Politics and Islam in Contemporary Sudan

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Politics and Islam in Contemporary Sudan, by Abdel Salam Sidahmed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996. xiv + 226 pages. Notes to p. 242. Index to p. 249. $55.

For the past ten years. the Sudan has been in the international spotlight as a result of its prolonged civil war and related disasters, as well as the political orientation of its current regime. The present Sudanese government came to power through a military coup in June 1989. Since then, it has engaged in what it sees as a process of radical Islamization of state and society. This book analyzes the background of these developments and the role of Islamic discourse in contemporary Sudanese politics by synthesizing the existing literature on the political and economic history of the Sudan.

Abdel Salam Sidahmed begins the discussion by pointing out that the ascendancy of the Islamists in the Sudan is a paradox in view of the country's history and its complex social structure. The Sudan was a late convert to Islam in comparison to north and west African countries. Moreover, the spread of Islam in the Sudan occurred over centuries and was associated closely with sufi tariqas (brotherhoods). which gave Islam in the Sudan a particular character. Finally, the Sudan is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society with a sizeable non-Muslim population. According to the author, the predominance of the Islamists in the Sudan today has its roots in the country's recent past, particularly the socio-political transformation of Sudanese society under British colonial rule (1898-1956), and in the nature of the political forces that held power in the post-independence period. The author has adopted a historical approach and has centered his analysis on the socioeconomic transformation of Sudanese society to explain the rise and the ideology of the Islamist movement.

The book is divided into seven chapters, and the subjects are arranged in chronological order. The first chapter examines the political and economic impact of British colonial rule on Sudanese society, the rise of Sudanese nationalism, and the decolonization process. The second chapter focuses on political developments during the period 1956-58. Chapter three discusses the first military takeover in 1958, the popular uprising that brought it down in October 1964, and the establishment and failures of the "Second Democracy," i.e., the period of parliamentary rule from 1965 to 1969. The next chapter is devoted to the debate on the Islamic constitution, which dominated Sudanese politics in the late 1960s, and the political crises that led to the military coup of General Ja`far Numayri in 1969. The fifth chapter focuses on political developments under Numayri's regime and on the conditions that led to the emergence of the Islamic Charter Front as a dominant force in Sudanese society. This group in the mid-1980s came to be known as the National Islamic Front. The last two chapters examine Sudanese politics from 1985 to the mid-1990s, focusing on such topics as the civil war, peace efforts, the Islamists' military takeover in 1989, and their subsequent effort to establish an Islamic state in the Sudan.

Sidahmed argues that the strong association of Islam and politics in the Sudan can be traced to the colonial period and the development of nationalism. …