Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sudan's Islamists need new blood: vice-president

By AFP

The Islamic Movement at the heart of Sudan's ruling party needs new blood, its outgoing leader said on Thursday in a pledge unlikely to satisfy reformers inspired by the Arab Spring.

The call by Vice President Ali Osman Taha opened a four-yearly conference of the movement which is under pressure from reformers who say the Islamic regime has drifted from its religious foundations.

Taha, who is stepping down after two terms as head of the movement, said it must change as part of the process of moving towards a new constitution for the country and trying to "improve freedoms."

"Those programmes need a renewal of the blood of Islamic Movement leaders, as well as a renewal of the movement's platform," he said.

Reformers say corruption and other problems have left the African nation's government Islamic in name only, and question how much longer President Omar al-Bashir should remain in office.

But those calling for change lack the power to impose their views, and their hopes for the three-day meeting will be dashed, predicted Khalid Tigani, an analyst and chief editor of the weekly economic newspaper Elaff.

"So this may lead to a new split" in the Islamic Movement.

Sudan's Islamists divided more than a decade ago when Hassan al-Turabi, a key figure behind the 1989 coup, broke with Bashir and formed the Popular Congress opposition party.

The Islamic Movement, a social group whose members are also assumed to belong to the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), is holding its first national conference since uprisings and civil war began driving out authoritarian leaders around the region in 2011.

More than 100 Islamists from 30 nations joined 5,000 other delegates, many wearing traditional white jalabiya robes and turbans, for the conference, which opened with prayer.

One of the guests is Khaled Meshaal, the exiled chief of the Hamas movement that rules Gaza, as warplanes from Israel pound the Palestinian territory for a second day and militants fire rockets over the border.

"This enemy is weak and cannot vanquish Gaza," Meshaal told the meeting under high security with cellular phone signals blocked around the Nile River convention hall.

While Islamists gained power through democratic elections in Egypt and Tunisia after the Arab Spring uprisings, a coup 23 years ago installed Sudan's Islamist regime -- and it is still there.

Among the great challenges facing the country's Islamist movement "is how to restore the confidence in the new generation", an editorial in the English-language The Citizen said on Thursday.

"The movement has to unify itself by all means," the paper said, calling for adherence to "Islamic values" and a fight against corruption, nepotism, tribalism and other ills which, critics say, are products of the current government.

Taha made no reference to corruption in his address.

Turabi, of the opposition Popular Congress, said it is a "corrupt dictatorship, cruel dictatorship."

One possible candidate to replace Taha is Ghazi Salaheddine, a former presidential adviser and moderate Islamist. Writing in the Al-Sudani newspaper ahead of the meeting, Salaheddine said the movement should be independent of the government.

For now, it is simply a tool used by those in power to continue controlling the government "in the name of Islam," said Tigani, who calls himself an independent Islamist.

Tigani sees potential candidates to replace Bashir jostling for influence within the movement.

Questions over Bashir's future were reinforced when, according to official media, he "underwent a successful surgical operation in the vocal cords" last week in Saudi Arabia.

A smiling Bashir returned to Khartoum to attend the conference, where he had a message for his "brothers" in Gaza: "We want to tell them that all the Islamic nations stand beside them."

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