Last Updated: Thu Dec 30, 2010 19:12 pm (KSA) 16:12 pm (GMT)

Sudan: the imperfect Islamic republic

Osman Mirghani

Whether it was part of a plan or a mere coincidence, the timing and manner in which Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced the plan to declare Sudan an Islamic state has aroused a lot of controversy that will last for a long time. For al-Bashir linked the referendum over the future of southern Sudan to the implementation of Islamic Shariaa law [in the north]. He also commented on the Sudanese girl who was filmed being brutally whipped in an open area by laughing police officers who were apparently enjoying this scene of torture and her cries of pain. This is something that is, of course, nothing to do with the tolerant nature of Islam, and the concept of justice, and the prerequisites for implementing Islamic Shariaa law. However how can we blame these police officers if the regime itself is using Islamic Shariaa law as a bargaining chip in its political maneuvering, and is justifying actions that in fact harm the people of Sudan, and their tolerant and kind nature, as well as [harming] Islamic tolerance, distorting the religion's deeply held principle of justice?

Al-Bashir said that if the south chooses secession in the referendum that is scheduled to take place on 9 January 2011 he will amend the Sudanese constitution so that "there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity…Shariaa [Islamic law] and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion, and Arabic the official language." Is Islamic Shariaa law, therefore, a bargaining chip in the referendum issue? More importantly, has all the previous talk about Islamic Shariaa law been nothing more than one act in the political theatre that has been ongoing since the Sudanese regime first tricked its way into power through force of arms in 1989? What about those who were tortured, whipped, and even executed, in accordance with Islamic Shariaa law – or at least as the people have been repeatedly told – since 1990 until the present time?

There is no doubt that the south will choose to secede because the policies of the regime have made this a foregone conclusion, and those in power in Khartoum are more aware than anybody else that the referendum will result in secession. This is because the government not only failed in making unity an attractive proposition [to the south] over the past five years, since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Southern People's Liberation Movement [SPLM], but has greatly contributed to pushing the southerners to secede since it raised the slogan of "jihad" during the Sudanese Civil War in the 1990s. Al-Bashir's latest speech has only served to further convince the southern Sudanese to choose secessions, for it reveals that those in power in Khartoum considers any talk about diversity of culture and ethnicity to be "devious", even if this completely contradicts the reality on the ground in Sudan, and puts the future of the country in jeopardy. Diversity in Sudan is an issue that is not just related to the south, but extends from the north to the south, and the east to the west. Even when we were students at primary school [in Sudan], we would sing nationalistic songs praising the ethnic and cultural diversity of this country that is made up of one million square miles, however the size and population of this country will be greatly reduced soon due to the policies of isolating and marginalizing [the south], and exploiting religion for political goals.

In this same speech in which al-Bashir decreed the country's constitution and future in just a few improvised words, he also commented on the case of the Sudanese girl who whipped in public in a language that challenges the view of many Sudanese, especially as Islam in Sudan has always been distinguished by its tolerance, which is something that is inherent in this religion, as well as in the natural disposition of the Sudanese people. Al-Bashir called on those who objected to the brutal whipping of this girl to "perform ablutions, pray to God, and return to Islam." He added that "punishment in Islamic Shariaa law includes whipping, amputation, and death, and we will not be flexible with regards to the ordinances of Allah and the Islamic Shariaa." However these words contradict what he previously said with regards to the amending of the constitution depending on whether or not the southerners choose to secede. So, will the regime compromise over Islam and the implementation of Islamic Shariaa law depending upon whether the south chooses to secede or not? Were they flexible over Islamic Shariaa law when they froze its implementation for years? There has been a shift in the regime's position, from utilizing the slogan of the "Islamic Revolution – providing safe haven to extremist Islamists from everywhere, offering training camps to Osama Bin Laden and his followers, and providing assistance to those behind the assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa – to the regime changing tack, submitting to foreign pressure, and kicking out its unwelcome guests, and even moving to cooperating with US and French intelligence…so how will the regime explain this [if it becomes an Islamic state]? Nobody knows, however the practice of "Taqiyaa" [concealing one's faith during dangerous circumstances] remains one that those in the regime have been committed to since they first came to power through a coup against the [previous] democratic regime, which they themselves were members of. They placed some of the previous regime's leaders in jail with the aim of concealing the true identity of their regime, and hushing up the role played by the National Islamic Front.

The talk that is being repeated these days about the constitution being amended and Sudan being declared an "Islamic" state seems to be nothing more than the regime attempting to hide behind the Islamic Shariaa law in order to avoid responsibility for dividing the country. They are attempting to draw everybody's attention away from the referendum and the forthcoming secession of the south, and the dangerous consequences that this will have, including the implications this will have on the war in Darfur, and the other developments that will result in the situation being more dangerous than many people imagine. There are also some parties within the regime that hope for, and even actively worked to ensure, the secession of the south, so that they will be solely in power in the north and can therefore revive their project to establish an Islamic state there, even if this state is not as large [as the previous unified state], and has a convulsive political approach that is contrary to the nature of the people it rules, and does not follow the tolerance of Islam, and its concept of just rule.

*Published in the London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on Dec. 30, 2010.

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