“There is no longer hope for unity, even if we deeply believe in it in our hearts,” Al-Waleed Sayed, the NCP’s representative in Cairo, told Ahram Online in an interview regarding the referendum on the future of Sudan slated for 9 January, 2011.
“All signs on the ground indicate that separation is imminent.” SPLM's commander George Athor Deng , the SPLM’s political secretary, agrees that it is only a matter of time.
Sudan’s Supreme Constitutional Court yesterday accepted a petition by a Sudanese lawyer questioning the legitimacy of the South Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC), but Akram Hossam, an expert on Sudan at the National Centre for Middle East Studies, believes that any legal ruling is pointless because the referendum was approved in the Nifasha Agreement, which is recognized domestically and internationally.
Hossam believes that the legal bickering is a futile media ploy to undermine the authority of the SSRC, and will not affect the legitimacy of the referendum or postpone it by one day.
While many Sudanese leaders, neighbouring countries and world powers believe this is Sudan’s fate, Sudan’s partners in government are blaming each other for the expiration of the unity option. “They have been planning and preparing for this secession for a long time,” Sayed accused the SPLM in a harsh tone. “They have also taken hostile positions towards Khartoum in the North. They hijacked the citizen in the South and convinced him of secession. They disfigured and damaged all bonds which could make unity attractive; most recently they changed the school calendar which was agreed upon a year ago, a signal that there is no need for a relationship with the North.” He added, “Unfortunately, we accepted this reality with courage.”
In response, Deng told Ahram Online that the regime invested more time making accusations than actually working -during the five-year interim period - to make unity attractive. “They did nothing,” he said, “so it’s natural that southerners will go to the polls on 9 January and vote yes to secession.”
It is one week before the outcome of the plebiscite will be known “and then we will begin building an independent state in the South, run by southern citizens who welcome separation. It is vital that they are given a chance to express their preference freely.”
Exchanging blame will not change anything, argued Abdo Hammad, a Sudanese researcher. Hammad told Ahram Online that both sides are responsible for breaking Sudan up into two unstable states. “Just like the interim period, which was overtly a time for cooperation but covertly rife with animosity and hostility to the extent that Khartoum bombed targets in the South, it is clear that relations post-partition will be similar,” he said. “Because neither side wants to compromise.”
In the North, there is an urge to hold onto a Muslim identity and impose it on everyone; and in the South there is a compulsion to abandon unity at any cost, put the interim period to good use and benefit from secession.
The NCP’s Sayed defended the regime in Khartoum saying that those who criticise Sudan are ignorant of the character of its people who want Sharia to be applied in this Arab and Muslim country. “The country which will be created in the South will be hostile to all things Arab and Muslim,” he insisted. “In fact, it will leave the door wide open for Israel to enter Sudan -- a shameful international conspiracy executed with precision. The [South] asserts that the essence of the Arab-Israeli conflict is irrelevant to them.”
Sayed claimed that many Jewish organisations and Zionist advisers are active in working out the political, economic and social grounds for the creation of the new born state.
“They will be a thorn in the side of the Arabs, and will sever bridges between the Arabs and Africa because of their animosity towards anything Arab. This will hurt Arab national security,” Sayed urged.
“The interests of our new state will decide our priorities in foreign policy,” Deng stated in response to Sayed’s accusations. “But it certainly will not be how Khartoum describes it. They are making Israel a bogeyman, and making claims about our ties with Israel that are false in an attempt to sabotage our image.”
While such falsehoods are propagated routinely, it is easy to see through them, he asserted. “For example, Egypt would never allow this to happen,” Deng reasoned. “Egyptian diplomats in Cairo have monitored the situation since the agreement was signed, and routinely write weekly reports to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. I believe, so far, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has not discussed such matters with us.”
However, it is the the Arabs who are to blame, partially, asserted Hammad, because they abandoned Sudan for a long time and now are paying the price. “The Arabs were not aware of the extent of the crisis, how to resolve it and handle it better to prevent what is happening today,” he said. “The Arabs should have pressured Khartoum to abandon some of its damaging policies towards the South, but everyone missed the chance.”
According to Sayed, however, Arab countries were not negligent in supporting unity, especially Egypt and most Gulf states. “Cairo only had one goal: support unity and block secessionist tendencies,” he said. “But could not do everything by itself. Once it became apparent that division is imminent, Cairo began dealing with the issues of parition because it was clear that is what the future holds.”
He continued that Egypt worked “to prevent the repercussions of secession, such as a return to war, but Cairo must realise that the SPLM is deceitful and must look closely at the movement’s hidden agenda.” Sayed urged Arab countries to keep an open dialogue with the South to preempt detrimental foreign policies, and draw them closer to the Arab sphere.”
Fears surrounding Sudan today are no longer about partitioning North and South, explained Hammad, but about other breakaway regions, which will follow – such as Darfur, the East, and Kordofan.
“Today, Sudan is heading towards being split up into four states,” he argued. “If there is no realistic development plan in place, and everyone decides to abandon their private agendas and pay attention to the homeland, there will only be instability after separation. If [Khartoum] continues the same policies, then all parties will seek partition and self-determination.”
Deng agrees with Hammad, especially on Darfur. Sayed, on the other hand, accuses the SPLM of harbouring and supporting separatist movements in Darfur against Khartoum, despite progress in talks sponsored by Qatar. Only 15 per cent will benefit from the model of the South, namely the leaders of the secessionist movements, while the remainder is refugees.
Deng rejects these accusations, saying, “we do not harbor anyone, but believe that Darfur’s rebel movements are justified in their demands on the regime in Khartoum. These demands must be met one day.” He also warned of a similar fate as the South: “The regime in Khartoum should meet these demands voluntarily before they are forced to.”
This month, Kuwait established a Sudan Development Fund to finance development in the East, which received generous donations especially from Gulf States. Hammad believes, however, that as long as there is no real development plan in place once the money is spent the region will revert to the reality in the South and Darfur.
“I am concerned that the problem of the East will be dealt with like everything else in Sudan, in stages,” he stated. “The core issues will be sidelined for the time being as the money flows from the Gulf, but after partition it will be a different matter, especially if the South establishes a new stable state,” according to Hammad. He believes it will even be quicker in Darfur because there is more foreign interference there, while in the East and other regions it could take longer.
Divide and rule, is the conspiracy, which the rulers of Khartoum are claiming the West has played out in Sudan, and the North is suffering for it now. “It isn’t about just dividing North and South,” asserted Sayed, “but there is a plan to amputate complete sections of Sudan. But we will not fall into the same trap as Nifasha again.”
Evidence of this conspiracy, the NCP official argued, is that Susan Rice, the US representative at the UN rejected a proposal by Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, the chairman of the SSRC, saying that there are legal issues regarding holding the plebiscite on time. Rice responded that the legality of the referendum is not as important as holding it as scheduled.
Northerners in the South are packing their bags to go home out of fear of the partition, and southerners in the North are doing the same. They are worried about their personal interests [and safety] after separation, but Deng is reassuring: “These interests are guaranteed; we will protect every citizen and will not harm anyone. Passing political problems will not affect the interests of the people.” But in the same breath, he warns against Northerners destablising the South. “That would be a real problem,” he warned. “If there are no attempts to undermine [us] and relations appear normal, the South will be reliant on the North and vice versa.”