Sudan: Politics of Religion and Terrorism

I first came to know about this death-stricken country when I saw a documentary on Discovery Channel. I was so moved by the scenes that I decided I would follow the changes in the country. Since then I have joined some groups which send me updates and I forward them to everyone in my mailing list just to create awareness about this forgotten country.The environment in Sudan is nothing less than authoritarian since President Omar Hassan al-Bashir took the chair by a military coup in 1989; which was not the first one that was witnessed by the country.


Between 1983 and 1997, the country was divided into eight zones, 5 in the north and 3 in the south. Each such zone was governed by a military governor. The coup that took place in 1985 saw the suspension of regional assemblies, abolishment of Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (RCC) and conversion of National Islamic Front to National Congress Party.


In 1997, there was a restructuring of the country’s demography and 8 zones were converted into 26 states. The officials for each state were appointed by the President and their budget was determined by Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. This ensured that each state would be economically dependent upon the central government.


Another important character in politics of Sudan in 1990s was Hassan al-Turabi. He was religious and Islamist political leader. He was considered instrumental in institutionalizing Sharia in the northern part of the country. He is often referred as “longtime hard-line ideological leader” of the country.


In 1996 Turabi was elected in the National Assembly as speaker of the National Assembly. However there was a decline in the influence of Turabi and his party’s “internationalist and ideological wing” in favor of more pragmatic leaders, which were brought in by the imposition of UN sanctions on Sudan in punishment for Sudan’s assistance to Egyptian terrorists in their attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.


Simultaneously, there was a power struggle between Turabi and Bashir which came to an end in 1999 when Turabi was stripped of his post in the Government. This was followed by disbanding of the Parliament, suspension of the Constitution and declaration of emergency by the President.


December 2000 saw Presidential and Parliamentary election and Parliament was resumed on 20th February 2001. But emergency laws remained intact.


The country is currently undergoing changes after the signing of the peace treaty in January 2005 that ended officially the civil war between the Government and southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) rebel group. The current National Legislature that was formed in 2005 has two chambers. The National Assembly, consisting of 450 members representing government, former rebels and other opposition parties and Council of state, consisting of 50 members indirectly elected by state legislatures. This was done to pacify the rebels.


However the present situation of the country is dismal. Years of dictatorship, wars, droughts and floods, have resulted in displacement of population from southern Sudan. Reports from International Aid Agencies state that there has been more than 1.5 millions death in last 25 years, more than 164 deaths each day. These deaths have been accounted for war, or malnutrition or neglect from the Government. Moreover UN high commission for refugees state that there are presently 209,000 refugees in Uganda, 110,000 in Congo, 78,000 in Ethiopia, 28,000 in Kenya and 27,000 in Central African Republic. The UN further estimates that there are more than 2.5 million internally displaced people in Sudan.


Sudan is one country where religion has bought the biggest massacre in recent history. People have been killed in the name of religion and therefore every party has to take responsibility for the killings. Northern Sudan is a Muslim dominated area which is quite different from the Southern Sudan. The present President wants to implement the Sharia law all over Sudan and as such Arabization and Islamization seems to be the only agenda presently. Not just Sudan, the Government has been funding radical Muslim extremists in countries like Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda. Sudan was also found guilty of funding the terrorists that tried to kill the President of Egypt in 1990s. As such UN has imposed many sanctions on the country. Even United States has placed Sudan in the list of countries encouraging terrorism.


Within the country, building of a Church is banned. Even conversion to Christianity is deemed to be a sin. Population apart from Muslims are treated as slaves, men killed, women raped or kept to bear children. This has caused the non-Muslims to take up arms. Those people who don’t want to be converted to Islam are fighting against the President for their rights.


Recent development shows President Bashir being charged by International Criminal Court (ICC) for the civil war and issued an arrest warrant against him. This was followed by Bashir dismissing all international aid agencies working in Sudan. Although no one can criticize ICC for a wrong decision, yet the fate of its citizens is sealed once and for all. The agencies predict that very soon there will be shortage of food and water in the concentration camp. Lack of sanitation will give rise to yellow fever, typhoid and malaria. And in no time the remaining population will be wiped out. As for Bashir, he cannot be arrested in his own land as his government has refused to even recognize the ICC. It means that Bashir will be convicted only when he is out of his country and at the present situation it seems unlikely to happen. The other option is if USA invades Sudan, well not for the oil this time, but for the benefit of people. But that also seems to be a distant dream owing to its perception of Sudan as a dangerous territory and breeding ground for terrorism.


The only true fact among all the possibility that the world is coming up with is, if it takes too much time to bring Bashir to justice, the remaining population of Sudan will be wiped out either by government militia or the lack of Government support.


I hope not just India but the World can learn some lessons from this country. Politics that involves religion is not beneficial for anyone. Religion should be kept outside the purview of politics for the stability of the country. Sudan is not the first country which is in turmoil due to its extremist leader and the worst part is, it won’t be the last country either.

Pradyuman Singh Rawat

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