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Islamic Movement conference to kick off in charged climate

November 14, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The 8th General Conference of Sudan’s Islamic Movement (IM) is due to start in the capital Khartoum today with the participation of 4000 members, and amid reports of latent grievances over the group’s association with the National Congress Party (NCP) and its 23-year rule of the country.

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FILE PHOTO - Sudanese Muslims attend morning prayers to celebrate Eid al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan, the holiest month on the Islamic calendar, on the outskirts of El Fashir, North Dafur, Aug. 19, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Albert Gonzalez Farran/UNAMID)

The conference will also be attended by foreign Islamist figures including the leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda Movement, Rashid al-Ghannushi, and representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as well as Asian and African Islamists.

The IM conference acquires significance in light of the complex political context in which it is taking place as well as reports of internal calls for change and total disassociation with the NCP over its failures in governing the country and the effect of that experience on the image of Islamists and their future political aspirations.

The IM was created by the NCP following the 1999 schism with its former leader Hassan Al-Turabi and his supporters who formed the Popular Congress Party (PCP).

Al-Turabi’s PCP already said it will boycott the conference describing the event as PR for the NCP.

The IM was designed to exist as a parallel and broader political base to support the Islamist orientation of the NCP regime and rally Sufi and radical Islamist groups under its umbrella, while excluding the PCP.

The NCP dominates the IM with Sudan’s Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha serving as its Secretary General.

The conference is expected to witness heated discussions over a host of issues that occurred since the IM’s last General Conference four years ago, including the secession of South Sudan, the rise of Islamists to power in Tunisia and Egypt, and the NCP’s rule of the country.

Grassroots conferences preceding the General Conference revealed widespread discontent among the IM’s youth and students about the NCP leadership of the country and its responsibility for the secession of South Sudan. Youth members also spoke about the spread of corruption and tribalism in the NCP.

Sana Hamad Al-Awad, the IM’s media secretary, told reporters on Wednesday that all arrangements had been finalized to launch the conference, adding that invitations were extended to more than 170 foreign delegations as well as leaders of political parties and representatives of civil society groups.

She added that the event will discuss issues of reorganizing the IM’s internal structures including the General Secretariat and the Shura Council.

The conference will create a new constitution for the IM and discuss proposed papers on the concept of an Islamic State, the impact of South Sudan secession, general guidelines for the country’s constitution and the economy. The event will also elect 400 members to the Shura Council.

Ibrahim Ahmad Omer, the chairman of the preparation committee for the conference, said that the election of a new secretary-general will not be done direct suffrage but through the Shuran council that will be elected and according to the new constitution that will be drafted.

Omer commented on media reports that Rashid al-Ghannushi is coming to the conference with an initiative to re-unite the NCP and PCP. He said that they in the NCP are open to hear any proposals.

He also addressed the controversy surrounding the election of a new IM secretary-general saying that the competition over this issue does not scare them.

In a recent interview with Sudan Tribune, Al-Turabi said that he expects Ibrahim Ahmad Omer to be elected as new secretary-general of the IM.

The IM’s current secretary-general Ali Osman Mohammed Taha will not be able to run as an incumbent because the current constitution does not allow more than two terms in the position. Taha was elected to the position during the last conference after facing strong competition with current presidential adviser Ghazi Salah Al-Din Al-Atabani.

It is not clear whether Al-Atabani intends to run again but insiders say the man has recently stepped out of decision-making circles due to what they described as his unhappiness with the way the NCP has handled a number of sensitive issues lately.