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National Islamic Front

The National Congress Party was formerly known as the National Islamic Front. Islamist revival movements gained followers across the Muslim world, but failed to secure political power except in Iran and Sudan. The National Islamic Front is part of a global phenomenon of Islamic revivalism and is an ideological movement that seeks comprehensive reform of Muslim society. The many abuses in Sudan were not directly related to the government's Islamic ideology. Instead, they follow patterns common to many types of governments. Islam has been an enduring element in the history, politics, and law of Sudan for centuries. The gross human rights violations of the regime's early years have largely given way to more subtle methods of social control such as restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, opinion, religion, association, and movement. The government has criminalized political and ideological dissent, deployed a multifaceted security apparatus, and installed a system of rewards and punishments based on adherence to governmental policies. Executive control over the judiciary and the conduct of the courts has seriously compromised the rule of law in Sudan.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which originated in Egypt, was active in Sudan since its formation there in 1949. It emerged from Muslim student groups that first began organizing in the universities during the 1940s, and its main support base has remained the college educated. The Muslim Brotherhood's objective in Sudan has been to institutionalize Islamic law throughout the country. Hassan Abd Allah at Turabi, former dean of the School of Law at the University of Khartoum, had been the Muslim Brotherhood's secretary general since 1964. He began working with Nimeiri in the mid-1970s, and, as his attorney general in 1983, played a key role in the controversial introduction of the sharia. After the overthrow of Nimeiri, Turabi was instrumental in setting up the NIF, a Brotherhood-dominated organization that included several other small Islamic parties.

In the April 1986 general election, the Umma Party, headed by Sadiq al Mahdi, won ninety-nine seats. The Democratic Unionist Party [DUP], which was led after the April 1985 uprising by Khatmiyyah leader Muhammad Uthman al Mirghani, gained sixty-four seats. Regional political parties from the south, the Nuba Mountains, and the Red Sea Hills won lesser numbers of seats. The Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) and other radical parties failed to score any significant victories. Dr. Hassan Abd Allah at Turabi's NIF obtained fifty-one seats.

In November 1988, an explosive political issue emerged when Mirghani and the SPLM signed an agreement in Addis Ababa that included provisions for a cease-fire, the freezing of the sharia, the lifting of the state of emergency, and the abolition of all foreign political and military pacts. The two sides also proposed to convene a constitutional conference to decide Sudan's political future. The NIF opposed this agreement because of its stand on the sharia. On March 11, 1989, Sadiq al Mahdi formed a new coalition that included the Umma, the DUP, and representatives of southern parties and the trade unions. The NIF refused to join the coalition because it was not committed to enforcing the sharia.

On June 30, 1989, Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Umar Hassan Ahmad al Bashir overthrew Sadiq and established the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation to rule Sudan. Bashir's commitment to imposing the sharia on the non-Muslim south and to seeking a military victory over the SPLA, however, seemed likely to keep the country divided for the foreseeable future and hamper resolution of the same problems faced by Sadiq al Mahdi. Moreover, the emergence of the NIF as a political force made compromise with the south more unlikely.

Since 1989, real power rested with the National Islamic Front (NIF) founded by Hassan al-Turabi, who became Speaker of the National Assembly in 1996. The National Islamic Front was an authoritarian regime that makes some pretenses at democracy. It took an extremely hard line against the main rebel group operating southern Sudan, the Southern Peoples' Liberation Army ("SPLA"). Historically, the NIF adopted a radicalized Islamic vision, which keeps the attention of many countries in the region.

The RCC-NS banned all political parties following the 1989 coup. Following the 1989 coup, the RCC-NS arrested Turabi, as well as the leaders of other political parties, and held him in solitary confinement for several months. Nevertheless, this action failed to dispel a pervasive belief in Sudan that Turabi and the NIF actively collaborated with the RCC-NS. NIF influence within the government was evident in its policies and in the presence of several NIF members in the cabinet.

The National Islamic Front, whose leaders were considered to have close relations with several RCC-NS members, was particularly open. Both supporters and opponents of the regime asserted that in the past most government decisions were made by a secretive council of forty men whose members included both top military leaders and prominent figures in the NIF, a coalition dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, several cabinet ministers belonged to the NIF. With the exception of the NIF, however, the precoup parties generally did not cooperate with the military government and were committed to its overthrow.

In the early 1990's, real power in the NIF was wielded by radical "spiritual leader" Hasan with Iran and sought to destabilize some of its moderate neighbors. Turabi definitely possessed an "Islam vs. 'Them'" outlook and "did not want to take direction from other Islamic leaders." This attitude, along with Sudan's harboring of those who conducted the failed 1995 assasination of President Mubarak, alienated a number of Islamic countries. Turabi, often seen as a behind the scenes player, wanted to transform Sudan into the "vanguard of the Islamic world."

In June 1994 National Islamic Front leader and de facto ruler of Sudan, Hasan al Rurabi told students attending a conference of Sudan's student unions, that the unity of Sudan and the creation of an Sslamic state could not be achieved except through a Jihad. According to Turabi, the main danger facing Islam was the Western coalition which opposes it. He asserted, however, that the weapon of Jihad terrifies the West because of the weakness of Western civilization. The challenges to Islam must be confronted strongly he added. This message applied not just to Sudan but to all Muslims wherever they reside.

Ever since the Islamist regime came to power in Khartoum, the United States and other Western governments had pressed it to stop providing a haven for terrorist organizations. Other governments in the region, such as those of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and even Libya, which were targets of some of these groups, added their own pressure. At the same time, the Sudanese regime began to change. Though Turabi had been its inspirational leader, General Omar al Bashir, president since 1989, had never been entirely under his thumb. Thus as outside pressures mounted, Bashir's supporters began to displace those of Turabi.

According to the Political Handbook of the World 2011, the NIF was renamed as the National Congress (NC) in 1996 (2011, 1356). Other sources report that in November 1998, the NIF renamed itself the National Congress (NC). NC members held key positions in the Government, security forces, judiciary, academic institutions and the media. In April 1999, the Muslim Brotherhood, a registered political party, announced that it was denied permission to hold symposiums in Khartoum and Omdurman.

While Turabi was focusing on exporting radicalized Islam, his NIP rival President Bashir (who was perceived to have formal, but not real, power) focused on consolidating power within Sudan. In late 1999/early 2000 the NIF went through a power struggle after Turabi attempted to take away Bashir's power (i.e. ability to name regional governors). In December 1999, Bashir took =the Ramadan decisions‘, stripping Turabi of his posts, dissolving the parliament, suspending the constitution and declaring a state of national emergency. Eventually, in May 2000, Turabi was deposed from his position as "Speaker". As a result, Turabi then created the Popular National Congress Party later that summer.

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Page last modified: 05-01-2014 19:06:01 ZULU