In this Tuesday, April 23, 2019, photo, Sudanese protesters crowd a train in the capital Khartoum. Sudanese activists were holding nationwide protests on Tuesday to press the military to hand over power to a civilian authority after the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir earlier this month.(AP Photo)

Islamist preachers in Sudan call for pro-military rally

April 26, 2019 - 11:29 am

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Islamists in Sudan long allied with ousted president Omar al-Bashir's regime called Friday for a rally to support military-backed Islamic rule in the face of alleged attempts by protesters to abolish it.

Islamist preachers have been seeking to discredit protest leaders in their religious sermons inside mosques, accusing them of seeking to undermine divine rule and impose western values of freedom, democracy and human rights.

The call for a rally on Monday came as tensions resurfaced between the ruling military council and protesters after the military said the army would "maintain sovereign powers" during the transitional period.

In his Friday sermon, Khartoum-based Salafi preacher Abdel-Hay Youssef accused the protest movement of seeking to "dictate their own will on the people."

"Did you take to the streets to impose laws that contradict people's identity and to divorce God's Shariah (Islamic law) from the government?" he asked rhetorically.

Youssef rejected the blueprint for transition to civilian rule suggested by protesters and called upon the military to protect the role of Islam in the government.

Since independence in 1956, Sudan has bounced between tumultuous party politics and military rule. But al-Bashir successfully presented himself as the leader of a new wave of "political Islam" based on an alliance between Islamists and the military.

As a young officer, al-Bashir and his army were groomed and trusted by the Islamist movement, which played a key role in propping him up for years.

After leading his coup with a few fellow officers, al-Bashir declared the imposition of Islamic Sharia law. The new rules included stoning and amputations as punishments.

The Islamists "have not stopped their attempts at regrouping themselves, but they are not capable of standing against the revolution," said Faysal Saleh, a Sudanese journalist. "Hence, they are rallying behind the military council."

Some see no imminent threat posed by Islamists, arguing they lack a solid support base in today's Sudan.

"So far these groups are standing alone and people are already resentful of them and hold them responsible for supporting al-Bashir's regime for decades," said Saleh.

However, if the military and the protesters fail to reach an agreement, the Islamists and the generals could renew their alliance.

Earlier on Friday, a military spokesman said the army would retain power during the transitional period and hand over only executive authorities to civilians.

The Sudanese Professionals' Association and other protest groups had resumed talks with the military council after briefly halting negotiations and accusing the military of stalling on relinquishing its grip following al-Bashir's ouster and arrest on April 11.

The SPA, which has spearheaded the four months of protests that toppled al-Bashir after 30 years in power, is demanding an immediate handover of power to civilians.

"This is disappointing and we did not expect to hear that," said Ahmed Rabie, a leader in the SPA, an umbrella of independent Sudanese unions. "For us, this option is completely unacceptable."

The protesters say they want a transitional council with "limited military representation" to run the country, along with an interim Cabinet until a new constitution is drafted.

The military has tried to appease the protest leaders. After talks resumed, the council announced that three of its members, widely hated for their ties to al-Bashir, had resigned.

The move made some in the protest movement think that negotiations with the military council may eventually bear fruit.

But Rabie said Friday that after the latest announcement, one wonders "whether the council has more than one center of power and whether all its members agree among themselves."

Since al-Bashir's ouster, the protesters have expressed fears the military will cling to power and undermine all attempts to set up a civilian government in a country that existed for decades under military dictatorship.

"If the military insist on holding on to sovereign powers, we will escalate our protests," said Rabie, adding that protesters could call for a national strike and civil disobedience.

Shams al-Deen al-Kabashi, the spokesman for the military council, said late Thursday the military will "maintain sovereign powers" while the Cabinet would be in the hands of civilians during a transitional period and until elections are held.

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ElHennawy reported from Cairo.

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