Thousands of government-linked Islamists begin meeting in Sudan on Thursday, under pressure from Arab Spring-inspired reformers who say the Islamic regime has drifted from its religious foundation.
Reformers say corruption and other problems have left the vast African nation’s government Islamic in name only, and question how much longer President Omar al-Bashir should remain in office.
But those calling for change lack the power to impose their views, and their hopes for the three-day meeting will be dashed, predicted Khalid Tigani, an analyst and chief editor of the weekly economic newspaper Elaff.
“So this may lead to a new split” in the Islamic Movement, he said.
The Islamic Movement, a social group at the heart of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP), is holding its first national conference since uprisings and civil war began driving out authoritarian leaders around the region in 2011.
While Islamists gained power through democratic elections in Egypt and Tunisia, a coup 23 years ago installed Sudan's Islamist regime -- and it is still there.
Mahjoub Mohamed Salih, publisher of the independent Al-Ayaam newspaper, said the conference would highlight divisions between grassroots Islamists and NCP loyalists, though he does not see the movement fracturing.
Some Islamists are now saying openly to the NCP: “You are just using Islam as a rationalization for things which are un-Islamic,” Salih said.
It is a “corrupt dictatorship, cruel dictatorship,” said Hassan al-Turabi, a key figure behind the 1989 coup. He broke with Bashir years later and formed his Islamist opposition party, the Popular Congress.
Turabi says he does not want Bashir's regime associated with Islam.
Amin Hassan Omer, from the Islamic Movement's ruling secretariat, said he expects such comments from critics but it is “nonsense” to suggest there is widespread dissatisfaction among younger Islamists over corruption.
Omer admitted reformers would be disappointed despite “a general sense of urgency for change" in the Islamic Movement, including the need for a younger leadership.
While only about 12 percent of NCP members come from the Islamic Movement, most of the party leadership belongs to the movement, said Omer, a state minister in the presidency.
The Islamic Movement is “one of the tools used by those who are in power to give themselves legitimacy among the Islamists, to continue controlling the government, the National Congress, in the name of Islam,” said Tigani, who calls himself an independent Islamist.
Ali Osman Taha, a government vice president, has been the Islamic Movement's secretary general for two terms and is not eligible to run again.
Analysts say he is a possible successor to Bashir, who has announced he will step down as ruling party leader late next year.
Questions over Bashir's future were reinforced when, according to official media, he “underwent a successful surgical operation in the vocal cords” last week in Saudi Arabia. It was his second minor operation in less than four months.
On the eve of the Islamic Movement conference, however, Bashir returned to Khartoum, smiling to thousands of supporters who lined streets around the airport to welcome him.