We need to talk about Islam

7 March 2024

We need to talk about Islam

And the Western Blight on Sudanese Politics

By James Morton

Where the Blue Nile joins the White Nile the two rivers trace the shape of an elephant’s trunk, giving the name Khartoum to the capital of Sudan.  As the generals of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) fight over the city, western experts paint dramatic pictures of a nation preyed upon by cabals of merchants and generals.  With appropriate historical touches about the 19th century slave trade and the Mad Mahdi, we are told of a land in which the riverain, Arab elite of Khartoum continues to “plunder the darker skinned peoples of the marchlands,” turning those marchlands into “a kind of bantustan for cheap migrant labour.”[1]

Sudan is now plagued by armed groups claiming to represent one or other people of the marchlands, regions on the periphery of Sudan like Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. One of the two warring armies, the RSF, was created to help the Sudanese Army combat those rebels.  It is led by Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, nicknamed Hemeti.  He made his name as the most successful of the Janjaweed paramilitaries co-opted by the Khartoum Government to maintain control in Darfur.  He had a violent record but some now claim that he has “stepped into Sudan’s revolutionary void by bringing the grievances of Darfur to Khartoum.”[2]

Leading the SAF against Dagalo is General Abdul Fatah Al Burhan.  The two men were partners in fighting the Darfur rebels.  Now, however, Al Burhan is painted as a front man for the Islamists plotting to restore the old regime of Al Bashir and the National Congress Party. 

These narratives are superficial and distorted.  But they fill a need, the West’s need to see any political struggle in the Muslim world as a battle between a silent majority of the poor, a majority which yearns for liberal democracy, and an Islamist elite which has imposed on them a conservative and extreme form of Shari’a law.  If the West does not start to look beyond these myths and listen to what Arab Muslims are actually saying it will pay a price.  It really is time to talk about Islam.  What’s happening in Sudan shows why.

The West has a shameful record when it comes to Islamic democracy. From the Algerian FIS in the 1990s to El Nahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brothers in Egypt after the Arab Spring, any suggestion that a democratically elected party must be supported come what may has flickered and died.  The contradictions between Islamic beliefs and the 21st century liberal religion of diversity and individual rights are just too strong.  The Carter Center, the USA’s leading promoter of democracy worldwide, makes the point explicit.  The goal of it’s Democracy Program “is to strengthen participatory democracy, consistent with human rights.”  The West may be uncomfortable with friends like Sisi in Egypt and Muhammad Ibn Salman in Saudi Arabia.  Nevertheless military strong men and oil sheikhs will always be preferred to an Islamic democracy.  What the Sudanese think of military strongmen is summed up by the protestors’ rhyming slogan ‘Nasr aw Masr’: ‘Victory or Egypt’.  It goes without saying that they mean Sisi’s Egypt.  

No Muslim can fail to see how reluctant the West is to support Islamic democracy.  An American diplomat pointed out how this plays into the hands of Islamic extremists: “Al Qaeda quickly cited the Muslim Brotherhood’s trajectory in Egypt as validation of its own narrative that democracy is not a viable path to power.”[3]  Who can honestly say that Al Qaeda was wrong about that?

Sudan seemed like an exception to the rule.  Here it was the military strong man who was the Islamist.  General Omar Al Bashir came to power in a coup led by the National Islamic Front in 1989.  When he was overthrown in 2019, the West had hopes that it was, at last, on the side of the angels; supporting democracy against Islam in its most illiberal form.

If only it were that simple.  In 2021 Afrobarometer carried out a national survey of Sudanese attitudes. Nine months before the December coup which led to the disasters of 2023, it was a time when the civilian-led Transitional Government was trying to make a reality of The Declaration of Freedom and Change, the revolution’s call to arms; still hoping to create a government led by “qualified people based on merits of competency and good reputation, representing various Sudanese groups and receiving the consensus of the majority.”  Taken at this slightly more optimistic moment, the survey tells something of what ordinary Sudanese think.[4] 

With 96% Muslim and 99% speaking Arabic, Sudan is a very homogenous nation.  80% of the adult population have at least primary education.  Over 20% are graduates, nearly matching the UK’s 22%.  Just as many women as men have degrees.  Large majorities have radio and television.  Perhaps most telling, 78% of Sudanese are on their mobile phone every day.  This is not a population of the marchlands held in ignorance by the rent-extracting elite of Khartoum. 

The survey reveals a country in distress.  Three quarters see Sudan as ‘going in the wrong direction’.  Nine out of ten say that their economic situation has got worse.  Education, health, crime and corruption are listed but the economy outweighs all of them together as “the most important problem that the government should address.”  Only small minorities see politics and ethnic tensions as important.  Even among women, few cite women’s rights.

One question was revealing of Sudanese reactions to modern liberal attitudes.  Asked if there were any groups they would dislike as neighbours, 14% say they would prefer not to live next door to people of other ethnic groups and a third say the same about people of other religions.  Feelings about homosexuals are much stronger.  79% would be unhappy having them living nearby.

The Sudanese see no contradiction between Islam and democracy.  Nearly sixty percent say that Sudan should be “governed primarily by religious law.”  In other words there is broad popular support for the idea that Shari’a law should be part of the Sudanese constitution.  It was not Omar Al Bashir, the Islamist, who first made it so.  His military predecessor Ja’afar Al Numayri did that, in 1983.  A one-time socialist struggling to stay in power, he turned to Islam because he knew it would be popular.

The survey gives an impression of a people with a great deal in common, summed up in the response to a question about things which divide and things which unite.  Three quarters of Sudanese see ‘somewhat’ or ‘much more’ that unites than divides.

No one watching Sudanese politics since the fall of Bashir could imagine such a response.  The nation’s political forces are fragmented beyond repair.  With armed groups on all sides, political parties ranging from Communist and Arab Socialist to Islamist, traditional tribal leaders, professional associations and the new community Resistance Committees there are too many voices to count claiming a place at the political table. 

It was not always like this.  When Sudan won independence on 1 January 1956, it had all the makings of a two-party parliamentary democracy.  Between them the constituencies of the National Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) covered the majority of the country.  There were other parties such as the Sudan Communist Party, the Ba’ath Party and the Muslim Brotherhood but they had little weight. 

The apparent strength of the political parties was deceptive.  In the 60 years which followed Sudan alternated between three short periods of democracy and three periods of military rule, each one longer than the one before.  This does mean that Sudan knows how to overthrow a military regime.  It has done it twice, rather successfully.  If limited bloodshed is the measure, Sudan has had two Glorious Revolutions.  And some of the credit might go to the armed forces which stepped back quite meekly when they saw that their time was up.  In 1964 President Abboud resigned and handed over directly to a civilian cabinet.  After the fall of Al Numayri in 1985 General Suwar Al Dhahab led a Transitional Military Council to manage elections and yield to parliamentary government a year later.  Just as in 1956, the new parliament was dominated by the Umma and the DUP, although the National Islamic Front (NIF) now held an influential minority.

When Al Bashir was overthrown, 34 years later, the Army tried to do it again but third time proved more than unlucky. Instead of allowing the Transitional Military Council a year to manage things the civilian parties insisted that the transition be longer and that they have a much bigger say.  The result has been disastrous.

A Core Sudanese Working Group (CSWG) has formed among professionals and others, many now exile in Egypt, to try keep the door to a civilian transition open.  In a May 2023 paper titled ‘Ending the April 15th War and Sustaining Peace in Sudan’ they describe how things went off track before the dust of Al Bashir’s fall had settled.  The Transitional Military Council’s first step was to invite “the various political forces to negotiate and present visions for the future of the country.”  Reflecting the fragmentation of Sudanese politics the Council contacted more than a hundred entities.

With one important exception.  The National Congress Party (NCP), the governing party under Al Bashir was not invited to contribute.  At the same time, Islamist officers in the army were purged, starting with Salah Abdalla Ghosh, head of the security forces, and General Awad Ibn Auf, Minister of Defence.  These powerful figures had helped pave the way for Al Bashir’s overthrow.  But the revolutionary forces did not just want regime change.  They wanted regime elimination: something akin to the USA’s 2003 purge of the Iraqi Ba’ath party. 

Instead of organising their bases for early elections, the CSWG describes how the parties worked to invest the postponement of the elections in “cleansing the state” from the “National Congress” supporters and other former regime and Islamist forces.’   It highlights how the exclusion of influential political forces, those linked to the old regime, would endanger any transition from revolution to democratic transformation and a broad national consensus.  “Intuitively, (the CSWG argues) the national agreement should include the groups that were in power, if these groups accept and abide by the democratic principles of the revolution.” 

The result was the the emergence of two distinct currents, one led by the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change …” and the other “ formed under the name “Movement for the Support of Sharia and Law.”  During Al Bashir’s thirty-year rule Sudanese Islamists had split into several groups. Many had distanced themselves from the regime, most notably Al Turabi, the NIF’s founder and ideologist.  Their exclusion from the transitional process left these groups little choice but to come together again in opposition to the revolution; little choice but to support SAF attempts to slow the pace of reform.

After three years without progress a last effort to bring Sudan’s transition back into civilian hands collapsed completely on 15 April 2023 as the SAF and RSF went to war.  Created by Al Bashir as a counterweight to possible opposition within the SAF, the existence a second, independent centre of military power like the RSF might well have made a successful transition to democracy impossible.  Nevertheless, it was the breakdown of civil politics between 2019 and 2023 which left the field clear for the warlords. 

Understanding that breakdown must be a starting point for any effort to help Sudanese democracy get back on track.  It takes a bit of history.  The Sudanese political kaleidoscope now reflects every post-colonial trend in Middle East politics; with resistance to the West as an almost universal theme. 

When the Islamic reformer the Imam Muhammad Ahmad Ibn Abdalla, Al Mahdi, created the first independent Sudanese nation, in 1885, he did it by ejecting the forces of an Egyptian state which had been modernising along European lines since 1811 and which had been controlled by a British Consul General since 1883.  “It was a revolt against the new order of foreigners, begotten out of bitter suffering, to establish an ideal order.”[5] This combination of resentment and idealism has coloured Arab politics ever since. 

Anglo-Egyptian forces overthrew the Mahdist state in 1898.  After the collapse of the Ottoman empire at the end of the first World War, much of the rest of the Middle East came under European control.  When the Arab nations shook that control off, after World War II, they did it in the name of Arab Socialism, not Islam.  Tunisia’s Bourguiba, Egypt’s Nasser and the Ba’ath parties of Iraq and Syria were all secular, making major reforms to women’s rights in particular.  In Egypt Nasser suppressed the  Muslim Brotherhood, which had led resistance to the British since the 1930s.   

Arab Socialism did not deliver.  Early economic success faded into corruption and inequality.  After successive defeats by Israel, the Gulf Wars underlined the Arab nations’ continued weakness.  In a different way, so did the oil-states’ symbiotic relationship with the western economies.  When the USA destroyed the Ba’athist state in Iraq, Europe facilitated the overthrow of Ghaddafi and both supported the opposition to Al Assad it marked the demise of Arab Socialism.  Nevertheless, Sudan still has a Communist party and two Ba’athist parties.

As secular states lost legitimacy the appeal of Islam grew, an appeal summed up in the Muslim Brothers’ slogan: Islam is the Solution.  But Islam is not monolithic.  In today’s Sudan there are three broad groupings, all of them Sunni. 

The Sufi Tariqas (eng. Path) came first in time.  Introduced into the Sudan in the 15th century, an Islamic renaissance in the 18th and early 19th centuries saw different Tariqas come to prominence across north and west Africa.  Each of Sudan’s Umma and Democratic Unionist parties have their base in a Tariqa.  The Umma is led by Al Mahdi’s descendants, who quickly came to terms with the colonial power and have played a important part in Sudan’s politics ever since, and by the Mahdi’s Ansar followers.  The opposing Democratic Unionist Party is supported by the Khatmiyya Tariqa, founded by Muhammad Uthman Al Mirghani in the early 19th century.  Sufi Islam in Africa is Sunni and orthodox but the Tariqas’ rituals, saints and celebration of the Prophet’s birthday are not canonical.  Nor is their adherence to the families of charismatic shaykhs like the Al Mahdis and Al Mirghanis. 

For this reason, Sufism is condemned by a more recent Islamic reaction to European imperialism.  Born in the late 19th century, Salafism is fundamentalist in the true sense of the word, seeking a return to the teachings of the Prophet and his companions.  In its Wahhabi form it helped to establish the Saudi monarchy.  That state’s oil revenues have backed the spread of the Salafi gospel.  Despite this Salafism is a relatively small movement in Sudan and not as aggressive as in other countries. 

Sudan’s third Islamic grouping, the National Islamic Front, has its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).  Founded in Egypt in the 1920’s the Brotherhood are now the most influential Islamic movement in the Middle East.  The NIF won power by building up support among army officers and sharing in the 1989 coup.  I was in Zalingei, Darfur, at the time.  My boss, Abdalla Yahya, said it was like watching his football club Al Ahli being beaten by Al Hillal.  He hated it but he knew the other side had played a better game.  It was a clever coup.  As a dummy pass, Hasan Al Turabi, the founding thinker and leader of the National Islamic Front (NIF) was imprisoned along with the other party leaders; and released shortly after to take power beside Al Bashir. 

The NIF’s route to Islamist power was top-down: positioning their members in the bureaucracy and the military to make a base for a coup.  The wider Muslim Brotherhood has shown itself to be the one Arab Islamic movement capable of following a democratic, bottom-up route.  After the Arab Spring Brotherhood parties won elections in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.  They also hold parliamentary seats in Jordan.  The Brotherhood meets a strongly religious people’s wish for religious leadership and it is well-organised through an almost Leninist structure of small cells called usra (eng. family).  Its greatest strength, however, comes from its emphasis on social service.  As well as mosques, it builds and operates schools and health centres, even small enterprises; providing what many Arab states fail to deliver.  From its earliest years the MB was not just a reaction against colonialism but also against the social inequality which colonialism had created.   It would not be wrong to describe them as Islamic Socialists.

A religious and social movement first and foremost, the Brotherhood is ambivalent about politics.  Only two years before the Arab Spring, the Egyptian MB firmly declared that it would not form a political party.  After their democratically elected government was overthrown two years later it was said that “they actually appeared more comfortable after being tossed out, as they reverted to a more familiar position of an oppressed movement fighting for what is good … in a generational struggle.”[6]  The way the El Nahda party yielded power after winning a strong plurality in Tunisian elections perhaps reflected a similar wish to return to its comfort zone.  Either way, the result is that Egypt and Tunisia are back where they started before the Arab Spring: in the hands of autocrats.  While the members of the Muslim Brotherhood are left facing a choice between quietist protest and active, armed action; with Al Qaeda’s words ringing in their ears. 

Competition between Sudan’s Muslim and Arab Socialist groups is long standing.  Coups and coup attempts apart it has rarely led to violence. It is self-determination which has lit and fuelled the armed conflicts which have plagued northern Sudan since the Millennium.  Self-determination entered western ideologies in the 19th century, initially as a weapon against the Ottoman Empire.  As Byron fought at the side of the Greeks against the Turks, different European nations were picking clients to protect from their Turkish rulers.  In Lebanon the French took the Maronites and the British took the Druze.  Over the century and more which followed, every middle eastern minority learnt the value of an appeal to the West in the name of self-determination; with defence against Islamism as the most valuable card of all.  With overt or tacit western support, Darfur alone now has half a dozen rebel groups fighting the state and, quite frequently each other, in the name of race or tribe.

The West would vehemently deny that it has a neo-colonialist project to dominate the Middle East.  Not many Sudanese, perhaps not many Arabs believe them.  Inadvertently or not, self-determination has had great success in dividing Middle Eastern countries.  Rather than rule, however, it has created nothing but misrule.  

Since the Millennium a pattern has become established.  After a period of fighting between rebel groups and the Sudanese Government, the International Community stepped in to mediate a peace agreement.  This was negotiated in Abuja, Doha, Jeddah, or Naivasha, Kenya: anywhere but in the Sudan.  Which ensured that only Government and the leaders of the armed groups had an effective voice; with battlefield success the only test of the latter’s popular support.  Sharath Srinivasan has described how this western-sponsored peace process kills politics and blocks any true representation of the popular will.  As they try to gain a place in the process, even the political parties become outward facing, in Srinavasan’s word extroverted; neglecting their constituencies as they focus on influencing regional and international players.[7]

This process reached a new peak in the Juba Peace Agreement of October 2020.  The unelected Transitional Government of Sudan, an uneasy coalition of civilian and two military forces, negotiated the JPA with 13 different armed groups.  It was witnessed by Egypt, Qatar, the African Union, the Arab League, the UN and the EU.   It was guaranteed by South Sudan, Chad and the United Arab Emirates.  It is not a single peace agreement but a package of six so-called tracks.  The Darfur and Two Areas tracks were most substantial.  Five separate armed groups signed the Darfur Track but there were other important Darfur forces which did not take part.  There was only one signatory for In the Two Areas Track, covering the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, but there were important hold-outs in these areas as well. 

By 2019 opposition groups in Eastern Sudan, Northern Sudan and Central Sudan had learnt the rules of the game.  Form a Revolutionary Front and raise a grievance to get invited to the talks.  Even the Democratic Unionist Party, one of Sudan’s two largest parties, formed a Revolutionary Front to get on the bandwagon and represent Central Sudan.  Grievances varied from the expropriation of land for irrigation dams in the north to electricity supply in the east.  The DUP-Revolutionary Front struggled to find specific grievances. Their Central Track agreement is just one and a half pages long.

The last signatory of the JPA was most blatant of all.  The Third Front–Tamazuj is a shadowy entity.  Suspected of links to Al Bashir’s security services and of fighting for the opposition in S. Sudan, it seems to be little more than an independent mercenary band.  Their JPA track has nothing in it but the terms on which Tamazuj would cease operations in exchange for “integration into the Sudanese military establishment.”  Even if you have not got a grievance, rebellion can get you a job for life. 

The JPA plans include special investments for Darfur Nomads, Central Agriculturalists, etc.  Had it gone into force it would have destroyed any concept of government for the greater good of the Sudanese people as a whole.  On top of that, the agreement added constitutional commitments which the Transitional Government had no mandate to make: on the separation of state and religion and on following international humanitarian law.  The pointless nature of the exercise was demonstrated a year later when the Justice and Equality Movement and SLM-Minawi, two of the Darfur signatories, joined the Islamist sit-in outside the Republican Palace in Khartoum leading up to the counter-revolutionary coup in December 2021.  Peace had indeed killed politics.

The Khartoum Resistance Committees founded in the 2019 revolution summed up the futility of the JPA Agreement best of all:

“all isolated/nonparticipatory peace agreements ended up in utter failure, as these agreements not only failed to halt the ongoing conflicts, but also led to escalating violence, with the sucking in of new regions into its abyss, such as the recent eruptions of violence in Port Sudan, Kassala, Western Darfur, Western, Northern and Southern Kordofan, as well as in the Blue Nile, …”[8]

One of the Darfur hold-outs, Abd Al Wahid Al Nur, made an even more important point.  As a leader of the Fur he is representative of the largest non-Arab resistance group, the one most qualified to raise the flag of self-determination.  Nevertheless, he rejected the Juba peace process and “advocated instead for a Sudan-Sudan dialogue inside the Sudan, to discuss Sudanese issues (not restricted to Darfur).” [9] This must surely be right.  If Sudan is to continue as a nation it must agree its constitution and the shape of the central state before it makes any commitments to particularist claims. However strong the grievance, self-determination must not come before the public good and the national interest.  

The Resistance Committees make up the last element in the 2019 Khartoum kaleidoscope.  Just as in the Arab Spring, they have been formed by young people mobilised on social media.  They are the child of the West’s techology.  Some might take it for granted this means that they also share its ideology: Sir John Jenkins, for example.  Author of the British Government’s review of the Muslim Brotherhood, he has claimed that Ibn Salman’s model of a “neo-patrimonial Arab and Islamic, highly securitised and segmented, but also socially permissive modernity is clearly appealing to young Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Shia, Sunnis, Christians and others across the region.[10] 

This could not be more wrong.  The Committees’ Revolutionary Charter For Establishing People’s Power is about as far from that vision as it is possible to get.  Resistance to the West runs right through it.  Sudan’s internal failures are ascribed to its colonial legacy.  The country is now at the mercy of neo-colonial organisations like the IMF and the World Bank and the elite groups they have co-opted.  The Charter is Marxist, even Maoist in its programme of price controls, state monopolies, trade unions and self-criticism.  Most radical of all is its prohibition of “the formation of political parties on a religion, tribal, regional, or ethnic basis.”  This would eliminate all existing political parties apart from the Communist and Ba’athist.  In essence, the Revolutionary Charter calls for a return to Arab Socialism.

Sudan’s struggles are becoming caught up in a wider conflict over Islamic democracy. Since the Arab Spring the Middle East has seen what has been described as a Bi-polar Conflict with Saudi Arabia and the UAE fighting to have the Muslim Brotherhood supressed wherever they can while Turkey and Qatar support it. After the defeat of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt the regional powers are now fighting this war in Libya.

Turkey’s position teaches two important points.  This is the largest, most modern economy in the Middle East, a member of NATO and a candidate member of the EU.  Its constitution is secular and simple muslim practices such as wearing a headscarf were banned for over 80 years.  Yet the overtly Islamic Justice and  Development Party won its first election in 2002 and six more since.  The lesson has two parts: Islamic democracy cannot be suppressed and it can be perfectly compatible with capitalist development.

The West is uncomfortable with Islamic democracy.  The West’s regional partners are downright scared.  True democracy would threaten the existence of the ruling families of Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates and the Egyptian autocrat.  As the Core Sudanese Working Group explains, those regional partners initially made the same mistake as the West, seeing the overthrow of Al Bashir as a defeat for Islamism.  “… these regimes are generally hostile to revolutions, but they appeared to stand temporarily by the December Revolution because it was going against the Islamist trend.”  That did not last.  As the transition began to fall apart, some Sudanese parties were quick to exploit regional paranoia about Islamism.  The RSF is widely believed to be funded and supplied with weapons by the UAE.  On 5 December 2023, an RSF spokesman blew the Islamist dog whistle loud and clear, saying that the Sudanese army is “entirely hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, and supported from abroad by the global Islamic movement, all of whom fall into the category of terrorist movements”, …. “Everyone knows that there are Islamist battalions made up from remnants of ISIS and the civil war in Libya, which are fighting the RSF alongside the army.[11]  He did not, of course, say that everyone suspects there are large numbers of Libyan and Chadian mercenaries in the RSF ranks.

More recently Turkey and Qatar have been less enthusiastic about holding the balance of power on the side of parties linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.  This has left the SAF friendless as it sits in peace talks held in Jeddah with a sworn enemy of the MB, Saudi Arabia, as one of the brokers.  It has been accused of trying to buy drones from Iran. Does it have anywhere else to turn to?

At the time of writing it seems possible that the RSF is going to win this war.  Since independence the Sudanese Army dominated Khartoum politics and much of the economy.  This disguised its fundamental weakness as a military force.  Al Bashir was not the first to resort to what Alex De Waal has described as ‘counter insurgency on the cheap’: enlisting tribal militias to bolster a weak Army.  With every new rebellion the army’s dependence on the militias grew until Al Bashir made it official, giving them permanent status and pay in the RSF.  With the more motivated members of its officer corps purged as Islamists and without any regional powers to support it, the SAF is in serious trouble.

Since 2019, all of the UN, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union and the EU have been involved in efforts to broker some kind of ceasefire.  The so-called Quad, comprising USA, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, has been particularly influential.  Sudanese Islamists only have to look at that last group to see how the negotiating table is slanted against them: two western states which consider the Muslim Brothers as terrorists in all but name and two of the movement’s sworn regional enemies.  Even if it were heard, the Core Sudanese Working Group’s appeal that the Islamists should be given a seat must seem pretty pointless. 

This is not a war which can be solved by cutting off another part of Sudan or by earmarking yet more of the state’s resources to pacify this group or that.  It started from the failure of the peacemakers’ other standard solution: integrating opposition fighters into the national army.  It is difficult to see how this can be anything but a fight to the death between the SAF and the RSF.  With humanitarian concerns always first in their calculations, western peacemakers are not looking beyond a truce or ceasefire.  There is no sign that any of them have the first idea of what a political solution might look like. 

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt do have an idea: a Sudanese version of Egypt.  Al Burhan is tarred with the Islamist brush.  They may have already chosen Dagalo as their Sisi.  Which would be a very big gamble.  Sisi took over a state apparatus and a model of military control which had been in place since independence in 1954.  The Egyptian Army also has winning independence and the Suez Canal and two wars against Israel to its credit.  The RSF would start with none of those assets.  

The most likely outcomes seem to be an RSF victory and partition, between the RSF in western Sudan and SAF in the east. Either way the Sudanese state will be left in tatters.  The competing warlords may be able to hold on to power in each area but they will have no legitimacy and little capacity to deliver the basics of economic life and security.  There is every possibility that Sudan is about to be added to Al Qaeda and ISIS’ recruiting ground: completing a belt stretching from North Nigeria to Port Sudan.  Sudan will be by far the largest country in that belt.

Which will complete the cycle.  When peace has finished killing politics, the wheel will turn and politics will start killing peace.  All because the West could not come to terms with Islamic democracy and recognise that it is the only effective defence against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.  By supporting Sisi and Ibn Salman the West cuts itself off from any dialogue with ordinary Arab Muslims; any chance of winning their trust.

In 2015 Sir John Jenkins concluded his review of the Muslim Brotherhood for the British Government thus: “aspects of Muslim Brotherhood ideology and tactics, in this country and overseas, are contrary to our values and have been contrary to our national interests and our national security.”  The statement is completely reversible.  Any Muslim review of the British policy must surely conclude that: “aspects of British ideology and tactics are contrary to our values and have been contrary to our interests and security.”   This kind of language can only lead to a dialogue of the deaf. 

We do not just need to talk about Islam.  We need to talk to Islam, to tell ordinary Muslims that the West will support Islamic democracy if that is what they want.  To persuade Islamic movements, the Muslim Brothers in particular, that Al Qaeda is wrong.  Democracy is a viable route to power.

[1] A. De Waal, The Revolution No One Wanted – London Review of Books, 18 May 2023

[2] idem

[3] Council on Foreign Relations, Washington – www.cfr.org/egypt/egypts-muslim-brotherhood/p23991

[4] www.afrobarometer.org/publication/summary-results-afrobarometer-round-8-survey-sudan-2021

[5] Trimingham, p155

[6] N.J. Brown, 2015 – A Struggle for Power: Islamism and Democracy, Middle East Journal, Vol 69, No 3

[7] S. Srinivasan, 2021 – When Peace Kills Politics, Hurst, London

[8] Khartoum Resistance Committee’s Revolutionary Charter For Establishing People’s Power

[9] Letter, 24 January 2022 from the Panel of Experts on the Sudan to the President of the UN Security Council

[10] J. Jenkins, Was Israel Wrong to Trust Qatar? – New Statesman, 20-26 October 2023

[11] www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/rsf-advisor-sudan-army-command-deeply-troubled

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