Update on New Leadership for Sudan’s Islamic Movement

Back in November, Sudan’s Islamic Movement – historically a key pillar of support for President Omar al Bashir and the ruling National Congress Party – held its eighth general conference. The conference attracted attention and speculation as observers watched to see how divided the Movement would appear. Some observers also say that the succession to the post of secretary-general may hold clues as to the future succession battle over the Sudanese presidency itself. The outgoing Secretary-General (due to term limits) and current First Vice President of Sudan is Ali Osman Mohammad Taha (bio here).

It’s now possible to give a few updates. At its conference the Movement elected Zubair Mohamed Hassan as its new secretary-general, and Dr. Mahdi Ibrahim (a former Sudanese ambassador to the US, I believe) as president of its 300-member Shura (Arabic: Consultation) Council (more on how the elections unfolded here, in Arabic). The Council subsequently selected several new deputies: Bakri Hassan Salah, Hassabo Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, Raja Hassan Khalifa, and Hamid Sidiq. The Sudan Tribune attaches special significance to Bakri’s appointment.

Bakri who is among those army officers who implemented the Islamist coup d’état of June 1989, occupied important positions in the different governments including director of national security service, defence and interior minister.

He is also known as influential among the Sudanese armed forces. But he remained far from the Islamic Movement and the organs of the National Congress Party.

His name circulated recently in Khartoum among those who might probably succeed to President Omer Al-Bashir who remains strongly attached to the military institution more than the party.

Observers say Bakri has the support of Bashir and the army. At different crises high ranking officers in the Sudan Armed Forces prefer to deal directly with him about their concerns instead of their minister Abdel-Rahim Hussein.

I have only been able to find limited information on the other appointees. According to this article (Arabic), new Secretary-General Zubair Hassan is “among the major economic personalities in the country,” and is “head of the financial sector in the ruling party.” He previously held posts as financial minister and oil minister, among others. Sudan Tribune has a brief note on Hassabo Mohamed Abdel Rahman, who “was appointed to lead the National Congress Party’s political relations bureau on 23 February 2012.” Raja Hassan Khalifa was, as of early 2012, an adviser to Bashir and a university professor. In this article, Sudan Tribune identifies Hamid Sidiq as the NCP’s communications secretary.

Sudan’s Islamic Movement Heads to Its General Conference

This week, the Islamic Movement of Sudan will hold its General Conference, which takes place every four years. Various sub-national conferences have already occurred in preparation for the main event. The national conference may give some insight into the trajectory of the Movement, its relationship with the regime of President Omar al Bashir, and the hopes of various leaders to succeed Bashir, perhaps as soon as 2015.

Founded in 1945 (read a history of the Movement here, .pdf, start p. 95) as a Sudanese counterpart to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Movement has participated under several names in many of the critical moments of Sudanese politics, including the popular uprising of 1964 and the 1989 coup that brought the National Islamic Front (NIF) to power. In 1999, the Movement split amid rivalry between President Bashir and Dr. Hassan al Turabi, the longtime leader of the Movement. The greater part of the Movement remained with Bashir and his National Congress Party (NCP), while Turabi’s group renamed itself the Popular Congress Party. The (remaining) Movement has been called one of three main components within the Bashir regime, the other two being the military and the leadership of the NPC itself. Read more background on the Movement here.

The immediate background for this week’s meeting includes several points of tension:

  • memorandum, submitted by some Movement members to the regime, that called for various reforms, including a “veiled demand, namely the institution of the authority of the Islamic Movement proper over the ruling NCP.” Bashir appeared on television to reject the demands.
  • Internal divisions, possibly similar to those that drove a split in 1999. This article (Arabic) describes substantial opposition with the Movement to Bashir and the NCP.
  • An impending change of leadership for the Movement: “The IM’s secretary-general and Sudan’s first Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha will not be able to run as an incumbent because the current constitution does not allow more than two terms in the position. Taha was elected to the position during the last conference after facing strong competition with current presidential adviser Ghazi Salah Al-Din Al-Atabani. It is not clear whether Al-Atabani intends to run again but insiders say the man has recently stepped out of decision-making circles due to what they described as his unhappiness with the way the NCP has handled a number of sensitive issues lately.” More on the internal succession issue here (Arabic).
  • Jockeying for position as leaders ask who will eventually succeed Bashir. AFP writes, “Potential candidates to replace Bashir are jostling for influence within the Islamic Movement.”

Despite these tensions, some are expecting a relatively quiet conference:

While only about 12 percent of NCP members come from the Islamic Movement, most of the leadership belongs to the movement, said Amin Hassan Omer, from its ruling secretariat.

He predicted “nothing specific” about succession will emerge from the conference, and said does not see a real power struggle in the Movement.

Mahjoub Mohamed Salih, publisher of the independent Al-Ayaam newspaper, said the conference would highlight divisions between grassroots Islamists and NCP loyalists, though he does not see the movement fracturing.

We’ll find out later this week.