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Let's apologize to the Southerners rather than branding them conspirators - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Usually, it is the powerless and the defeated that tend to interpret things as a ‘conspiracy’, and place blame on others. This is the case with those who seek to brand the secession of Southern Sudan as a foreign plot. The majority of southerners want independence, as we will see from the results of the referendum, but is it conceivable that all these people are involved in a conspiracy? Some of us do not realise that the southerners’ struggle to gain independence was not a plot hatched overnight, but rather an explicit demand, dating back 50 years. Is it conceivable that a foreign conspiracy would last for 50 years, to achieve this one demand? Ultimately, branding the secession of Southern Sudan as a conspiracy is an expression of ignorance, and an insult to the nation as a whole.

There are two reasons behind the Arab conviction that the southerners’ desire for separation is merely a foreign plot: Firstly, Arabs do not know the history of the cause, and have only recently heard of the southerners’ struggle to gain independence for their own territory. As a result, they believe that it is an emergency situation, which leads them to have doubts over the timing of events. Secondly, as Arabs, we should not forget that the majority of us lived our lives chanting songs of unity and Arabism, and thus the thought of someone wishing to dismantle any Arab country is incomprehensible. As a result, the secession of Southern Sudan is deemed to be a suspicious foreign project.

Certainly, there are [foreign powers] who sympathise with the southern separatists, particularly in the West, and the South receives support from them. However, the southerners’ desire for independence, and to be free from Khartoum’s rule, is both sincere and longstanding. In fact, the South has so far paid an exorbitant price, represented in the blood of hundreds of thousands of victims. The Sudanese regime tried to go against the will of the South, and impose its rule by force, but it failed completely. Then the Naivasha Agreement was signed six years ago, whereby each party agreed upon the principle of a referendum, granting the southerners the right to self-determination, after the north had failed to impose unity by force.

The southerners’ desire for secession should not prompt us to brand them as traitors, and similarly, the foreign support offered to them does not indicate a conspiracy. Rather what matters here is their true conviction and desire. We should also not forget the fact that South Sudan, unfortunately, as it gains independence, will become one of the world’s poorest and most underdeveloped countries. The Sudanese regime could have rectified this situation, even as late as in the past 10 years, when oil became a significant source of national income, but it failed to do so. One cannot criticize the southerners for utilizing the sympathy and support of the West, when Arabs abandoned them for long decades. Had there been institutions in the Arab world acting with a noble, independent conscience, we would have not remained silent about what went on in Sudan, and the southerners would not have needed to reach out to foreigners for help. Arabs fought long and hard to gain independence from Turkish rule, and the case with Sudan is not much different.

What is required now is to approach the Southern Sudanese case with humanity, sympathy, and understanding. After a long struggle, it is now the right of southern citizens to establish their own country, as they want it. It is our moral duty to offer an apology for how they were treated in the past, rather than branding them as conspirators or traitors. This way, we can create a positive relationship with this new nation in the future.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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