On Sunday, 9 January, 2011, a referendum will be held in South Sudan for the people to decide if they want to continue live in a united Sudan under the leadership of Omar Al- Bashir or declare independence and create a new state. The referendum is part of an agreement signed in 2005 between the government in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) which ended the war in the South and gave the people there the right to self-determination. At the same time, it gave Khartoum five years to do what it can to influence the decision of the people in the South. If it were serious about maintaining the integrity of Sudan -- the largest African country -- it had five years to reverse racial and discriminatory policies and adopt ones based on equality and co-citizenship.
In truth, the government in Khartoun and Bashir's regime wasted the five years by adopting policies which persuade the people of the South to vote for partition and independence from Khartoum. The Sudanese regime continued its racist policies against the South and tampered with signed agreements, and only applied parts of it as is commonplace for authoritarian regimes. Bashir's regime did not recognise the value of citizenry and denied it based on ideology.
There is no equality between the people of Sudan based on religion and gender, while other basic human values such as diversity and multi-ethnicity are rejected by Bashir and his regime. He does not believe in these standards, although at various times he begrudgingly adopted them but eagerly awaited to drop them. In an acrimoniousspeech by Bashir, he threatened the people of the South if they chose separation that he would apply Islamic Shari'a and declare Arabic as the sole official language, and will amend the Constitution accordingly. At the same time, it is apparent that the enitre culture of North Sudan is unaccepting of diversity and equality. One of the most prominent opposition figures, the head of the Unionist Party Mohamed Othman Al-Mirghani, telephone Al-Bashir from Cairo to support him in his threats to apply Shari'a and declaring Sudan an Arab Islamic state which will not tolerate ethnic diversity from now on.
The issue of South Sudan is about championing the values of equality and citizenry in the Arab world. Several Arab regimes accuse the West of discrimination against their Muslim citizens and call for respect of human rights, holy sites and beliefs, but they themselves practice these policies against their own citizens through racist and disriminatory policies which permit religious defamation of some of its own citizens. The natural outcome of this is national fractures in several Arab states because of discriminatory and racist policies.
We have seen this in Iraq, where the Kurds have begun to discuss self-determination, and the same thing is happening in other Arab states because of harsh racist policies based on religious, ethnic and factional factors. Racist policies in several Arab countries resulted in many calls for "internal" equality and an end to discriminatory policies. In response, Arab regimes have vehemently denied these accusations and did nothing more than make statements about equal citizenry, but continued racist policies wihtout realising what repercussions may result. They prefered to continue denying they were practicising racist policies, and left the problem to snowball.
Sudan is a stark example of accumulated and magnified problems. For many decades, complaints by the people of the South have grown about severe discriminatory policies and the historical injustice afflicted on the South. There has been severe neglect, despite agriculture and mineral wealth in the area, and former President Jaafar Al-Numeiri made matters worse by applying Islamic Shari'a in a country with multiple religions, ethnicities and culturals. There are Arabs and Africans, Muslims and Christians, as well as local creeds and African beliefs. Shari'a laws were applied to everyone, which escalated the civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Sudanese and halted development and depleted the country's resources.
In time, sub-Saharan African states began to assist their ethnic kin, while regional and international players interfered to serve their own interest and break up a large entity in the region by assisting the people of the South. Ethiopia, Uganda and even Israel interfered, and the US took interest, but Bashir's regime continued its hardline racist policies. The problem was compounded further when more sectors in society mobilised to practice what they saw as their national rights. Groups in Darfur began organising, and others in Kordofan and the Nubia Mountains, who are Muslims but belong to African tribes, claimed that they are being discriminated against and are being treated unjustly for ethnic and religious reasons. As a result, a new civil war erupted in Darfur, which led the Interational Criminal Court (ICC) to charge Bashir of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and wants him arrested and taken to court.
As the people of the South prepare for the plebiscite on 9 January, negotiations sponsored by Qatar continue between the government of Sudan and groups representing large sectors of the people of Darfur. Other groups representing the people of Kordofan and the Nubia Mountains are esclating their demands and are calling for self-determination, like the people of the South.
It is obvious that the people of the South are likely to choose independence and establishing a new state. This will inspire the rebels in the East and West (Kordofan and Darfur) and will give them hope to continue attempting to gain the right to self-determination. Meanwhile, regional and international elements are actively working to this end. It is a bitter siege, but the logical outcome of decades of discrimination by the Sudanese regime.