluralism, he stripped it of its ideological exclusivity without intending to, namely in suggesting that the rule of shari’a is a demand of the majority and not only the name of the hegemonic project of the NCP vanguard. The subversive twist is that he, a committed NCP apparatchik, abided too literally by the official propaganda, and in doing so implicitly exposed its claims to investigation.
Possibly distancing himself from the scandal Vice President Taha while addressing a rally on Monday in Rihed al-Birdi, a Baggara capital in South Darfur, did not miss to state where he stands. He called upon the political forces in the country to join the NCP in a constitutional review process with the objective of building a shari’a state, stressing once and again that shari’a is beyond negotiation or repeal, but the very national firmament, i.e. shari’a can only have the face of the NCP.  

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Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.