Thursday, 25 August 2011

Shari'a politics

The Khartoum press reported on 23 August that a number of Islamist groups had declared a new political alliance dubbed the ‘Islamic Constitution Front’ with the sole aim of propagating strict adherence to shari’a and the constitutional enactment thereof in post-secession (North) Sudan. Apart from the vocal Just Peace Forum (JPF) headed by President Bashir’s uncle and the chief of al-Intibaha, al-Tayeb Mustafa, the signatories included the Wahhabi Ansar al-Sunna, the Moslem Brothers, the Moslem Forces Union and the Moslem Clerics Association, in essence all the strictly speaking Islamist forces other than the mainstream Islamic Movement of old, split since 1998 into President Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) and Hassan al-Turabi’s Popular Congress Party (PCP). The chief of Ansar al-Sunna, Abu Zaid Mohamed Hamza, was named Chairman of the new front and the veteran guardian of the Moslem Brothers, Sadiq Abdalla Abd al-Majid, its Secretary General. A fortnight ago, on 10 August, Vice President Taha had outspokenly affirmed the government’s commitment to the establishment of a “just Islamic order” while addressing the annual Ramadan breakfast of the Ansar al-Sunna brotherhood in Khartoum. Separately, the official Sudan Clerical Board, a fatwa body attached to the Presidency, submitted on 15 August a memorandum to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, detailing its ‘vision’ for the new constitution. Speaking on the occasion, the chairman of the board, Mohamed Osman Salih, told reporters that the experiment of Islamic rule had not been free of faults and omissions and requires a reinvigorating “reform”.  
With the hint of Vice President Taha’s declaration the usually politically quiescent sheikhs of the extra-NCP Islamist spectrum were apparently invited into the playground of power and offered a calculated space to occupy. Both the Ansar al-Sunna and the Moslem Brothers had suffered internal divisions and factional strife over their relationship with the NCP. The two sheikhs named above, Hamza and Abdel Majid, are the heads of the factions that chose to ally with the NCP against fierce criticism from their comrades in Islam who doubted the NCP’s Islamic credentials and denounced its perceived lax implementation of shari’a. The political muscle of extra-NCP political Islam, in particular the orthodox Salafi camp, is nevertheless a factor to consider. Over the past few years organisationally loose but ideologically stringent student associations such as the ‘Union of Moslem Forces’ have become a bloc to reckon with in Khartoum’s universities. Outside the campuses they have remained largely shy when it comes to immediate power questions, except in the instances when the NCP seeks their political clout. Throughout the period of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) the Moslem Clerics Association and its aggressive spokesman, Mohamed Abd al-Karim, targeted the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) with surgical fatwas and government-sanctioned Friday demonstrations designed to counter its possible political ascendancy in the Sudanese heartland. An oft quoted fatwa issued by the Association declared Moslem adherents of the SPLM outright apostates on the grounds of its agitation against the imposition of shari’a laws.
The NCP’s preferred jumpsuit into the future of the rump (North) Sudan remains an alliance by engulfment with the National Umma Party (NUP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the two traditional sectarian business networks of the old Sudan. Lately, President Bashir actually spelled out his fantasy, a new mega-party uniting the three under the eerie title, the Umma Unionist Congress. Rightfully, the President noted that the three parties, the NUP, the DUP, and the NCP’s ancestor, the National Islamic Front (NIF), had echoed each other in terms of programmes in the 1986 elections. Short of such safety the NCP is ever ready to tap its more extreme flanks whenever need be. The JPF served the objective of reconciling public opinion in the North with the secession of South Sudan through racist propaganda. The tame sheikhs of orthodoxy are now invited to set the maxims of political debate against contending forces including Sadiq al-Mahdi and his soft shari’a. The game of the NCP is to emerge as a reasonable arbitrator representing the pious majority. It is by no means a safe one though; the fatwa it can buy today it may not afford tomorrow.   

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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.