Yasir Arman : « The Sudan Question : A Failure of Nation-building and the Experience of Political Islam »

Nous reproduisons l’intervention que Yasir Arman, Secrétaire général du SPLM-Nord et Secrétaire des affaires extérieures du Front révlutionnaire du Soudan (SRF) a réalisée au Monterey Institute for International Studies, sur l’invitation de l’ONG Global Majority.


  • What is the Northern Question?  What is the Sudan Question?
  • Why Sudan is a Failed State
  • The Humanitarian Crisis:  Humanitarian Aid Before Politics, the Priority is to Save Lives Now
  • Political Islam Threatens African Unity
  • The New Dawn and the Way Forward
  • The Sudan Union:  A Union of Two Independent States
  • Conclusion


Let me express my gratitude and appreciation to the Sudanese community and activists in California, to the Monterey Institute for International Studies, Global Majority, and to Nicholas, Michael and Hamdan who made this gathering possible today to reflect on one of the most important African questions, the Sudan question, which is in essence a question that is facing and challenging most of the African countries – nation building and national formation.

In my presentation today, I will put more emphasis on the political Islam experience in Sudan, which resulted in genocide, war crimes and the secession of South Sudan; and given the increasing role of the political Islam movement in Africa today and its threat to the African unity and stability, the experience of Sudan needs to be taken seriously by Africans and Africa.  Let us start with the definition of the Sudan question from our perspective in the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement. 


What is the Northern Question?  What is the Sudan Question?


  • Sudan is often perceived in terms of dichotomies of North-South, Muslim-Christian, Arabs-Africans; these are oversimplifications of the Sudanese question. After the independence of the Republic of South Sudan, the North could now be seen as an entity of its own.  It should be seen as the Sudan question.


  • The Northern question is a crisis emanating from the lack of an inclusive national project of nation-building and a correct national formation process based on the objective realities of Sudan and on the historical and contemporary diversities.


  • Building a society for all regardless of ethnic, religious and gender background; and based on democracy, social justice and a balanced relation between the centre and the peripheries, that is what we define as the New Sudan.


  • The present national project is based on limited parameters that marginalize and exclude the majority of the Sudanese people on cultural, religious, economic, political and gender bases.


  • Marginalization and dictatorships produce continuous wars and instability.


  • The mis-management, non-recognition of diversities, lack of democracy and social justice lead the people of South Sudan to choose an independent state.


  • A new political and geographical South has emerged in the North: it is obvious that Sudan will not remain without a new geographical South after the old traditional South has gone.


  • It is equally obvious that the old South was not just geography – it has a human dimension in the first place, it was the long struggle for recognition of diversity, democracy and social justice that continues in the new South of the Northern Sudan.


  • It is worth mentioning that the new South of the North politically includes women, Arab tribes and non-Arab tribes all over Sudan (Rizeigat, Messeriya and Rashaida in Eastern Sudan, and many others are part of the new South), again it includes the marginalized of the rural areas and the urban poor who are the majority.


  • The policies and decisions of the ruling National Congress Party created a full-scale war in the new geographical South of Northern Sudan, from Darfur to Blue Nile.  In addition, the relationship between Sudan and the newly-independent Republic of South Sudan is a sour one loaded with a lot of unfinished business.


  • You can only have two viable states and strategic relations between Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan when Khartoum is transformed and the two states share the same values.  Democratic states rarely fight against each other.  Having good relations between Juba and Khartoum under the rule of war criminals is like having good relations between France and Germany under the rule of Hitler.


  • As a result of intransigence of the National Congress leadership to maintain the old policies that led to the split of the South, as they were based on hegemony, limited parameters and a bankrupt ideology- that does not recognize the diversity of Sudan as stated in General Bashir’s speeches – like the famous Gaddaref speech and many others that followed the independence of the South.  General Bashir’s rhetoric laid the foundation in order for him to start the war in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.


  • Based on the above policies the National Congress targeted the SPLM-N, which is viewed by them as a formidable immanent political and military threat.  As a consequence, they started the war in South Kordofan, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile that resulted in the displacement of more than 900,000 civilians including those who crossed the borders as refugees in the Republic of South Sudan and Ethiopia.


  • All this came at the time when the Darfur crisis has not been resolved and the partial solutions in Abuja and Doha did not address the root causes of the problem.  The same perpetrators are the ones in charge and the piecemeal solution was based on impunity.  This situation necessitated that the SPLM-N and the Sudanese liberation movements, emanating from Darfur, came together as the Sudan Revolutionary Front, forming a democratic coalition that is starting to attract and mobilize the Sudanese opposition forces all over Sudan for regime change.


  • Given the historical experience of past popular uprisings and armed struggles, the fundamental change in Sudan can only be achieved when Khartoum is transformed.  It is Khartoum’s policies that excluded and marginalized the majority of Sudanese people and it is Khartoum too that fought Southern Sudan, Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, Eastern Sudan and Darfur.  The permanent solution can only be achieved by transforming the center where wrong policies emanate, not from the periphery.   The present Republic of Sudan after the independence of South Sudan has a history that goes back eight thousand years ago that was part of the Great Nile Valley Civilization and that carries a continuing historical diversity.  It consists of more than four hundred different tribes and more than sixty different languages.  To address the historical and contemporary diversity, Sudan needs a new social, political, economic and cultural dispensation that is based on citizenship, democracy and social justice and separation of religion from state.


  • Any fundamental change and a just and permanent peace would require a holistic approach that will be a departure from a piecemeal approach.  As of now, General Bashir signed around 43 peace agreements and dishonored all of them totally or partially and denied any opportunity to transform the center.


  • The interesting situation is that Bashir and some of his colleagues are wanted by the international justice and that practically means that the international community is for regime change.  But at the same time, the practice by the international community has been to denounce any call for regime change.


  • The other paradox is that while President Bashir has been indicted as a war criminal, the international community continues to recognize and deal with him and his regime; and at the same time, they shy away from dealing with the representatives of the victims as in the case of the Sudan Revolutionary Front.  It is high time for the international bodies to recognize and to deal with those who have been victimized and their legitimate representatives.


  • It is evidently clear that any approach to achieve a permanent peace will require a popular process that will involve the people – not compromises between job seekers and a settlement that would only address the interests of the elites.  Whether it is a constitutional process or peace agreement, it must include all political parties.


  • The SPLM-N suggests an interim or transitional period that would be tasked to hold a constitutional conference for all political forces and civil societies in Sudan to answer the historical question which remains unanswered since the independence of Sudan in 1956, “how Sudan is going to be ruled” before “who is going to rule Sudan.”


  • At the end of the day, the current junta in Khartoum has only two options – they either accept change or they are going to be changed.  In the case that they accept change, we in the SPLM-N, we proposed in our meetings last week in Washington and at the United Nations in New York, that the Addis Ababa and Doha forums, which are meant to resolve the issues of war in Sudan, can only achieve their objective by having one forum from Doha and the AUHIP that will settle comprehensively the problem of Sudan once and for all.  That is why we are calling for a joint single forum.  In case the regime in Khartoum continues to refuse the comprehensive peaceful settlement, the only options that would remain is for Sudanese to topple the regime and to establish a new democratic system based on the equal right of citizenship.


Why Sudan is a Failed State:


By all objective measures, Sudan today is totally a failed state that is using more than 70% of its national budget in a war against its own people and allocating less than 2% for health and education and is recognized internationally as one of the most corrupt states.  98% of its people live below the poverty line, the “mother of all failures.”   Sudan lost a quarter of its people and one third of its geography as a result  of failing to recognize its own diversity that led the people of South Sudan to choose an independent state; and the continuation of the same policies, threatens the present and future of Sudan.  Again, the Government of Sudan committed genocide and war crimes against its own citizens and high ranking officials are indicted including the President and the Minister of Defense.  These can only happen in a failed state.  In addition, the civil war took more than 38 years from the Independence of Sudan and the culture of impunity is the currency of today.  More than 4 million of Sudan’s citizens are either displaced or are refugees, immigrants or exiled.


The Humanitarian Crisis:  Humanitarian Aid Before Politics, The Priority is to Save Lives Now


On the eve of the independence of South Sudan, on June 5, 2011, General Bashir immediately started the war in the Nuba Mountains and later ignored all efforts by the AUHIP, Ethiopia and the international community.  He disowned the June 28, 2011 agreement which was meant to end the war in the Nuba Mountains and he expanded the war to Blue Nile at the time when he was continuing the war in Darfur.  Furthermore, he denied access for any humanitarian assistance to the two areas.  As of now, the two areas represent the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa.  Civilians are forced to flee the country as refugees and many more are internally displaced and denied humanitarian access for more than 18 months.  They are regularly bombarded by the Sudan air and infantry forces.  Today, more than 900,000 of the civilian population are internally displaced and are refugees.  And as you know, denying humanitarian access is a war crime in international humanitarian law.  The aerial and ground bombardment is continuing day and night.


The SPLM-North has signed two agreements on February 18, 2012 and August 4, 2012 with the tripartite group, the African Union, Arab League and the United Nations.  Both agreements are frustrated by Khartoum, whose objective remains the same – to buy time and to continue denying humanitarian assistance as part of their war strategy.  The SPLM-North is calling on the AUHIP and the IGAD Chair, who are tasked with implementing the UNSC Resolution 2046 to develop a new approach that would not allow Khartoum to buy time and to do business as usual as is the case with the tripartite group.   The SPLM-North is ready for an immediate cessation of hostilities that will result in a conducive atmosphere to deliver humanitarian assistance and to reach a comprehensive solution for Sudan’s problems and it will add value and put an effective safe demilitarized zone between the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan especially since the SPLM-North is controlling more than 40% of the international border between the two Sudans.


At the same time the situation is deteriorating in Darfur, which is witnessing a new wave of war crimes as the case in Hashaba and Kutom and Mara Mountain whereby war crimes are being sponsored by the Government of Khartoum, and the African peacekeeping force in the region are helpless as a result of their mandate and the manipulation of the Khartoum government.  They are peacekeepers in a region where there is no peace to keep, and the major stakeholders and the party to the conflict are not part of the process.  The Doha Agreement is being used by Khartoum as a cover to commit more war crimes and the humanitarian crisis is one of the characteristics of the failing state of Khartoum in addition to gross human rights violations all over Sudan.  The ruling party is divided from the top to the bottom, and the recent accusations and detention of some of the top National Congress party leaders is evidence of that.  The piecemeal solution is no longer an answer to the Sudan question.


Political Islam Threatens African Unity


Africa today is facing a serious threat to its unity from many political Islam based movements.   Some of them have already taken power in some important African countries such as Sudan, Egypt and Tunisia and other political Islam based movements are playing a central role in Somalia, Libya and Mali.  More political Islam based movements are active and spelling out clear political agenda in the big Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania.   Other political Islam based movements are working clandestinely in other countries as is the case in Ethiopia, South Africa and Malawi.


Why are political Islam based movements threatening African unity?


Political Islam is an ideology exploiting and using the Islam religion, which is a tolerant religion especially when it comes to the African context.  The political Islamic movements are intolerant and do not respect and accept cultural and religious diversity, women’s rights, and democratic systems of rule, although some of them were elected democratically as in the case of Egypt and Tunisia, but yet there are clear indications that they are moving towards totalitarianism and they are taking a similar direction as the Iranian revolution, which was achieved by all the Iranians but it was hijacked by a religious group who eventually established a dictatorial regime in the name of the revolution.  Indeed, there is a huge struggle in Egypt and Tunis between the different wider groups who had achieved the uprising and affected change, and yet, the Islamic movements succeeded because they were more organized and they were operating underground for many years.  They are almost hijacking the revolutions and taking them in a different direction.  We need to distinguish between the uprising and its objective to establish democracy and social justice in replacing the dictatorships and the political Islam movement, whose social and political agenda are no different from the previous government’s agenda that were overthrown by the uprisings.

The situation in Egypt remains of significant importance to Sudan, Africa and the Arab world given the importance of Egypt and that the Islamic movement in Egypt, “the Muslim Brotherhood”, is the second oldest political movement in Africa after the National African Congress, which is 100 years old, and the Egyptian Islamic movement, founded in 1928, is 85 years old.  There are clear signals that this movement will take Egypt towards an Iranian-style regime that will have a huge impact on Sudan and Africa as a whole.


Why is Sudan’s political Islam experience important to Africa?


Sudan with its huge diversity represents a small African continent, and the big question that faces Sudan since its independence is the same question facing Africa today and yesterday – how to build a modern democratic state in a diverse cultural and religious society.   The direct and short answer of the Islamic movement of Sudan has been to totally ignore the diversity of the Sudanese society.  Since they took power in a coup d’état in 1989, they imposed a vision of uniformity that seeks to Islamize and Arabize Sudanese regardless of whether they are non-Muslim and non-Arabs, and they divided the Muslims themselves who do not subscribe to their political ideology and again, they imposed social and political programs that marginalized the massive majority of the Sudanese people and dehumanized women and all those who do not subscribe to their vision.  To impose such a fascist vision, the National Congress regime has had to resort to violence and an iron-grip to crush all those who do not fall into their category, which are the majority of the Sudanese people.  Logically that vision ends up committing the biggest crimes in modern history of Sudan such as genocide and war crimes and disuniting the country and forcing the South Sudanese to secede.  The ruling Islamic movement of Sudan represented by the National Congress has a deep connection and involvement with most of the African political Islam based movements, and many of the cadres and leaders of these movements were indoctrinated by and graduated from the famous African Islamic University in Khartoum.  Moreover, there are strong relations between the Sudan government and the Iranian government that is involving Sudan in many situations beyond its borders and jeopardizing Sudan’s national interests and the relations between Sudan and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.  Iran is a partner in building the Sudanese military complex and the product of this military complex is being used against the Sudanese civilian populations in the first place and it is part of an African Islamic based movements’ strategy and it has made Sudan a battleground for regional conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.  Given the cultural and religious diversity of the African societies, the outcome of the political Islam experience in Sudan will be the same outcome in other African countries including Egypt.   It is important for the Sudan case to be taken seriously by the African intellectuals, governments, political and social movements, and civil societies in responding to the growing political Islam movement in Africa.  The price is going to be very expensive as is the case in Sudan and Mali.  This issue needs to be an upfront issue to be debated by all those who are concerned about Africa’s future as well as those who are concerned about the tolerant Islam’s future.  Indeed historically, Islam has contributed to the unity of the African societies in many parts of the continent.


The New Dawn and the Way Forward


On the 5th of January 2013 after a historical meeting of the SRF, the National Consensus Forces, representatives of civil society, and some women and youth organizations, we signed the New Dawn Charter which answers the basic question in order to unite the Sudanese opposition, including the transitional arrangement and a joint mechanism to bring all the Sudanese opposition onto one platform and to enable the Sudanese people to overthrow the present dictatorial regime in a peaceful uprising that will pave the way to end wars and to establish a democratic system and rule of law on the basis of equal citizenship.  Despite the reservations and observations from some of those who signed the New Dawn Charter, the Charter has received a wider support from the grassroots and the Sudanese activists.  It has shaken the regime and it has positioned the opposition in the political lead.  It has been expressed by all stakeholders of the New Dawn Charter that it will be necessary for all parties to work together to improve and develop the Charter further to meet the aspirations of the Sudanese people and to fully unite the opposition on one platform.  We will continue doing that and we will shortly arrive to our destination.


The Sudan Union:  A Union of Two Independent States


The secession of South Sudan is a grave human fault that can indeed be ratified in a different form of unity between two independent states.   South Sudan chose to be an independent country due to the lack of an inclusive national project of nation-building and a correct national formation process based on the objective realities of Sudan and on the historical and contemporary diversities.


Being committed to the unity of the African continent and the vision of the New Sudan, we believe and will continue to work for a union between the two Sudans that will respect the sovereignty of both countries.  The European Union is a good example of the possibility to strike a balance between the sovereignty of independent states and the union of the same states.



  • The vision of the New Sudan remains valid and in fact, it is the only game in town to build a viable state based on citizenship, recognition of diversity, democracy and social justice, and bringing a just peace and national reconciliation.  After the secession of the South, Sudan remains as diverse a country as before.  What brings Sudanese together is Sudanism regardless of their cultural, social, political, or gender background or geographical location.


  •  Last year, we were able to achieve the unity of the political armed groups plus other political forces in the Sudan Revolutionary Front.  Furthermore, we are in the middle of a historical process of the New Dawn Charter that brought civil society, political parties, youth, women and trade unions together.  It is a serious process that needs to be continued by more development and improvement of the New Dawn Charter.  It is the only way to achieve democratic transformation, end wars, and build a new common future based on a national consensus.  We will not be able to change the past, but we can definitely agree on a common agenda for the future to build a united Sudan on a new basis and for us all to be shareholders of that future.


  • The political Islam based movement on the African continent is destabilizing the continent and it will definitely cause a huge damage on the respective African countries and societies and to Islam itself, as was the case of Sudan which paid an expensive bill out of its unity and future.  The impact and the damage of those movements will furthermore go beyond Africa’s borders.  It is important that the democratic forces and those African countries that represent a counterweight for the political Islam based movements to have the solidarity and support of all peace and democratic loving forces.  Sudan remains actively involved with many political Islam based movements in Africa and the Middle East.  Transforming Sudan will add value to Africa and to world stability in general.

February 1, 2013

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