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Asharq Al-Awsat Talks to the SPLM's Yasser Arman - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] Deputy Secretary General Yasser Arman, the influential leading member of the ruling party in South Sudan, has said that the North Sudan State will need new constitutional arrangements if the southerners vote for secession at the self-determination referendum, which will take place next Sunday, 9 January 2011.

Arman, member of the SPLM Political Bureau, says that what Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said, “Pan-Arabism and Islam will be the identity of the north after secession,” is not correct, and is not compatible with the interests of Islam and pan-Arabism. Arman explains, “What Al-Bashir has said is not in defense of Islam, but it is in defense of power, because during the past years Shariaa was exploited to preserve power.” Arman calls on the ruling National Congress Party [NCP] led by President Al-Bashir to look for “a new project that encompasses all, and to utilize the experience of the south.” Arman says, “He can do this if he wishes. They have to move in the direction of Tayyip Erdogan, and not that of the Taliban.”

Arman says that the SPLM northern sector, which he leads, will be the nucleus of a new party that carries the name and ideas of the SPLM, but that is completely independent from it.

Arman rejects the claim that the southern state will be built “on the basis of racial segregation” that excludes the northerners who fought it. Arman says: “We will be the nucleus in the north; we will carry the ideas of the SPLM in the north, the same as the Green parties that are widespread in Europe, the Christian Democrats, the International Muslim Brotherhood Movement, the Baath Parties, and the Socialist parties from Spain to South Africa.” Arman adds: “What makes Al-Qaradawi come to mediate to unify the Islamist movement in Sudan? This is not being an agent, it is common ideas.”

[Asharq Al-Awsat] We are on the verge of the birth of a new state in South Sudan. Is this the result for which you have fought for years? What is your impression now; are you sad or happy?

[Arman] It is not the result for which we aspired, and it is not the result of which we have been dreaming. We, the same as millions of Sudanese, regret this situation. We wanted a new united Sudan, because Sudan was, and still is a great project, not only for us, but for the entire Africa, and both the Arab and Muslim worlds.

This country includes more than 570 tribes, 32 languages, 7,000 years of history, and a trillion square miles of land; it could have preserved its unity by introducing fundamental reforms to its national project, and to the authority in its center in Khartoum. This has not happened. Therefore, the march to fulfill this project will be longer than we expected, but we and the upcoming generations will continue to work to achieve this goal, and if our generation does not achieve it, the next generations will continue the march.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] As we reach this conclusion (secession), can we judge your experiment, together with that of the other people in the south and the north, to have failed?

[Arman] Let us look at things in perspective. This is a failure of the Sudanese political structure since 19 December 1955 (the declaration of independence in the Sudanese Parliament). This is a 55-year old failure.

However, the NCP shoulders the largest responsibility, because for the past 20 years, the south has been an arena for jihad. The NCP introduced the issue of religion as a major issue in the conflict, and hence drove the country into a major sedition, which still is continuing.

Second, the declaration of principles of IGAD[Inter-Governmental Authority on Development] calls for the state to be based on citizenship, and if this is not possible, the southerners have the right to demand self-determination. The NCP leadership considered that the right to self-determination is the easier and better option for it, and hence it has worked for it.

Third, the peace agreement in Sudan has been designed for building structural and construction reforms in the Sudanese State and authority. What happened is that three days after implementing the agreement, Qutbi al-Mahdi (one of the leading members of the NCP) announced that the presence of Dr John Garang (the late leader of the SPLM) means the presence of a person affiliated to Israel in the Presidential Palace. After the departure of Garang, the NCP tried to swallow and divide the SPLM, but it failed. The NCP refused to introduce reforms for which we kept calling, and insisted that the south should remain the south, and the north should remain the north.

The result is that the south is going to secede from Sudan as the southern parliamentary leaders predicted in 1955 when they said, “If the demands of the southerners are not met, the south will secede as Pakistan seceded from India.”

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are those, even within the SPLM, who say that secession is a betrayal of the principles of Garang?

[Arman] We have fought for unity, and offered sacrifices to preserve it. However, the condition of unity always has been to establish it on new bases, as Garang called. When we decided to join the SPLM in its beginning, this was out of our belief in the principles for which Garang was calling. Contrary to Ananya [Southern Sudan Liberation Movement] (southern rebel movement), which fought for 17 years (1955-1972) for the secession of the south, Garang (founder of the SPLM in 1983) came with a new vision based on unifying Sudan on new bases.

We have fought for this, and we were met with strong resistance from the southern nationalists and from the central authority in Khartoum. The NCP has pushed strongly for separating the south by adopting repulsive policies that do not recognize the others and their right to be different. The NCP waged a war in Darfur, and turned the cities into depots for the poverty-stricken. What is even more dangerous is that other regions might secede from Sudan if the situation continues as it is now. Therefore, it is imperative to establish political reforms in Khartoum.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not think that what you have reached is the result of policies of “hysteria?” Both sides were presenting their projects in a hysterical way?

[Arman] The cause is not hysteria, but it is the result of refusing to establish a national project that involves all. Sudan is like a mini-Africa, and it suffers from a chronic issue in the African continent, namely how to build a national project that encompasses multi-ethnicity and multi-culture. The countries that have problems similar to those of Sudan, and that have not worked to absorb the diversity, have all failed. Thus, we need a new national project so that we preserve what remains of the north.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But President Al-Bashir denies that there is such diversity in the north. Recently he said that after the south secedes, Islamic Shariaa and pan-Arabism will be the identity of all?

[Arman] This is not in the interest of Islam and pan-Arabism. What Al-Bashir has said is not in defense of Islam, but it is in defense of power, because during the past years Shariaa was exploited to preserve power. Islamic Shariaa calls for equality and justice, and it is not based on punishing only the weak among the wrongdoers, but also the prominent people, “If Fatimah the daughter of Muhammad stole, Muhammad would sever her hand [Hadith].” All religions descended to consecrate the values of justice. However, what the NCP does is consecrating a totalitarian state, and the oppression of the people. Garang used to say that the Sudanese have to be Sudanese first, before they are Africans, Arabs, Muslims, or Christians.

We also say that not all the northerners are Arabs. There are the Dunqula, the Mahs, and the Nubian tribes (extreme north of Sudan), the Beja tribes (east), the Al-Fur tribes, the Zaghawa tribes, and the Masalit tribes (west); they all are non-Arab tribes. Therefore the talk of Al-Bashir is not correct, and w ill not lead to stability in Sudan. The NCP has to find a new project that encompasses all, and to utilize the experience of the south. The NCP can do this if it wants to do so. The NCP ought to move in the direction of Tayyip Erdogan, and not that of the Taliban.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you see the scenarios during the upcoming weeks and days, after the referendum, and what are the apprehensions?

[Arman] There are apprehensions, and the worst of them is that the contentious issues, such as the borders and Abye, are not settled after the referendum. It is imperative to prevent the occurrence of war, and a war cannot be avoided except by resolving the pending issues of contention through a strategic plan based on a policy of “mutual dependence,” which means that the south supports the north with what it needs, and the north supports the south with what it needs. Strategic relations ought to be established so that the north becomes the window of the south to the Arab and Muslim worlds, and its gate to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, and the Middle East, and the south becomes the window of the north to South and East Africa. We ought to work to establish a union between two independent states. We should not create an atmosphere of hostility. There ought to be a neighborhood of attraction.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] On the basis of the data on the ground now, which are the more likely scenarios, those leading to cooperation, or those leading to disagreement?

[Arman] The data can change every day. We have held meetings with President Al-Bashir and his assistant Nafi Ali Nafi, and we have presented ideas that have found echoes. What we lack now is the political will. Al-Bashir can meet with Salva Kiir within two days and they can agree fundamental decisions that would lead to a strategic agreement based on “mutual dependence.” This is not miraculous, and it might happen. I wish that Al-Bashir would go to the south on the day of announcing the result of the referendum, and would deliver a speech in which he opens the doors of hope, and opens a new page of cooperation, while Salva Kiir would be in Khartoum delivering a message to the north on building new relations based on unity, which could be built now on joint union between two countries. North is not going to be the north of Afghanistan, and south will not be the south of Brazil. The two countries will not be viable and capable of survival except by adopting courageous decisions.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people point out that there are divisions in the movement. You have participated in a meeting with the leaders of the parties in which the issue of toppling the regime was discussed, and after which SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum spoke stressing that the SPLM was against toppling Al-Bashir’s regime. This means that you are speaking with two different tongues?

[Arman] This has not happened. Neither I nor he made statements. We have adopted the principle of dialog with the political powers. What happened at the meeting with the leaders of the parties is that they discussed the need to establish new arrangements in the north, after the secession, through a constitutional conference to be attended by all political powers to present a vision of the way to govern the north. The idea of forming a national government was presented. When the NCP rejected these steps, the political powers were unanimous on toppling the regime. We in the SPLM also called for convening a constitutional conference to decide the way the south would be governed, and the formation of a national government. What we have said is agreed by all the leaders of the movement. Also the north needs new constitutional arrangements; this is what we stressed at the meeting with the political parties.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Secretary General Pagan Amum has said also that the northern sector of the SPLM, which you lead, will split from the movement, and will be a political party in the north that will have nothing to do with the SPLM. Does this mean that you will abandon your membership of the SPLM after the secession?

[Arman] Pagan’s talk came after a lengthy meeting between us in which we agreed on the gradual disengagement between the northern sector and the SPLM in the south within six months. This is the period that immediately follows the referendum when the disengagement will take place at all the legislative, executive, and political levels between the north and the south. The movement will convene a meeting of the Liberation Council and the Executive Bureau in the south in which the experiment will be assessed, and two completely independent organizations will be established, an organization in the north and another in the south. We will have no links other than the ideas, the same as the Greens in Norway and Britain, the Christian Democrats in Germany and Italy, and the same as the links between the Muslim Brotherhood movements across the world.

The SPLM is not the only party that will take this step; all the parties that include the two sides, such as the Ummah Party and the Democratic Unionist Party; they all will have branches here and there. There is a six-month period during which the parties have to organize their situation. I believe that the presence of these parties on both sides can constitute a nucleus of unity in the future.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the new party have the same name, the SPLM?

[Arman] The organizations will have the name SPLM; however, if the members want to change the name, this will be their business.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are voices that call for ostracizing the SPLM in the north, and not allowing it to form a party?

[Arman] They will not be able to do this, because the presence of the SPLM on the ground is extensive, legal, and constitutional. It is older than the NCP with its current name in the political life. It is very important to be rational. This is because the presence of parties that carry joint ideas in the south and the north can be a unification factor, the same as it happened in Europe, where the parties and the civil society institutions played the principal role in unifying the continent. We should not be viewed with hostility and as a threat to security. We are a point of meeting, and we can contribute to the establishment of strong relations between the north and the south in the future. We would like to remind you that the SPLM has forces “from the northerners” who work with the armed forces, has former fighters who ought to be employed in the democratic peaceful work, and has a number of fighters that is greater than the number of all the fighters of the Darfur movements put together. We should not forget this, because slipping into negative perceptions will harm the stability of the north after the prolonged suffering in the south. We do not want another south to be established in the northern state calling for the same demands of the south that has seceded.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What will happen to the northerners who are members of the SPLM? Can they assume posts in the southern state? What will their fate be?

[Arman] The northerners in the SPLM have nothing to do with the south; they are strugglers who fought in the north in the same way they fought in the south. They are everywhere in Sudan. They are in 15 northern governorates. They are a principal power in the north, and they will be an independent movement that will not receive orders from any foreign side. It will be an internal movement that carries the same name and ideas, the same as the Baath parties across the world carry the same ideas, and the same as the Islamist movements carry the same ideas everywhere in the world. What makes Sheikh Al-Qaradawi confer with the leaders of the Islamist movement in Sudan, and meet every now and then? What makes Al-Qaradawi come to mediate to unify the Islamist movement in Sudan? This is not being an agent, it is common ideas. What gathers the Labor parties in Europe, and the Greens and the Socialist parties from Spain to South Africa, and make them meet periodically to draw up their programs, ideas, and directions?

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What I mean is: Will the northerners in the SPLM relinquish their membership in the mother southern movement?

[Arman] They will form an independent SPLM in North Sudan.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will Yasser Arman relinquish his membership of the SPLM after secession?

[Arman] I will be part of the SPLM in the north. There is an SPLM in the south, whose members are southerners and another in the north for the northerners. They are organizationally separate, but they meet in the ideas, as it happens across the world.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not think that this is “racial segregation?” As long as the issue is an intellectual one, why should not be northerners occupying posts in the southern state?

[Arman] This is not racial segregation. This is intellectual segregation. There is a constitutional and legal framework. Moreover, I do not want to go to the south; I am a northern citizen, and I have not fought and struggled to be a southern citizen, I joined as a northern citizen, but Sudan is no longer united.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do the statutes of the SPLM allow the northern members to assume senior posts?

[Arman] My dear sir, this is a new situation that has never existed before. There will be two states; this is a grave event, this is a tsunami on the basis of which a new situation will emerge, a situation that has not been experienced or legislated for before. Now, our decision is clear; we will establish an independent SPLM in the north.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the name of the new state?

[Arman] This is an issue to be decided by the South Government and the political powers there.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Also voices are rising in the north calling for changing the name of Sudan?

[Arman] We are against this idea completely. This tendency is expressed by the newspapers that invest in hatred and sedition in Khartoum, and they call for changing the name of North Sudan. The north and the south ought to keep the name Sudan, because it is a spiritual bond, and it reflects the reality on the ground in Sudan. We have come from a long history, we have many cultures, and we are black citizens. Being black does not denounce us, our culture, or our humanity. This is the name we have carried and by which we have been known in the world, and of which we take pride. We do not want to change it, and hence change the songs and poetry we have written, and change our soul. Sudan is a historical odyssey, not all of which is wars, but it also has many bright aspects, and on whose territories historical kingdoms and states were established.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it possible that we might witness a conflict over changing the name?

[Arman] My dear sir, what is more important than the name is whether or not the newly-born state will be a democratic one. Will it be a state of social justice? Will it respect diversity? Will it bring a new national construction project that unites and does not divide the southerners? Will the state be similar to the experience of Khartoum, or will it be a new Juba?

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you apprehensive that there will be obstacles facing the establishment of your project of the new Sudan in the south?

[Arman] Of course we are apprehensive. There is a major challenge that will occur after the liberation stage. We will face a challenge in establishing a democratic rule that fights corruption, respects diversity and pluralism, offers services and development, and establishes strategic relations with the north.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your reply you used the word liberation. Do you mean it?

[Arman] Yes I mean it. The war took place in the south; it erupted because of just causes. There were real injustices. However, we have been saying that secession is not the solution; the solution is the establishment of a national democratic state.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You say that the armies in the Blue Nile are larger than those in Darfur. What are you hinting at? Can you lead a new conflict?

[Arman] This is not a hint. It is a warning that the democratic peaceful solution is the preferred option for all sides. The state ought to adopt realistic policies, and there ought to be agreement and unanimity on constitutional arrangements in the north that respect diversity. We will work for the establishment of peaceful democracy that restores the political life. We have tried the war, and we are against it completely, and we do not want to return to it at all. Those who are pursuing conflict ought to stop this, because this is not beneficial either for them or for us.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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