Dr Haider Ibrahim, a political sociologist and Sudanese intellectual, said in an interview with AlAdwaa.Online that “Islamists have no future in Sudan”.
Sudanese writer Dr Haidar Ibrahim, awarded with the Al Owais Cultural Awards 2018-2019, is considered an outstanding figure of democratic thought in Sudan. He is a university professor, writer and scholar of sociology. Much of his writing focuses on the principles of religious sociology. Dr Ibrahim is a critic of political Islam, or “the Islamists”. He is the founder and director of the Cairo-based Sudanese Studies Center, a think tank that focuses on human rights and good governance in Sudan.
Dr Ibrahim’s “many books presented an objective view of the political Islam phenomenon and gave a comprehensive analysis of it while criticising backwardness in social relationships”, writes the Sultan Bin Ali Al Owais Cultural Foundation, adding: “Through his books, he aimed at getting out of ethnic and sectarian bottlenecks that stifle the region. Moreover, his studies have played a pivotal role in understanding, criticising and exposing political Islam movements in the Arab region.”
AlAdwaa.Online’s Musa Hamid met with Dr Haidar Ibrahim in Khartoum to speak about the future of political Islam in Sudan:
Q: Dr Ibrahim, what is your perspective on non-secular states?
A: A religious state, be it Islamic, Jewish, or otherwise, is a major illusion. One cannot establish a religious state with political power; this is simply because the religious state interferes with individual liberties, freedom of belief, and so on. You can establish a religious state, but you must be ready to sacrifice freedoms and human rights. If a person in the state converts to another religion, the state will enforce the punishment for Apostasy, and thus finds a justification for killing them. Accordingly, within the framework of the religious state, this violates the person’s right to life as well as their right to think.
Q: What do you think of the way the Sudanese people dealt with the ousted regime of Omar al-Bashir?
A: The revolution was not revengeful and the Sudanese people are tolerant by nature. This is a fact. We saw the change in Libya and we saw the fate of Gaddafi. We also saw the change in Iraq and the fate of Saddam Hussein. The Sudanese people did not do such acts against the Islamists, or against their president, who they revolted against and who they toppled.
Q: What is the source of this tolerance?
A: This is because of the upbringing. The Sudanese people tolerated the Islamists and they knew they had brought torture into the political life. However, even those who were tortured, and those whose rights were violated, did not attempt to take revenge.
Q: Isn’t this a contradiction? Aren’t the Islamists part of the ‘by nature tolerant’ Sudanese society?
A: Members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan were raised differently, thus they became separated from their Sudanese identity, and therefore they are not patriots. They speak about the Islamic State rather than the Sudanese nation. The homeland for them is a platform from where they can jump to an Islamic State to rule the world. The saying, “we are the teachers of the world”, echoed by both Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, is assimilated by the Sudanese Islamists. They have the feeling that they are better than the rest of the Sudanese people.
Q: Are the Islamists in Sudan one bloc, or are there clear differences between them?
A: The Sudanese Islamists produced another sect. They worship their late leader Dr Hassan al-Turabi. It is true that some of them have graduated from universities, those who are classified as intellectuals, but they chose to worship al-Turabi. Therefore, you find very few thinkers within the Islamic movement. Al-Turabi was thinking on their behalf, despite the fact that al-Turabi was not an intellectual, but rather a pragmatic politician. For me, an intellectual produces ideas. What are the ideas produced by al-Turabi? Al-Turabi used words such as ‘Tawali’*, words that have no meaning.
Q: Does political Islam have a future in post-revolution Sudan?
A: They have no future because people have tried them. I would say that if there is a secular stream in Sudan, it is due to the Islamic rule. We often hear ordinary people say: We tried Islamic rule, what was the result? There is also the proverb which says “never try what had been tried before”. Therefore, they have no future in Sudan.
Q: And in the distant future?
A: Neither in the near future nor in the distant future. They monopolised power for 30 years, and did everything they wanted to do, so what was the result? They produced the al-Bukur system (changing the time zone to UTC+03:00) and forced people to sleep and to wake up according to their desire and their way of thinking. They also produced the Public Order Act.
Q: You wrote a book entitled ‘Revisions of Islamists’. Do you expect Sudan’s Islamists to take a turn like the Tunisian Ennahdha party?
A: If this happens, they will not be Islamists anymore. They can be anything else, but not Islamists.
Q: But there are many Islamists in Sudan who celebrate the Ennahdha party and its leader Rachid Ghannouchi?
A: There is no Shariah law in the Ennahdha party, and Rachid Ghannouchi achieved this. Therefore, I do not consider the party as an Islamic one. For me, Ghannouchi is an extension of Habib Bourguiba.
Q: Let’s assume they rethink their political ideas, would you expect people to accept them?
A: They do not have the ability to do so because they haven’t been thinking for 30 years. There were Islamists who used to deny the existence of torture, even when faced with people who were subjected to such torture. More than that, they are extremely stubborn. Until now, I did not read or hear an Islamist presenting criticism or an apology for the big mistakes they committed against the Sudanese people during the past 30 years.
Q: This is about organised political Islam as a group in Sudan. What will be the fate of individuals?
A: Even before the fall of the regime, there were revisions made by many Islamists, prominent among them is al-Tayeb Zain al-Abidin, Abdel Wahab al-Afandi, Eltigani Abdelgadir, and others. My question is: What is left from this way of thinking? What is left of Islamism in it? For example, when you, as an Islamist, talk about democracy and human rights, you directly become a liberal. Therefore, which part of “Islamism” can you still claim?