Thursday, July 14, 2011

How the Arab world lost southern Sudan

Both pan-Arabist and Islamist governments have failed to embrace diversity and pluralism - to their own detriment.

By Lamis Andoni

"The division of Sudan into two states is a dangerous precedent. The Arab world has to draw the right lessons from if it wants to avoid the break-up of other Arab states into ethnic and sectarian enclaves.

The birth of South Sudan is first and foremost a testimony to the failure of the official Arab order, pan-Arabism, and especially the Islamic political projects to provide civic and equal rights to ethnic and religious minorities in the Arab world.....

Avi Dichter, Israel's former interior security minister, once said: "We had to weaken Sudan and deprive it of the initiative to build a strong and united state. That is necessary for bolstering and strengthening Israel's national security. We produced and escalated the Darfur crisis to prevent Sudan from developing its capabilities."

But the Arab world cannot simply explain secession as a product of a Western-Israeli conspiracy.

Arab failures

If anything, it is the repressive regime in Sudan, combined with an incompetent and corrupt official Arab order, that drove legitimately disaffected people in southern Sudan into Western and even Israeli arms seeking independence from a failing Arab world......

Arabs should look at their serious blunders and moral failures by facing the fact that the South Sudanese are an oppressed people whose grievances were against Arab rule and not against Western domination.....

The Arab political order that people are now rebelling against has fostered religious divisions partly as a necessary prerequisite for the survival and continuity of Arab tyrants and authoritarian leaders.

Brittle power

The unwillingness of the Arab leadership in Sudan to embrace a very rich, diverse culture that connects the Arab world with Africa underscores the urgency of reconsidering not only the Arab political systems, as the Arab Spring has done, but also the failure of prevailing political ideologies and political parties to adequately address the rights of ethnic and religious sects and groups.....

But while pan-Arabism was initially an anti-colonial movement, some of its branches - especially the Ba'ath Arab parties that ruled Syria and Iraq - demonstrated and practiced destructive chauvinist policies and actions against other ethnic groups and nationalities. The case of the Kurds in both Syria and Iraq testify to different degrees of exclusivist, supremacist and racist policies by both Ba'athist political parties.

Hence the influence of pan-Arab nationalism on the political culture has not always been positive. Instead, it has actually created racist and chauvinist attitudes that obstructed serious condemnation and criticism of the way the national Sudanese government in the North dealt with the people of the South.....

Islamist systems

However, the post-independence regime in Sudan had never become part of the pan-Arab project, as it was mostly influenced and even led by the strong Islamist movement there. Accordingly, Sudan has been an utter failure for the Islamic movement in the Arab world, for it was the only regime where an Islamic movement had historically partnered with or dominated the regime. It is true that the Islamic movement in the Arab world is not monolithic and differs from country to country; there are many Islamic movements, and not only one movement. However, the failure in Sudan should challenge Islamic thinkers and leaders to review the failed experience of an Islamic movement that had attained power and actually took part in leading a country..... But it is a case in which an Islamic movement had the opportunity to create an Islamic model of inclusion and peace, and failed miserably......

The incident, it must be noted, was not unique or confined to a regime that claimed to be implementing an Islamic code. The Ba'athist party in Iraq carried out a similar crackdown the late 1970s against the Iraqi communists, and even against Ba'athists who disagreed with the party leaders.

Hence in the end, and regardless of the claimed political identities of rulers, whether self-declared pan-Arabist or Islamist, the lack of political freedoms, the abuse of human rights, and the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of small elite are some of the main underlying causes of the failure of the Arab political order - and of the ongoing uprising against it.....

It was only natural that the system could not deal with the country's diversity. This gave a golden opportunity to foreign interference and eventually division.

It is only legitimate for the people of the new state of South Sudan to celebrate their independence, but it is also a critical point, while Arab uprisings are demanding freedom and justice, to remember that we cannot establish a better Arab order without embracing diversity and pluralism, instead of narrow nationalist or religious ideologies that have only served as tools for dictators."

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