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Sudan's struggling government offers to go '100 percent Islamic'

The government faces new pressures from the loss of territory and oil revenue to South Sudan, but the push for an Islamic constitution has much older roots. 

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Soon after, a religious fatwa declared a jihad against southern Sudan. The war had been incited by "Zionists, crusaders, and arrogant persons," the fatwa read. It concluded that "those Muslims who deal with dissidents and rebels and raise doubts about the legality of jihad are hypocrites and dissenters and apostates for the Islamic religion."

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Sharia (Islamic) laws were also made more sweeping, with maximum sentences including "death and crucifixion," the punishment for armed robbery, and execution by stoning for adultery – a sentence handed down twice in the last two months, though not likely to be carried out. Flogging is a more typical sentence these days.

"It is about politics, about trading in people's emotions and beliefs, and using them as an instrument of politics, so Islam is a commodity in the political market," lawyer Abdelghani says.

There is another motive behind the Islamic push, he adds. "When things deteriorate, we will have a constitution shaped by the president's view, but not by what Islam is," Abdelghani adds. "When he feels he needs a tool to suppress his opponents, or sees a use for religion, then he will [use] it."

Reassurances to minorities

When Bashir spoke earlier this month, he sought to reassure the public and said the new Islamic constitution would protect the rights of all and be formed with wide input.

"And we tell non-Muslims, nothing will preserve your rights except for Islamic sharia because it is just," the Sudanese president said. A drafting committee would include "all parties, religious sects, and Sufis."

Despite those words, Sudanese politicians know the way the political wind is blowing. The head of parliament's legislation, justice, and human rights committee, Al-Fadil Haj Suleiman, was quoted in the local media saying that "any constitution outside of values and religious conventions will be met with fierce resistance from the society."

He added that an Islamic constitution "may not apply Islamic laws," but was taken to task by the editor of the Sudan Vision newspaper who noted wryly in print that Sudanese citizens already had "experience in the past Islamic laws and how they were implemented."

Among the most aware of the progress – and drawbacks – of Sudan's perpetual Islamist project is Hassan al-Turabi, the erudite Islamist leader who is widely seen as the man who engineered Bashir's rise to power but has since fallen out and spent years in prison as a staunch opponent of the regime.

"This is just another slogan ... all dictators have slogans to dupe the common, innocent people," says Mr. Turabi about the push for an Islamic constitution. "If [Bashir] really now returns to Islam, [if] he is a reborn Muslim, then (a) he should go to the [ICC] immediately, because he killed not one person but thousands, and raped thousands; (b) he should immediately drop out because we don't have dictators at all," he says during an interview at his Khartoum home, which is closely monitored by security forces.

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