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Will the Arabs learn from Sudan's ordeal? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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I became deeply depressed as I looked at Sudan’s new map; a country losing more than a quarter of its area, 8 million of its population, and nearly 70 percent of its natural resources, whilst its president and senior state officials are celebrating the “accomplishment”. My depression worsened as I observed the indifferent reactions in many parts of Sudan, and in most parts of the Arab world. Are we yet to realize the size of the catastrophe inflicted upon us, and the crises that are yet to come? Or are we now addicted to failure and the tendency to fragment, and ready to accept divisions and splits without batting an eyelid?

The situation in Sudan is a reflection of the state of affairs in many Arab countries, and the causes that gradually led to its division are evident in other countries as well. One is hopeful that every one will look in the mirror and read the situation correctly, to learn a lesson from the current situation. Here is a country paying the price for failing to co-exist, establish roots of citizenship, adopt the concept of equal rights, and make diversity a source of strength rather than weakness. Doesn’t this situation carry a message to any rational minded person? If we accept Sudan’s secession today, how can we tomorrow object or refuse the division of another country, which shares similar circumstances?

The south separated [from the north] because the Sudanese failed to create genuine unity or establish roots of a true identity, on the grounds of equal citizenship which could accommodate their differences. The responsibility for such failure lies with consecutive governments, yet the majority of the responsibility lies with the military regimes, most recently the “Salvation” government. This regime not only aggravated the state of war by giving it a religious dimension, but also opted for secession in order to unilaterally seize power and impose its beliefs. By doing so, the Salvation government excluded all other political powers without consulting the northern Sudanese about their opinion on secession.

What happened will have major consequences within Sudan, as well as in the wider region and the Arab world at large. This is because any tensions or problems in the new Sudan will have their regional and international dimensions.

If war was renewed now, whereas in the past it was an internal conflict between the sons of one nation, it would be open to possible regional and international intervention, with all the subsequent consequences this may have on regional and Arab security. In addition, it goes without saying that there is currently a hidden dispute over the Nile waters, and that Israel is striving to gain a foothold in the source of the river, which flows through two Arab states. Thus security could also be destabilized there, as well as in the rest of the Arab states.

Sudan may have paid the price of secession, but it did not receive the reward of peace. Hence, the country is still far from fulfilling its dream of stability, let alone the pending problems between the South and the North, which could spark off a new war if the situation worsened. Secession may open the door for other movements in the north to lodge new demands for self-determination. For those who say that such talk is an overstatement, a quick reading of the statements issued by the leaders of some movements in Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile will provide evidence that the kettle is still boiling, and that the fire underneath may be further ablaze. On the day of secession, the head of the Sudan Liberation Movement, Minni Arko Minawi, was quoted as saying that the reasons for the separation were not limited to the south, but they in fact exist in other parts of Sudan as well. Listing some of the reasons, Minawi said they included “the false identity that does not reflect all the peoples of Sudan, the unilateral culture being imposed, the mismanagement of the country’s resources, the lack of equal development, the capital city’s war against marginalized provinces; having targeted the Sudanese people in the south, Darfur, the east, the southern Blue Nile, Kordofan and the far North, and the lack of equal citizenship for all.”

He concluded his statement by calling for the unification of all armed movements in Darfur, as well as in “all other marginalized provinces”, in order to achieve what he termed as the inevitable change “through the elimination of the Salvation regime, so a real country can be rebuilt in the remaining parts of Sudan, and a civil state can be established that reflects the hybrid nature of the Sudanese people.”

The same rhetoric was used by the leaders of other armed movements in Darfur, southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile, all being northern provinces adjacent to the lengthy border separating the south and the north. This means that these borders will not be calm, and will remain vulnerable to the fluctuating relations between Khartoum and Juba. President Omar al-Bashir and Silva Kirr Meredith, President of Southern Sudan, have brandished such problems both before and during the declaration of the independent state in the south. Al-Bashir was even more explicit when he said on several occasions that Abyei is a northern province, and that if the south is determined on taking control of the province, the war between the two sides would be renewed. He also announced his refusal to negotiate with the militias in Kordofan and the Blue Nile, threatening the south of the consequences if any movements are carried out by northerners there, who were once enrolled in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), later on becoming the official army of South Sudan. According to estimations, the number of northerners recruited in the South Sudanese army stands at 24,000, the majority being from the Nuba Mountains.

It should be noted that Silva Kirr, despite his talk of special relations with the north, and his determination to work towards solving the pending problems with Khartoum by peaceful means, he addressed an indirect message to al-Bashir in his speech announcing the birth of the Republic of South Sudan. He said “I would like to emphasize to the people of Abyei, Darfur, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan that we did not forget them, when you cry, we do cry too, and when you bleed, we do too.”

The writing is on the wall that Sudan is likely to encounter further problems. It is important for the Sudanese, as well as for the Arab world, to work to establish positive relations with the south, not only to end wars and tension, but also to leave the door open for possible integrations or confederations between the south and the north in the future. If the secession was the price to be paid for the mistakes of the past, what is required now is for Sudan not to repeat such mistakes, and for the other parts of the Arab world, it is a necessity to learn lessons from what has happened there.

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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