Countries are not assassinated from the outside. The lethal stabs come from the inside: from oppression and the absence of the concept of citizenship; from the refusal to accept the right to be different; from the attempt to eliminate certain features and impose others; from discrimination and the loss of institutions that bring [people] together; from considering plurality to be a threat and trying to treat it by imposing a single trend or concept; from the disrespect of heritage, sense of belonging, and aspirations; from the inability to listen to others; from the refusal to seek the middle of the road to meet within a country that is large enough to encompass all its citizens; from the attempt to guarantee unity through force and scare tactics in view of obliging those who are different to abandon their identities, books, and ways of living.
Our countries do not just abruptly fall apart. There are obvious reasons for this that go back in time. Persisting to ignore them deepens the divergences among the constituents and renders the clash of identities imminent. The demands of a group of citizens for autonomous rule or the right of self-determination were often dealt with as treason and a mere echo of a conspiracy concocted by foreign circles. The authority used to resort to war, and when it was unable to decide, it made agreements that it considered to be mere truces, and jumped on any occasion to pull back from them. Although external forces were not blameless in most of the cases, the core of the demand or problem resides domestically. The authority sometimes preferred to surrender to the external forces rather than achieving a real settlement domestically.
We wouldn’t have reached what we witnessed yesterday in the South of Sudan, had the late president Jaafar Nimeiri honored the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement for autonomy he signed with the southern rebels, which put an end to 17 years of fighting. It can be said that Nimeiri later took the path that enhances divergences between the North and the South of Sudan.
The current situation does not carry the fingerprints of Nimeiri alone, as he had many partners in his endeavor. I visited Sudan for the first time in 1979 and met with Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, who was “general prosecutor”, i.e. the Minister of Justice. At the end of our chat, I jested with my interlocutor: “What do you do in Nimeiri’s regime?” He answered with a smile: “We are gradually Islamizing the regime.” At the time, I didn’t expect that al-Turabi’s plan would succeed, and I put his words in the context of justifying his presence in the regime.
Four years later, I went to cover the general conference of the Sudanese Socialist Union (the ruling party at the time). Nimeiri spoke at the conference, stressing on Sudan’s Arabism and assuring his determination to Islamize legislation in his country. A female delegate from the South suddenly stood up and told the president in English: “You are stressing on Arabism and Islam, so what would be the position of a Sudanese woman like me, who is neither Arab nor Muslim?” In September 1983, Nmeiri announced the implementation of the Islamic Shari’a and violated the Addis Ababa agreement regarding the divisions in the Southern region, and war was reignited there.
The South’s wound stayed open, despite the negotiations rounds and truces. What was dubbed the “Salvation Revolution” – which was born from the 30 June 1989 upheaval – increased the divergence between the North and the South. This was a natural result of the project carried by president Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his companions, which was inspired by al-Turabi. It seemed sometimes that a team in Khartoum regarded the South as a burden or an obstacle before the Islamic regime’s homeostasis in the North. This was confirmed by the recent declarations of al-Bashir, who promised to expand the Islamic experience after resolving the plurality problem by respecting the Southerners’ wish for secession.
Despite the many differences, the Sudanese situation is reminiscent of the Iraqi situation. The agreement of autonomous rule in Kurdistan was announced on 11 March. It carried the marks of Saddam Hussein. A year later, Saddam sent a booby-trapped delegation whose mission was to assassinate Mullah Mustapha al-Barzani, who miraculously survived. Three years later, he tried to tamper with the agreement, and fighting with the kurds resumed. In 1975, he preferred to offer compromises to Iran in the Algiers Agreement, rather than offer it to part of his people. And the rest is common knowledge.
From Juba to Erbil, we can talk about two experiences that concern the Arab world. If we do not learn lessons, we might wake up in a not-so-distant future to a series of civil wars, secession ambitions, and entrenchments in regions. The blows directed by al-Qaeda in the countries characterized with diversity tend to move in this direction. The development in the South of Sudan deserves a serious Arab stance.