Everywhere I went this week, I ended up thinking about Sudanese youth movements and political debates.
Dr Haidar Ibrahim Ali (whose book السودان …الوطن المضيع I’m enjoying right now) has a piece translated on al Monitor in which he argues that Islamists, after ruling for such a long time in Sudan, have created a governing structure that rejects all debate. Because of this, they have fractured over and over again, and these fractures will ultimately lead to the fall of the regime.
Around the same time, al Monitor published a piece by Zenobia Azeem in which she argues that the Sudanese government’s restrictive policies, including a restrictive education system and heavy censorship, have led to a “lost generation” of Sudanese youth. Showcasing a young man who reached out to extremist Islam only to become disenchanted with the intellectual and political prospects within Sudan, Azeem’s piece underscores the possibility of change through education and youth involvement—activities that Nabeel Mohamed, the young man Azeem interviews, is only able to reach through activities outside of Sudan.
The need to go outside Sudan in order to learn and be involved with activities within Sudan is something that has been present historically—after all, many of the early Sudanese leaders were educated outside of Sudan. Still, I think the phenomenon that Muniness points to on Muftah of Sudanese youth in diaspora being involved in a “neoopposition” movement against the Sudanese government is a new one, facilitated by ICT technology. The question remains: to what end? What goals other than regime change are these youth groups pushing for?
Dr. Ali’s analysis of the current regime’s ideological prospects carries quite a lot of weight. He points to the fact that many Islamists who used to sympathize from the regime no longer are able to support it due to its rigidity (although he also argues that such rigidity is inherent in a religious ideological framework—something I’m no entirely convinced of). Even this week, we see a further fracturing of the regime, with the defection of Attabani from the NCP.
At the same time, neither he nor Azeem addresses the way that the NCP, with its “Islamic civilization” project and overhaul of the education system, has changed the frame of debate for Sudanese youth today. What ideas are Sudanese youth exposed to? What is now ‘mainstream’ and what is ‘radical?’ How do the ideas of Sudanese youth with access to Western education (and I use the term broadly) differ from those of Sudanese youth without that access?
Muzan speaks to some of these issues, arguing that groups such as Change Now and Girifna must develop their own political and intellectual frameworks in order to advance causes that are not just oppositional, but also put forward visions of how Sudan should be. In doing so, these groups will able to better make alliances and attract members.
I think that’s starting to happen—and that it’s quite needed. Right now, it seems important to get a sense of the spectrum of opinions that youth hold today; no one set of ideas has mobilized them yet, but that might change soon. This “lost generation” will create ideas distinct from its predecessors; the conditions for debate have shifted, and activities that were once normal are no longer present in society. This will change ideas of what is possible and what is preferable. As youth organizations move beyond the polarizing political debates of the past, it will be exciting to see what they create–whatever happens next will require a constructive vision of what can be. I’m looking forward to seeing what that looks like.