North Sudan: What next?

Nothing will change in Sudan until the world addresses the religious element of its conflicts.

By AYMENN JAWAD
July 10, 2011 22:37
4 minute read.
South Sudan

South Sudan 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The recent declaration of independence by South Sudan from its northern neighbor is certainly a welcome event. After two civil wars (1955-1972 and 1983-2005) that took the lives of more than 2.5 million Christians and animists, secession was the only reasonable option. Of course, there are immediate challenges for South Sudan, as it seems unlikely that 7,000 UN peacekeeping troops can protect a new nation that has vast oil reserves and a population living largely in abject poverty.

But what about North Sudan’s future? One noteworthy development in the north is the aerial bombardment targeting civilians in the Nuba Mountains, which are part of the petroleum-rich province of South Kordofan that will be the main oil producing region for North Sudan, following the south’s secession. The Nuba Mountains – once a base for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army that fought against the Arab-led government in Khartoum during the second civil war – are primarily inhabited by the Nuban people, a mixed Christian and Muslim population with their own language and culture.

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Indeed, as Amar Amoun (a Nuban MP in North Sudan’s opposition) says, the bombing is a deliberate tactic to depopulate the Nuba Mountains. With Nuban rebels starting to take up arms and hoping to achieve more civil rights or independence for the Nuban people, war with the central government appears likely, hence the potential for another humanitarian catastrophe as in Darfur.

Here is the heart of the issue. It’s all very well to have South Sudan secede, but the root of the problem has still not been addressed: namely, the traditional doctrines of jihad that underlie the Islamist and Arab supremacist ideology of the ruling elite in Khartoum.

When it comes to the warfare that has ravaged the north and south, the convention has been to describe the conflicts as simply “ethnic” or “tribal.” However, such whitewashing ignores the aggressive attempts to impose Islamic law throughout Sudan – something that has been especially clear since 1983.

In fact, numerous statements by former and current Sudanese officials confirm the prevalence of the jihad doctrine in government and military circles. For example, in a letter addressed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 24 March 1999, Sadiq al- Mahdi, a former prime minister of Sudan and now a leading critic of President Omar al-Bashir, justified the war of aggression and enslavement against the Christian and animist south as follows: “The traditional concept of jihad… is based upon a division of the world into two zones: one the zone of peace, the other the zone of war. It requires initiating hostilities for religious purposes… the traditional concept of jihad does allow slavery as a by-product.”

Implementation of these noxious ideas was not limited to the war against the south. It has extended to Darfur, a conflict that began when the settled, indigenous inhabitants complained of government discrimination in favor of the Arab nomads and accordingly took up arms. In August 2004, there was a UN resolution that gave the government 30 days to disarm the nomadic, self-identifying Arab Muslim Janjaweed militias that have committed widespread atrocities against the non-Arabs of Darfur. In response, General Mohamed Beshir Suleiman, then spokesman for the Sudanese armed forces, affirmed: “The door of the jihad is still open and if it has been closed in the south, it will be opened in Darfur.” The closure of jihad he mentions refers to the impending peace deal at the time with the south. Janjaweed militia leaders, themselves taking orders, arms and training from Khartoum, characterize their aggression as jihad. For instance, in 2004 Sheikh Musa Hilal wrote a letter to the government in which he declared that he would continue “on the road of jihad” in Darfur.

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In short, as Sadiq al-Mahdi put it: “The catastrophe that afflicted our country began with the takeover by a minority party that imposed an Arabic Islamic identity on a country of diverse religions and cultures, treating whoever did not agree with it as a renegade to be fought by jihad.”

Thus, while there is certainly an ethnic dimension to the wars that have ravaged Sudan in the sense of enforcing Arab supremacy, it goes hand in hand with traditional teachings on jihad as warfare – something that is not exclusive to Sudan.

In refusing to acknowledge the component of jihad underlying Khartoum’s actions, the UN and human rights establishment are ultimately unable to prescribe the proper remedy for the malaise that has afflicted North and South Sudan. The greater the international attention brought to the jihadist/Islamist ideology practiced by North Sudan’s government, the more likely it is that these aggressive doctrines of imposing and enforcing Islamic law will be renounced, such that North Sudan may realize Amar Amoun’s vision of a “democratic, secular Sudan where we all have rights.”

The writer is an intern at the Middle East Forum and a student at Oxford University. His website is www.aymennjawad.org

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