Militant Islam sweeps away Sudan's diversity: The military regime brooks no dissent, writes Charles Richards in Khartoum

THE SIZE and cut of one's beard is a measure of one's support for the Islamic trend, and since the 1989 military coup mounted by General Omar Hassan al-Bashir brought in a militantly Islamic government, such support is required to gain advancement.

Hassan Turabi is coy about the connection between his National Islamic Front and General al-Bashir's Revolutionary Command Council. The NIF is formally disbanded, and Mr Turabi denies any role in government. Yet most of the RCC are at least sympathetic to his party, whose members have been insinuating themselves into every area of public life.

They have moved in two directions. They have set up parallel institutions to the existing state structures. The Popular Defence Force - in which every government employee and student must do four weeks basic drill, weapons training and religious indoctrination - is to counterbalance the army. Another police force has been set up beside the existing one, and other security organs have found a place alongside the established security apparatus.

At the same time, the NIF has been behind purges of the civil service, the army and the universities to weed out those not entirely in accord with its ideology. Career diplomats have been replaced by more politically correct zealots, often barely qualified.

Last week 149 army officers were summarily retired, according to human rights activisits working underground. Since 1989 some 11,000 army personnel have been removed, including 1,600 officers. Basic freedoms have been curtailed. The press is government-controlled, political parties are prohibited and trades unions have been replaced by ones compliant to the regime.

In the past six weeks, the government has made a determined drive to undermine the support of the Ansar religious order headed by the man deposed as prime minister by the military coup, Sadiq al-Mahdi, whose great-grandfather, Mohamed Ahmad al-Mahdi, founded the order. Dozens of senior local officials of his Umma party have been detained.

The confrontation with the government began on 25 March, after Mr Mahdi used the traditional sermon preached at the end of the Ramadan fast to call for a return to multi-party democracy in Sudan. Ten days later, just as he was about to meet two visting British MPs, he was briefly detained. Before this week's Eid feast, the authorities took no chances. Last week they announced the nationalisation of his ancestor's shrine, the Khalifa's Tomb, declaring it a national monument that should not be the focus of any one sect.

Mr Turabi explained that the old sects - the Ansar and the Khatmeyya sect of the Mirghany family that found expression in the now banned Democratic Unionist Party, most of whose leaders are now in exile - were obstacles to the establishment of true democracy in Sudan.

'Those who took power in Sudan say they . . . will not remain a military government,' he said. 'They will democratise the country and they say that the resort to party democracy is not a return to democracy, substantial democracy, but it just means sectarian leaders, dictatorship, because people just vote for a sectarian leader irrespective of his programme or conduct. They vote for his great-grandfather, they don't vote for Sadiq, they vote for the Mahdi.'

The NIF takes bits from the Libyan model, from Western democratic practice and Islamic ideas. The organisation enjoys more support than some of its critics would credit it with. Yet for all the talk of popular participation, in practice the government's policy has been simply to maintain and increase control through fear backed up by detention of political dissidents.

Mr Turabi sees international criticism of Sudan's human rights record as dictated by anti-Islamic sentiment. In December, the United Nation's General Assembly, with massive support from Arab and African countries, passed a resolution condemning Sudan's human's rights record, increasing its international isolation.

Mr Turabi expressed indignation that other countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, had committed far worse human rights abuses than Sudan. Yet most of the criticism came from other Muslims, either states in the Islamic world or Muslims in Sudan who do not share the NIF's interpretation of Islam. Some of the criticism has been exaggerated, and some of the more extreme Islamic punishments listed in the penal code have not been applied.

Sudan is the largest and one of the most culturally diverse countries in Africa. Even in the Arabic-speaking, Muslim north, which accounts for 70 per cent of the population, Islam is practised in many different ways.

Yet all the Muslim groups, in some way or other, would like greater Islamisation of the country. Where they differ is the extent to which the non-Muslim minority should be subjected to the Islamic order.

The hardline Muslim Brothers, more pan-Islamic than the government, regard Khartoum's attitude towards women and the south as too liberal.

Mr Mahdi has other ideological and religious differences with the current regime. 'We think that Islamic assertion is a general, legitimate phenomenon in the Muslim world,' he said. 'However it is totally at odds with dictatorial regimes. Islam should be clearly identified with the popular will, human rights and representative and accountable government.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own