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Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Clipping Islamist wings in Sudan

The transitional government in Sudan is moving painfully slow in curtailing Muslim Brotherhood influence — a seeming reluctance that may return to haunt the country, writes Mohamed Abul-Fadl

Mohamed Abu Al-Fadl , Thursday 5 Dec 2019
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Sudan’s transitional government has made considerable strides in pushing back the influence the Muslim Brotherhood gained under the Omar Al-Bashir regime. But if it has succeeded in closing some avenues that the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates had controlled for so long, it is still a matter of debate as to whether it will be possible to take the necessary measures to forestall the infiltration of Muslim Brotherhood members and allies into government institutions.

In addition to shutting down some Muslim Brotherhood outlets, the government has arrested key Muslim Brotherhood members and allies, some of whom are currently standing trail. However, it has yet to take a definitive decision on other influential figures and it has ignored appeals from a number of political sources to ban the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Islamist parties that shared its outlooks and behaviours. This problem has sowed divisions and stirred suspicions regarding the intentions of some of the officials in the transitional government.

Some provocative statements by prominent leaders of some of Islamist parties have fed fears of a possible regression from the lofty goals that drove the revolutionary uprising that succeeded in toppling Al-Bashir’s regime. Of particular note are the smug and audacious remarks by the new NCP leader Ibrahim Ghandour who criticised the outlooks of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) and their ministers, and called for a government of technocrats headed by current Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok.

Ghandour and his colleagues in Sudan act as though the NCP is somehow unrelated to the Islamist movement and bore no responsibility for the disasters that have afflicted Sudan. He wants to secure a place for himself at the table of current political elites so he can be assured a platform to make his views heard and have a say in the decisions that shape Sudan’s future. He is remarkably insensitive to the overwhelming popular fury directed against his party and blind to the sins that caused that fury to explode in the face of Al-Bashir and his regime.

Patriotic forces in Sudan are aware of Ghandour’s ruses. Undeceived by his smooth talk, they have stepped up their actions against the remnants of the old regime who are now pretending to be part of the new Sudan, as though they are not bound by long and deep affiliations with the Muslim Brotherhood, and who are manoeuvering to shape an environment that will accept them as though they were just an ordinary political party.

The crux of the problem is that the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates are counting on the Sudanese people’s spirit of tolerance. The majority of Sudanese truly believe in political plurality and they are keen to put the dark past behind them in order to avert potentially explosive divisions that will complicate matters further, especially given the difficulty involved in untangling the Muslim Brotherhood’s network of appendages and tentacles. The Sudanese are also looking forward to the urgent measures needed to overcome economic hardships and they desperately yearn for a comprehensive peace.

The Muslim Brotherhood and their allies are taking advantage of this climate in order to insinuate themselves into positions where they can divert the revolution from its main aims, foremost of which is to end the role of those who caused Sudan’s collapse, to bring the corrupt to justice, and to rid government of the influence of the deep state.

One of the signs of the intent to obstruct such aims is the escalating mudslinging, partisan squabbling and other such noise, the main purpose of which is to divert energies away from the process of curtailing the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence and to gain time to regroup and marshal the power grabbing expertise they had accumulated over the course of three decades.

The Muslim Brotherhood stands a chance of achieving its ends if the government and the Sudan Revolutionary Front, the representative of the armed resistance movements against the Bashir regime, fail to reach an agreement that will establish the foundation of a comprehensive peace. This crucial goal has been jeopardised by the postponement of negotiations between the two sides and the emergence of obstacles that have caused delays in the schedules for talks since the beginning of the transitional phase. It has now been three months since this phase began. Yet, no progress has been made towards the peace agreement even though the Constitutional Declaration states that a peace agreement should be completed within six months of the signing of this declaration.

The ongoing failure to achieve progress on the main tracks of the transitional process works to aggravate the problems the Muslim Brotherhood feeds on and that force the plan to clip that organisation’s wings down the scale of national priorities. The FFC, which represents grassroots support for the government, is currently preoccupied by disputes between its constituent members. The armed forces are kept busy putting out the fires of strife that erupt from time to time in the east and in South Kordofan, while resolve to halt hostilities in the provinces is hanging in the balance.

Meanwhile, the US has moved no further on removing Sudan from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terror. The Sudanese need to focus efforts on overcoming the complications involved in this process, because delisting is essential in order to free Sudan entirely from economic sanctions and enable it to access funds from international agencies and donors. However, in order to assure itself a clean bill of health in the fight against terrorism, the government needs to take the actions that demonstrate that it has rid itself of the influences of the extremist groups that have proliferated in the country during the past decades and that put Khartoum in such an awkward political position to begin with.

The government has an opportunity to end this nightmare. The starting point is to press forward with the process of penalising the Islamist forces and parties responsible for the spread of this phenomenon in Sudan, and the very least that should be done is to ban them from engaging in politics under any guise. Islamist leaders have already begun to circumvent such actions by recasting themselves under new names, but with the same agendas. Towards this end, they are capitalising on political fluidity in the country and mounting economic and social problems to which the government has been struggling to find urgent remedies.

The general climate favours steps towards eliminating the circles of influence that turned Sudan into a safe zone for extremist forces. However, the slowness with which the government is acting on this may ultimately prove costly. The more time passes, the harder it will become to uproot the extremist parties and their leaderships. With every day that goes by without shedding this political and security burden, Khartoum will face intolerable internal and external pressures and it will pay dearly for the failure to halt the attrition accruing from the panoply of problems this burden causes.

Putting an end to the Muslim Brotherhood role in Sudan is no simple task. It is a multifaceted process that involves many vital issues. Every delay will create obstacles that extend beyond their visible political dimensions. It is precisely this multifaceted interlacement that lends this task such critical importance, all the more so because success in handling it will bolster regional and international confidence in the Sudanese government.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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