The Sudanese Islamic Movement: the third tareeqa, part two

Picture credit: Magdi el-Gizouli / StillSUDAN

This is part two in a series of two posts on the reorganisation of the Islamic Movement in Sudan by Magdi el-Gizouli. Magdi el-Gizouli is a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute, a regular contributor to the Sudanese press, and author of the influential blog StillSUDAN. Click here for part one.

The 11 May extraordinary meeting of the Islamic Movement’s Shura Council was in a sense an attempt to translate the remarks of the President into organisation principles. In the NCP media the debate was titled the relationship between the three Hs – the haraka (movement), the hizb (the party) and the hakuma (government), but none of the NCP’s bigwigs actually advocated for the ‘guardianship’ of the haraka over the hizb, at least not in public, with one notable exception, al-Tayeb Mustafa, the presidential uncle and the chairman of the Just Peace Forum (JPF), the president’s home-grown party as it were. Mustafa contended that the memo did not go far enough, and failed to address the real issue at stake, in his words the marginalisation of the Islamic Movement in the regime. It is our ambition to inherit the NCP, he told a meeting of his party’s Shura Council late in January. The NCP is too weak to withstand the challenges facing the country, he said.

The organisers of the 11 January Shura Council chose al-Elafon, a centre of Sufi tradition and learning to the east of Khartoum, with history in mind. The town, or more precisely a farm owned by the veteran Moslem Brother and one of Turabi’s influential financial supporters, Osman Khaled Mudawi, hosted on 25 Novemebr 1964 the hallmark Shura Council meeting of the Movement which approved a constitutional amendment repealing an earlier decision of the Council to enforce the principle of collective leadership and elected Turabi secretary general. The same meeting approved Turabi’s strategy of foiling the Islamist core in a wider Islamic gathering that would serve as its public face, and the Islamic Charter Front was formed. The ICF published in early 1965 the ‘Islamic Charter’, a document that outlines the Islamic order as envisaged by the Ikhwan of the Islamic Movement, and resolved to drop its pressure group image and campaign as a full-fledged political party.

The outcome of the 11 May meeting, in blunt terms, was to approve the de facto subordination of the haraka to the hizb. The 400 members of the Shura Council headed by the NCP’s Ibrahim Ahmed Omer discussed and endorsed a ‘constitutional document’ for the Islamic Movement, a historical achievement of no precedent reported the NCP press. To resolve the dispute between the three Hs, once and for all, the document’s 22nd clause stated: “The higher leadership of the Movement shall be constituted from the Movement’s leaders at the executive, political, and special levels as elected according to the regulations of their institutions”, in other words, whoever heads the government, the NCP, and the NISS, will automatically reign over the haraka<. Further clauses of the document effectively barred the Movement from assuming any autonomous political role, independent of or beside or within the NCP by striking political activity from its mandate altogether.

From a movement to a tareeqa

The authors of the constitutional document might have spared themselves the trouble and simply identified the movement as a modern tareeqa (religious brotherhood). In fact, Kamal Obeid, a prominent NCP figure, came very close to that when arguing for the proposed constitution of the Movement in a televised debate a few days after the Shura Council meeting. Obeid compared the relationship between the haraka and the hizb to that between the Ansar and the Umma Party, or the Khatmiya and the DUP. Members of the haraka are members of the NCP by default he said. The NCP is the political arm of the Islamic Movement, but the Movement holds no veto over the NCP. While all members of the Islamic Movement are by default members of the NCP, not all members of the NCP are Islamists. “The Islamic Movement is a cultural, social, and intellectual body and not a political party”, declared Amin Hassan Omer to the media a few days before the meeting of the Shura Council.

To Omer the hizb is not the political front desk of the haraka, rather it represents a platform for its political activity (a subtle difference indeed). The choices of the NCP do not have to correspond to the choices of the organized members of the Movement, he wrote, nor must the leaders of the NCP conform to the intellectual and behavioural virtues demanded of the leaders of the Islamic Movement. At the level of organisation, however, the Movement is obliged to act politically through the agency of the party it established. Each of the three levels, the haraka, the hizb, and the hakuma, maintains its autonomy from the other in decision making processes and in the election of its leaders.

The fitful transformation of the haraka from a political organisation, structured along Leninist principles, to a pseudo-tareeqa, although without hereditary sheikhdom (the current Secretary General of the haraka, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, like his predecessor Hassan al-Turabi, is habitually referred to as Sheikh Ali), is suggestive of a dialectical turn in its trajectory. The haraka, it seems, has exhausted its immediate political functions and matured into an ideological and social network. Once a counter-elite out to challenge the hegemony of the Ansar and the Khatmiyya over the country’s political affairs it is today not anymore a movement but an establishment club.

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Filed under al-Bashir, al-Turabi, National Congress Party, Sudan, Sudanese Islamic Movement

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