Political Islam and the State in Africa By Hussein Solomon and Gerrie Swart1

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Political Islam and the State in Africa


Hussein Solomon and Gerrie Swart1

1. Introduction
The entire African continent, from North to South, East to West has been plagued by the resurgence of a militant Islam, to add to Africa’s already overbearing litany of woes and challenges, that includes economic crisis, poverty, hunger, famine, disease and corrupt, unaccountable dictatorship. Another crucial reality that has to be taken into account is that fully one third of Africa’s nearly 700 million citizens are Muslim and for the vast majority militant Islam has had minimal resonance. Nevertheless most of Africa’s Muslims, like their non-Muslim African brethren, are impoverished global have-nots who live in acute-and worsening marginality that invites local sectarian and inter-ethnic strife, despair and anti-Western resentment.1During the past decade frustrated Muslim communities living under corrupt, malfunctioning governments across the Horn, West Africa’s Sahel zone and areas of southern Africa have looked increasingly to Islamic agencies funded by Saudi and other Persian Gulf donors to provide education, health, social welfare and security.2 Post-11 September Africa matters to US interests in significant new ways, both good and bad. According to Dr. Morrison there is now greater recognition in the United States that Africa’s institutional weaknesses, autocratic governance and economic marginality pose a serious threat to US security interests. Africa’s exceptional circumstances give rise to porous borders, places to hide in vast and expansive surroundings, opportunity for bribery and a ready aggrieved audience, all of which could significantly benefit the next emergent terrorist network seeking greater advantage in Africa.3
In a post 9//11 world some analysts have viewed this rise of militant Islam in Africa through the prism of an Al-Qaeda network with global reach. This interpretation is problematic for a number of reasons. Not least because such an analysis puts the analysis of the militant spread of Islam in Africa as externally induced. Whilst acknowledging such external intrusions, it will be argued in this paper that the primary reason for the spread of a militant Islam on this continent relates to the closed nature of the state throughout much of Africa within the context of declining socio-economic circumstances. The term political Islam refers to the manipulation of Islam by various state and non-state actors in order to realize short-term political objectives.
This paper will seek to provide a brief overview of the manifestation of political Islam in Africa by means of four country case studies. It would also seek to examine government responses to what has been termed as Islamic fundamentalism. Mention would also be made of Africa’s response to terrorism in the form of the Algiers Convention.

2. Egypt: Between Pharaohs and Fundamentalists?

President Hosni Mubarak in a speech delivered in March 2003 as the US led war against Iraq dubbed “Operation Iraqi Freedom” was in its most intense and concerted stage issued an ominous warning that the war in Iraq would produce “one hundred new bin Ladens”.4This in reference to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organisation that are said to have masterminded the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States of America. The Egyptian President may well have cast his predictions well into the future as a new wave of terror has emerged this time not in traditionally Western capitals and cities, but primarily in Arab states. In May 2003 three powerful car bombs exploded in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in a terrorist suicide bombing linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist group targeting primarily Western compounds in Saudi Arabia.5These attacks were followed with yet another devastating attack in Casablanca, Morocco killing 41 individuals including 13 suicide bombers. This attack has been described as the first such attacks in the North African country.6 President Mubarak’s statements were not from a statesman ignorant or isolated from the immense ramifications and dangers of Islamic, militancy, but in fact of a President leading a country intimately and uncomfortably entangled in the vast problem that Islamic fundamentalism can come to present to a country.

A number of factors had contributed to the proliferation of radical groups in Egyptian society. Western encroachment, misrule by the national elite all contributed to a crisis of identity and a search for authenticity. Heavy-handed repression by military backed regimes armed with their own powerful Arab nationalist ideology left no avenues for protest, except through the religious idiom.7

The most prominent Islamic organization in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the two main militant Islamic groups, the al-Jamā’ah al Islāmiyyah and Harakat al-Jihād al-Islāmī (al-Jihad) accuse the Mubarak government of being an authoritarian, secular government and follow diverse campaigns to achieve their objectives. The Muslim Brotherhood has long been involved in national politics and social welfare in Egypt. The group is in fact, both a political movement and a social welfare agency and is the single most important opposition group to Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP).8 The Brotherhood also firmly advocated a return to the original fundamentals of Islam9

The Brotherhood’s involvement with an increasingly unpopular regime led to the rise of other more radical militant and revivalist groups. In the 1970’s the primary groups were al-Takfir wa al-Hijra (Denouncement and Holy Flight, which refers to its ideology) and Egypt’s Al - Jihad (struggle) members of which assassinated Sadat in 1981.10 In addition to these a number of other militant organisations arose that shared a general goal of achieving an Islamic Egypt. They included Jund Allah (God’s Troops),and Jaysh al-Tahrir al-Islami (the Islamic Liberation Army). Jama ‘at Islamiyya or Islamic (student) associations became the dominant force on Egyptian university campuses during Sadat’s presidency.11

While the predominantly moderate Muslim Brotherhood attempts to establish an Islamic political identity at grassroots level by non-violent means, inter alia by gaining control over the educational systems, professional organizations and trade unions, increasing the value and visibility of Islamic religious symbols among communities and by distributing pro-Islamic material, the militant groups attempt to overthrow the government through a jihad. The Al-Jihad (which was responsible for Sadat’s assassination in 1981 and consists mainly of Islamic militia who fought in Afghanistan) is particularly militant in its approach. When Hosni Mubarak succeeded Sadat as president in 1981,he continued an openness toward the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan), while cracking down on militancy.12

Islamic militancy presents a growing threat in Egypt, as is evident from a significant increase in violent incidents and armed clashes between the Egyptian security forces and the Islamic militants since the end of 1994. Although the incidents are primarily limited to Egypt’s southern regions, the conflict could escalate to the northern regions and result in a recurrence of sporadic terrorist incidents in urban centres such as Cairo and Alexandria as well as tourist destinations. In April 1996 gunmen shouting, “God is great” opened fire on a group of Greek tourists in Cairo killing at least 18 of the tourists and wounding 14.13 The most horrific of these attacks on tourists in particular occurred in November 1997 in Luxor when militants killed fifty-nine tourists.14 The slaughter of some sixty tourists in Luxor on 17 November 1997 was a shock for the Egyptians in more ways than one. The atrocity of the event (at such odds with Egyptian character and tradition), together with its disastrous implications for an economy in which millions of people depend on tourism, have prompted a sudden awareness: the Islamist problem, said to have been more or less resolved, has not gone away.15

The Egyptian security forces introduced harsh security measures against these groups and believe in the total elimination of all militants. As a result of increased security measures terrorism within Egypt dramatically decreased. Most of its high-ranking extremists fled to other countries to establish and expand terror networks, therefore facilitating transnational terror networks. Probably the best example would be the alignment of al-Jamā’ah al Islāmiyyah and Harakat al-Jihād al-Islāmī (al-Jihad) with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qa’ida network. It is no accident that Osama bin Laden's closest lieutenants are from Egypt's Islamic Jihad organization, which wants to create an Islamic state and has been battling Mubarak's government for 20 years.

As support for such activity remains consistently low among the Egyptian population, the Ikhwan maintains mass appeal. “Islam” is considered vital to the vast majority of Egyptians, but militant Islam is anathema to them. Non-violent Islamic groups have maintained their popular support due to several key reasons. Government failures have been cited as a major reason as Egyptian authorities have been infamous for corruption, mismanagement, authoritarianism, repression and political exclusion and a willingness of Islamic groups led by the Brotherhood to assist local communities suffering from unemployment, poverty, inflation and government neglect.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s most significant strategy has been its willingness to work within the existing political system for the advancement of its goals. This has been regarded as a fundamental difference between the Brotherhood’s activities from those of Egypt’s more militant Islamist groups.16 The government however repeatedly denied requests for legitimate political recognition of the Brotherhood, which led to the alignment with other political parties to gain access.

As tensions grew between the government and militant Islamist groups the government began to regard the Brotherhood with the same apprehension that it had reserved for militant groups. An attempt on President Mubarak’s life on 26 June 1995 in Ethiopia for which the al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya declared responsibility one week later greatly exacerbated the security concerns and led the government to crack down on Islamists.17This included actions targeting the Muslim Brotherhood, in which Brotherhood members were arrested and referred for trial by military courts, citing security threats posed by the organisation. Fifty-four Brotherhood members, mostly candidates for the People’s Assembly elections of 1995 were sentenced by military courts days prior to the elections on charges of engagement in unconstitutional activities.18The militant tendencies of some of the Islamists have been criticized by the Brotherhood. Many political analysts lay the blame for the violence on the groups themselves, or even the jihad tenet of Islam, while the Brotherhood have considered the political violence the result of the government’s refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the calls for a return to Islam.19The Brotherhood has pursued the purposeful repudiation of violence as a means to achieve an Islamic society and the contemporary Muslim Brotherhood takes offence at the charge that it engages in violence and terrorism against the state and civilians. The Brotherhood has supported the relative democratic opening that has emerged in Egypt, yet strongly issued statements of condemnation of the government’s heavy-handed methods of combating the Islamic militants.20Yet what has emerged, as a stark reality is the obvious uncomfortable, violent and antagonistic relations between the Egyptian government and militant Islamist groups. The major link between all the Islamic militant groups operating in Egypt has been their fierce opposition towards the state. Before Americans ever heard of Mohammad Atta, the Egyptian-born engineer identified as a ringleader in the Sept. 11 attacks, there was Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind spiritual guide of extremist Islamic groups, now in a New York jail. And before him, there was Khalid Islambuli, charged with killing former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, and many other extremists who have one thing in common: their hatred for the Egyptian government21.

Tanzim al-Jihad led by Muhammed Abd al-Salam Faraj considered the concept of Jihad, “Holy War” an armed struggle with the goal of uprooting the evil of the state and replacing it with Islamic rule.22Faraj was considered as being critical of any type of association with the Egyptian regime and was also regarded as being critical of interpretations of Jihad that do not directly and militarily confront the state.23Faraj stipulated that one is obligated to first undertake Jihad against the nearer enemy (the Egyptian government).Faraj’s works primarily pointed to the problem of westernisation as the pivotal problem plaguing Egypt.24 .Al-Jihad also advocated immediate revolt as imperative as such a revolution would ensure the establishment of an Islamic state. Faraj also argued that the assassination of Egypt’s President (whom he called the”evil prince” and “the Pharaoh”) would be an effective first step.25.Al-Jama al-Islamiyya had been fiercely opposed to foreign investment in Egypt and subsequently declared war on tourism, the major source of economic growth for the state. The militant’s capitalized on the October 1992 earthquake that struck Egypt, declaring it a response from God to the rampant corruption plaguing the country. However, it was interesting to note the moderate and peaceful Islamic groups that immediately responded to the vast humanitarian crisis that ensued following the earthquake.26
Another reason for the rise of militant Islam in Egypt is the position of Muslim clerics. In November 2001, reports emerged of anti-American statements issued by Egypt’s Al-Azhar clerics on the unofficial Egyptian University’s website, pertaining to the US war on terrorism. Sheikh Ali Abu Al-Hassan, head of Al-Azhar’s religious Ruling Committee issued statements declaring that “It is the sense of danger that unites the West , they have put together a coalition against Islam, uniting them against a single enemy-Islam. Entering into an alliance with the United States against Afghanistan constitutes Ridah (that is turning away from belief in Islam, for which the punishment is death, with no possibility is clemency”.27 The articles published under the title “Islamic clerics in Egypt declare war on America” also presented important interpretations of the terms Jihad and Terrorism. “Terrorism is a modern term. In Islam the meaning of terrorism is intimidation, not all intimidation is forbidden by religious law,” according to Al-Mut’ani28
Also stoking the fires of militant Islam is the transnationalization of terror networks, personified in Ayman al Zawahri. Egyptian born Ayman al Zawahri has emerged as Osama bin Laden’s top leader and second in command. Al-Jihad has had a hand in almost every major terrorist attack against the United States and its allies over the past 20 years. Its leader, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, is Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man. Al-Zawahiri is reputedly the intellectual and ideological leader of the International Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders, an alliance formed in 1998 of al-Jihad, al Qaeda, and a slew of other terrorist groups from the Muslim world.29 By 1987, according to Egyptian intelligence officials, al-Zawahiri had begun to reassemble al-Jihad from the so-called Afghan Arabs who had come from other Gulf States seeking martyrdom in the war. New cells of al-Jihad were trained in the mujaheddin camps of Afghanistan from which they set off on missions to Egypt. Al-Jihad militants were trained as suicide bombers (reputedly an al-Zawahiri specialty) and, for reasons of security and effectiveness, they formed into isolated cells working independently of one another. Increasingly, however, al-Zawahiri has left behind the struggle in Egypt to join bin Laden in his efforts to attack American interests abroad. Lack of money and other resources may have caused the strengthening of this union. The relationship between al-Zawahiri and bin Laden was formalized in February 1998 when al-Jihad joined the International Front, and was sealed in June 2001 when al Qaeda and al-Jihad merged into a single group, Qaeda al-Jihad. The prevalence, importance and value of Egypt fundamentalists and militants to Al-Qaeda should not be underestimated, nor ignored.

The US State Department is also uncertain whether al-Jihad receives any state funding or other support. Egypt has long claimed that both Iran and Sudan provided assistance to al-Jihad. In August 1992, Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Youssef Wali accused the two countries of smuggling arms to terrorist groups operating in Egypt with ties to al-Jihad. However, these assertions have been downplayed as relations between the countries improved. As recently as Aug. 28, 2002, reports circulated that Saif al-Adl, an Egyptian national with ties to al-Jihad (and who currently serves as bin Laden’s security chief) was now operating in Iran30 Al-Adl, who is also on the FBI’s most wanted list as a key suspect in the organization of the 1998 east Africa embassy bombings, is reportedly hiding out in hotels and guest houses in the cities of Mashhad and Zabol. Pakistan may also have utilized al-Jihad members in its campaign against India over Kashmir.

The above leads us to ask the question what the government response has been to Islamic fundamentalism.

In Egypt terrorism and acts of terror are defined as ‘any use of force or violence or any threat or intimidation aimed at disturbing the peace or jeopardising the safety and security of society and which is of such a nature as to harm or create fear in persons or imperil their lives, freedoms or security.31 Non-American Special Forces are a critical element in combating the international terror network, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told United Press International in an exclusive interview. On the shores of the Red Sea, Mubarak said these commando-type units were needed "to go in and kill the snake's head."32

Egypt possesses a political structure that is an authoritarian, dominant party system supported by a military and security establishment that severely restricts the political, social and economic activities and rights of its citizens.33The overall crisis atmosphere in state-society relations in Egypt has been attributed to the policies and intolerant attitudes of Egyptian government officials. These factors have all presented a favourable operating environment for not only the emergence of militant Islam, but also the rapid proliferation of Islamic militants who are locked in battle with an illegitimate and oppressive government.
Militant groups have waged violent campaigns against the Egyptian regime and government agencies. The government of Egypt in response has embarked on iron-fisted, repressive campaigns against the militant Islamic scourge. By 1981 several new Islamist groups had formed to challenge what were considered illegitimate political policies and state secularism. Anwar Sadat’s signing of the historic Camp David Accords in September 1978 and the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty in March 1979, coupled with increasing repression of domestic opposition ultimately culminated in Sadat’s assassination by the Islamic extremist group Al Jihad opposed to peace with Israel.34 Hosni Mubarak in his tenure as Egypt’s president inherited the country’s most severe internal political problem that has been characterized by perpetual confrontation with Muslim extremist groups linked with the governments inability to effectively address Egypt’s economic, political and social problems, all of which provide an exacerbating climate in which fundamentalism thrives. Many analysts have observed that the Egyptian government itself played a crucial role in creating the militancy that has turned against it today. The various groups operating in Egypt were allegedly created under government sponsorship in the Sadat era when the president regarded them as a potential counterweight to the Left.35 They demanded and occasionally were authorized to enforce, a much stricter version of Islamic law than the liberal interpretation currently sanctioned by the Egyptian constitution.36 Today unable to confront the Egyptian state legally or militarily some Egyptian groups seek to undermine the viability of the Egyptian State through the use of terrorism. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent especially from 1992 that President Mubarak has maintained a state of emergency during his entire term in office.37 The Mubarak regime has been waging its own war on terrorism well before the events of September 11th 2001 and has responded with the use of force in desperate attempts to eliminate the growing terrorist threat. This however has been carried out through violent means in its own right. Egypt’s Counter-Terrorism strategy has been premised on the stark realization that Islamic fundamentalist groups such as Islamic Jihad considered the most prominent of Egypt’s Islamic terrorist organisations have been engaged in a bloody campaign against the Mubarak government.38 Abdel Rahman, spiritual guide to the militant Islamic Jihad condemns Egypt as a “tyrannical state that won’t last another hour”. The ultimate aim that has been held forward is to topple the secular government of Hosni Mubarak and install a purely Islamic state that would turn against the West, end corruption and impose strict Islamic law. The Mubarak regime’s response has been based on a counter-terrorist strategy that includes a repressive component to deny the terrorists the political benefits they seek to gain. The strategy has included the adoption of tougher anti-terrorist laws in which membership in a militant terrorist organisation has been rendered a crime punishable by death. The security forces’ powers have also effectively been broadened under the emergency decree, which includes the right to detain people without trial.39The Emergency Law in effect since 1981 gives the government sweeping authority and control over societal activities and authorizes censorship of printed material, restrictions on meetings and gatherings and arrests on the basis of suspicion. The most alarming judicial tool found in the Egyptian counter terrorist arsenal has undoubtedly been the 1992 Anti-Terrorism Law, which allows the Egyptian government to (judicially) kill people just for belonging to a “terrorist” group.40

The government's frenetic repression is essentially hitting the Islamists who have chosen terrorism as a means of achieving power. Leaving aside the excesses of the security forces, it has a point, given the numbers of attacks and assassinations of high-ranking members of the regime. Altogether, starting with Sadat in 1981, there are 1,251 victims. However, all these crimes are the work of the Gamaa Islamiyya and other small groups, like the Islamic Jihad, which belong to the religious sphere which considers the Egyptian regime to be "ungodly", and, therefore, irredeemable.41 This is not the case of the Muslim Brothers and their like who, by contrast, recognize the Islamic nature of the state. All they want is to reform it by filling in the cracks and stopping the slide. Refusing to acknowledge such distinctions, the authorities make blanket accusations, on the premise that all the organizations derived from political Islam are, by their very nature and vocation, bent on taking power through violence. As illustrated by the interior minister's statement last April: "All the terrorist attacks are carried out under the umbrella of the Muslim Brothers, who are the main instigators of all acts of violence and all attempts at subversion". A perfect justification for the permanent harassment, arrests, long prison sentences for the Brothers, just on account of their political activities42!

The non-military component of the Egyptian repressive counter-terror strategy includes the imposition of curfews and travel restrictions and purging governmental institutions and public schools of suspected militants. The Egyptian strategy has also included an accommodative component, which aims to “win the hearts and minds” of its populace. The Mubarak government has launched countless campaigns denouncing terrorism and fundamentalist activities and has called upon cooperative Muslim clerics to preach against terrorism and Islamic militancy.43
The Interior Ministry on various occasions expressed its intent on ridding Egypt of the militant threat, which frequently implied the execution of militants by security forces during security sweeps and street battles.44 Security forces had also resorted to firing live ammunition at suspects in efforts to break the will of the movements. The government of President Hosni Mubarak has shown its resolve to battle militant forces by any means necessary, including storming a mosque in Upper Egypt, executing suspects without recourse to the courts, and conducting quick military trials that do not hesitate to mete out the death penalty. On 2 June 1996 for instance six militants were hanged belonging to the al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya organisation. The militants were convicted of plotting to smuggle weapons into Egypt across the Sudanese border and plotting the assassination of several Egyptian officials.45 Of great concern has been the blur that has emerged in the age-old adage that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. The line between militant Islam and Islamic sympathizers has vanished, as the Egyptian government has dealt harshly with non-violent sympathizers of the militant component. President Hosni Mubarak’s rule may yet be the target of militant Islamic rage and revenge as the attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco have reaffirmed that terrorism and acts of terror are no longer restricted to any specific part of the world, but is in fact expanding to countries often thought immune to such events. For many Egyptians the current regime is illegitimate, always has been and always will be. The only method considered viable to challenge the method has been Islamic militant actions, which have been met with violent government responses, which only strengthened the determination of militants further. President Hosni Mubarak has repeatedly reiterated that terrorism that has proliferated across the world in no way whatsoever has any links with Islam. The President cited injustice, frustration and despair triggered by complicated and unresolved political issues as the primary cause of terror.46 All these issues have disturbingly manifested themselves in Egyptian society and government responses have been ill considered, violent and excessive, succeeding only in crushing some fundamentalists, yet contributing towards a more fervent and fanatical fundamentalism. Egypt has served as a prime example of a country whose strategy for fighting and addressing militant fundamentalism and terror is overtly hostile and thus failing to deal with the actual causes and underlying tensions. The recent attacks on Riyadh and Casablanca, cannot be ruled out as a definite future possibility in Cairo. The Egyptian government’s strategy for fighting terror will have to take cognisance of this fact.
3. The Islamic Fundamentalist State of Sudan?
Sudan is one of seven countries on the US State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and since 1989 has been a self-proclaimed Islamic republic. After Iran, Sudan is projected as the second most prominent supporter of terrorism. As a matter of fact the active role of Sudan as an agent of terrorism could be presented as an extension of Iran’s involvement in terrorism in Africa. Iran regarded Sudan as a springboard into the Middle East and Africa, especially into Egypt. The latter is regarded as the main obstacle to Iran's hegemony in the Persian Gulf.47
On 30 June 1989 the Sudanese parliamentary system collapsed for the third time in the country’s independent history as a result of a successful military coup d’etat. The coup, which toppled the civilian government of Prime Minister al-Sadiq al-Mahdi was led by Brigadier Omar al-Bashir, who later was appointed president of the republic.48 The Sudanese gradually realized that the new regime was either perpetrated or at least supported by the National Islamic Front (NIF),al-Jabha al-Qawmiyya al-Islamiyya-the Islamist party that grew out of the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood.49 Sudan has experienced a turbulent political history from the onset of its independence. An estimated two million people have died from war-related causes and famine. The Sudanese conflict has been dubbed Africa’s longest running civil war, based on 19 years of protracted and violent struggle. The sources of the conflict are considered deeper and more complicated than many observers have claimed. Religion unmistakably has been a major factor based on the Islamic fundamentalist agenda of the current government, dominated by the mostly Muslim/Arab north. Southerners, who are primarily Christian, reject the “Islamization” of Sudan and favour a secular arrangement.50 Cultural, religious, ethnic and political diversity between the North and South has been the driving factor that has severely disrupted peace in Sudan. The South sees itself as African, mainly Christian and a historically separate entity from the North, which sees itself as an Arab Muslim entity, where the majority of the population is affiliated to Arab culture and the Muslim religion. In 1991 the war became particularly brutal, when the Revolutionary Command Council announced the imposition of Islamic Law throughout the country and declared jihad against non-Muslims in Sudan.51 The NIF government in Khartoum views itself as the protector of Islam in Sudan. Political opponents are viewed as anti-Islam and the civil war in southern Sudan is considered a jihad, or Holy War. For the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the war is to free southerners from political domination and religious persecution.52
The Sudanese Government, controlled and manipulated by the National Islamic Front (NIF), attempts to project itself as an example (besides Iran) of an Islamic state as a workable political system. Sudan spreads its interpretation of Islam on the African continent through military and religious training offered to foreigners, especially from African countries. During the 1990’s militants were trained at Iranian-backed military camps and academic/theological institutions in Sudan, the latter plays a central role in spreading its own interpretation of Islam, and particularly militant tendencies, throughout the African continent. This relationship was established in December 1991 with the visit of Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, accompanied by Major General Mohsen Razai (commander of the Revolutionary Guards) and Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi (the commander of the Quds Forces, a unit that exports the Islamic revolution). Besides the Iranian-backed military camps provided by the Revolutionary Guards in Sudan, reports indicate that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as well as Hizbullah has established training facilities in Sudan. Training was also provided to al-Jamā’ah al Islāmiyyah, al-Nahda (an outlawed Tunisian Islamic Group) and the Islamic Salvation Front53. The Sudanese government’s hard-line approach to Islamization was again evident when (now) General Al-Bashir stated, at a public gathering in southern Sudan during March 1995, that there would be no compromise with the rebel (largely Christian) Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) on the issue of the Islamic Shari’a law. He remarked that negotiations on the issue of Shari’a would only be conducted through the barrel of the gun. Sudan in 1999 continued to serve as a central hub for several international terrorist groups, including Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda organization. The Sudanese Government also condoned Iran's assistance to terrorist and radical Islamist groups operating in and transiting through Sudan. Khartoum served as a meeting place, safe haven, and training hub for members of the Lebanese Hizbullah, Egyptian Gama'at al-Islamiyya, al-Jihad, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, HAMAS, and the Abu Nidal organization. Sudan's support to these groups included the provision of travel documentation, safe passage, and refuge. Most of the groups maintained offices and other forms of representation in the capital, using Sudan primarily as a secure base for organizing terrorist operations and assisting compatriots elsewhere.
Sudan also continued to assist several Islamist and non-Islamist rebel groups based in East Africa. Nonetheless, Sudan's relations with its neighbours appeared to improve in 1999. Ethiopia renewed previously terminated air links, while Eritrea considered re-establishing diplomatic ties. Moreover, in early December, Sudan signed a peace accord with Uganda under which both nations agreed to halt all support for any rebel groups operating on each other's soil.
Despite the fact that Sudan condemned the acts of terrorism in the United States that even included the investigation and apprehension of extremists suspected of being involved in terrorist activities, the country still remains a designated state sponsor of terrorism. A number of international terrorist groups including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Egyptian al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the Palestine Islamic Jihad, and HAMAS continued to use Sudan as a safe haven, primarily for conducting logistic and other support activities.
The State Department's 1999 Patterns of Global report said that Sudan "continued to serve as a central hub for several terrorist groups, including Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organization. The Sudanese government also condoned Iran's assistance to terrorist and radical Islamist groups operating in and transiting through Sudan." According to the report, "Khartoum served as a meeting place, safehaven, and training hub for members of the Lebanese Hizballah, Egyptian Islamic Group, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, HAMAS, and the Abu Nidal organization." The Department's 2000 report credited the NIF government with taking positive steps in the fight against terrorism According to the report, by the end of 2000, "Sudan had signed all 12 international conventions for combating terrorism and had taken several other positive counter terrorism steps, including closing down the Popular Arab and Islamic Conference, which served as a forum for terrorists."54 Sudan has also been a safe haven for major terrorist figures. A particularly noteworthy example is the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden. From 1991 until early 1996 Khartoum provided bin Laden a support base and safe haven He used Sudan as a base of operations until he went to Afghanistan in mid 1996. Al-Qaeda is said to enjoy an unknown level of popular support within northern Sudanese society.55 The radical Islamic leader Hassan Turabi who sought for himself and the National Islamic Front government a leading international role on behalf of Political Islam, had been detained for most of 2001, and demonstrations of support in northern Sudan on his behalf have been modest but persistent. In late 1999 President Omar Bashir broke with Hassan al-Turabi-Sudan’s religious leader and Bashir’s long-time ally in the National Islamic Front-and appeared to make significant attempts to normalise Sudan’s relations with the West and cleanse its reputation as a leading state sponsor of terrorism.56 Since moving against Turabi at the end of 2000, President Omar Al-Bashir has attempted to moderate his external image. He has however persistently pursued a hard line Islamic rhetoric against his opponents, shown no proof of willingness to pursue a negotiated peace settlement to Sudan’s 19 year long civil war and persisted in aerial bombardments of civilian humanitarian sites in southern opposition areas.57
In addition to being an agent of terrorism Sudan has also been ravaged by a civil war since 198358, which killed an estimated two million people, complicated by issues including oil, tribal affiliation and religion. The Sudanese civil war that has raged since 1983 between the Islamic government and Christian-animist southerners of the SPLA seeking self-determination continued to devastate the southern part of the country. The conflict also affects the Nuba Mountains, where dissident Muslim rebels are represented by both the NDA and the SPLA.59 In working towards a peaceful settlement the Machakos protocol was signed between government representatives and the SPLM delegation on 20 July 2002; followed by the Nairobi agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) of Riak Machiar signed on 21 July 2002. The main points of the agreement signed by Government of Sudan and the SPLA are the following:

  • The Muslim Law (Shari’a) will be applied only in the North of the country.

  • There will be a separation between Church and State, at least in the South.

  • The present Basic Law (Constitution) will be reviewed, and, where necessary, replaced, to accommodate these changes.

  • There will be a sharing of political power between North and South, and its legitimate representatives.

  • National revenues and wealth will be shared.

  • Slavery will be banned.

  • The parties will engage in talks to obtain a quick, national ceasefire.

  • Present regional or local ceasefire agreements shall continue.

  • The South will be given the right of self-determination. After a period of six years, a vote will take place on the possibility of Southern independence.

For the SPLA the secular state is considered the best option since it includes a choice between an Islamic state or a secular democratic Sudan. As understood by the SPLA and other southern Sudanese forces, an Islamic state formula would mean that the Khartoum government would be continuously at war with those opposed to its philosophy. In other words, the separation of religion from state politics, as understood by the SPLA, is the precondition for a united Sudan.60 In mid-January 2003 the government of Sudan failed to send a delegation to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) talks that were held in Kenya after the government asserted that the wrong agenda had been adopted for the 15 January talks.61 Earlier this year, talks were delayed since the government sent its chief negotiator to Mecca for the annual haj (pilgrimage). Delaying tactics seems to characterise the relationship between Khartoum and the Machakos Peace talks. Sudan appears to be a country locked in a seemingly endless battle between politics and religion with no genuine resolution foreseen and where the two central elements politics and religion cannot offer any salvation due to its uncomfortable discourse between Sudanese civil society.

Sudan's reactions to the September 11 terrorist attacks and U.S. military actions against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have been mixed. President Omar el-Bashir condemned the terrorist attacks and expressed his government's readiness to cooperate in fighting terrorism. President Al-Bashir announced that Sudan had broken all its links to Osama bin Laden and would cooperate in identifying those responsible for the attacks. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustapha Ismail several days after the terrorist attacks, the first high-level contact between U.S. and Sudanese officials in several years. Secretary Powell stated that Sudanese officials offered to cooperate with the United States and appear eager to join the coalition. According to press reports, U.S. officials confirmed that the government of Sudan has given U.S. officials unrestricted access to files of suspected terrorists and suggested that they might be willing to hand over some of these individuals to U.S. authorities.62 In early October 2001 however, Sudan issued a statement criticizing the U.S. military action against Afghanistan, after a cabinet meeting chaired by President Bashir. The National Assembly of Sudan also criticized the U.S. military attacks against Afghanistan as "unjustified and lacking legitimacy." Meanwhile, anti-American demonstrations in Khartoum became more frequent. On October 9, 2001, Islamic clerics led several thousand protestors in an anti-American demonstration in Khartoum. Police dispersed the demonstration after protestors attempted to storm the U.S. embassy.63
In April 2002 the US also expressed concern over a speech by Sudanese President Omar Hasan al-Bashir in which he called for the establishment of camps to train militants for the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel. Washington was informed by the Sudanese government that "there was no intention of setting up camps to train militants", according to the US State Department.64 The United Nations Security Council in September 2002 lifted diplomatic sanctions against Sudan, imposed five years ago to force Sudan to hand over suspects in an assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. According to Michael Rubin if Khartoum is truly committed to the war against terrorism, then it should immediately close all terrorist training camps and open inspection on all “madrassahs”-Islamic campuses, which Sudanese say double as recruitment and training centers for militants.65 On October 21, 2002 President George W. Bush signed the Sudan Peace Act at a White House ceremony in which members of Congress, religious leaders and Sudanese activists participated declaring that:” The government of Sudan must choose between the path to peace and the path to continued war and destruction”. The government of Sudan however condemned the Sudan Peace Act referring to the Act as “the Sudan War Act”.66

In the final instance, and despite its rhetoric to the contrary, the Khartoum regime and its policies constitute a threat to its citizens as well as to the region.

4. Libya: Revolution, Radicalism, Religion and the Rogue State


The Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is the fourth-largest country on the African continent and has earned the name “the Gateway to Africa”.67 This association has been clouded by a more infamous reputation the North African state acquired. Libya in its stormy and turbulent existence has been associated more closely with a dangerous mix of Islamic inspired and state sponsored international terrorism making the nation one of only two African states on the US list of State sponsors on International Terrorism. Libyan independence coincided with the rising tide of nationalism in the Arab world as a whole and in North Africa in particular. The period was characterized by the Egyptian Revolution in 1952, the advent of the Algerian War for Independence, the question of Palestine and the emergence of the Ba’thist movement in Syria. Libyans, like so many Arab nations were caught in the atmosphere of confusion and agitation, which was by and large anti-Western.68 Young Libyan Arab nationalists viewed the post-independence regime and its “alien” institutions as an artificial structure imposed upon them by foreign powers. Various strands of thought sought to bring about change in Libya. The Islamists called for social and economic reform based on Islamic principles and the rejection of all ideologies that conflicted with Islam.69 However upon ascending to power King Idris attempted to secularise the political system, rein in radical traditionalism and bring about change. The active participation of Libyans in the political process was conspicuously absent during the monarchy, because popular political participation did not serve the interests of the ruling elite.70 The country’s wealth did not benefit Libyans at large for the Libyan government, headed by King Idris I, was considered not only authoritarian, but also corrupt.

During this period mass mobilization in Libya was deeply influenced by the Egyptian government of President Nasser. ‘Nasserism’ became the dominant ideology among the younger generation of Libyans. The monarchy’s influence rapidly declined and the urgent need to consolidate power grew. The Revolution of 1 September 1969 unseated the monarchy and brought to power Muammar Gaddafi.

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