Sudan closes Iranian cultural centers and expels diplomats

CAIRO - Sudan has closed all Iranian cultural centers in the country and expelled the cultural attaché and other diplomats, a government source said on Tuesday, without giving an explanation for the move.
Sudanese media speculated that the expulsions were linked to government concerns that Iranian officials were promoting their Shi'ite brand of Islam in the largely Sunni country, but there was no confirmation from authorities.
Sudan, isolated by UN and Western sanctions partly linked to its conflict in Darfur, has sought allies and donors across the sectarian divides in the Middle East and further afield.
That has often left it balancing competing interests and loyalties in the complex web of regional rivalries.
Sudan President Omar Hassan al Bashir came to power in 1989 in a bloodless coup backed by Sunni Islamists.
His country turned down an Iranian offer to set up air defenses on its Red Sea coast after a 2012 air strike Khartoum blamed on Israel, fearing it would upset Tehran's regional rival, the Sunni superpower Saudi Arabia, Sudan's foreign minister said in May.
But Sudan, where many people follow the traditional Sufi tradition of Islam, has also received delegations from senior Iranian politicians.
Saudi Arabia, a key regional ally of the United States, has been locked in a contest with non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran for influence in the Middle East.
The rivalry has effectively divided the region into two camps, with countries either allied to Saudi Arabia or to Iran.
"The Sudanese government ordered the closure of Iranian cultural centers in Sudan, and asked the Cultural Attaché and the diplomats working in office of the Iranian cultural attaché to leave Sudan within 72 hours," the government source told Reuters.
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