Mali - Sudan: Undermining Moderate Islam in the Sudan feeds Malian and other Extremisms

Khalid Al Mubarak
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Date: 16/02/2013


One of the main advantages of democracy is the “rotation of power” resulting from election results.  The winner has a chance to amend or reverse policies or choose to introduce completely new initiatives.  This is what added lustre to Barak Obama’s “change” slogan that helped him win elections and become president.  The fact that an African-American with a Kenyan father has been elected and re-elected is not only a vindication of the sacrifices of civil rights advocates but a further proof of the backbone strength of the US democracy and its ability to “correct itself” as Jimmy Carter puts it, as it has done after the McCarthy era.
Having said that, it is often overlooked that the ongoing “work in progress” of pruning democracy, though admirable to watch, sometimes obscures certain aspects that are deemed less worthy of media or even academic scrutiny.  The fact of continuous bipartisanism in certain areas of foreign policy is tantamount to “one party system” policies and does not attract the media spotlight.  It is – admittedly – also a sign of the stability of institutions of government that do not twist and turn easily and that provide a modicum of continuity in line with long-term strategic objectives.

The most conspicuous example of what could be called “one-party system bipartisanism” is the treatment of Nelson Mandela.  During apartheid rule – when the US resisted the worldwide call for boycott, arguing as Ronald Reagan’s administration did that “constructive engagement” was a more prudent option, the ANC and Nelson Mandela were considered to be terrorists barred from visiting the USA.  Eventually, the US did abandon its apartheid policy and in 1994, Nelson Mandela was freed and became president of South Africa.  His name, however, remained on the bipartisan list of terrorists.  Only during the Republican presidency of George Bush (Junior) was the mistake corrected in April 2008 after a staggering 16 years of fixed policy that survived the rotation of power at the top!
Another example is the policy vis a vis the Sudan.  The Sudan was added to the “terror sponsors” list in 1993, during the Clinton administration.  In 1997 sanctions were declared against it.  According to Section 620(A) of the US Foreign Assistance Act 1961 removal from the list and from sanctions could take place only if “there have been fundamental change in the leadership and the policies of the government of the country concerned”.

In 1999/2000, Dr. Hassan al Turabi was ousted from the helm by his own disciples.  The moderate faction led by President Bashir changed the policy of trying to lead all Arabs and Muslims from Khartoum against the West.  Turabi’s main instrument “The Popular Arab Islamic Conference” was dissolved.   The US acknowledged in official reports that the country has cooperated in the war on terror.  Change of policies and change of leadership, but no change in the bipartisan policy of sanctions against the Sudan.  Illogical, just like the Mandela case.
Many of those who - like the present writer – opposed Turabi’s international anti-Western project were pleased when the results of his removal from leadership: (the CPA, peace, the democratic transformation and the referendum) became reality.  They returned home from an exile that interrupted their careers, full of great expectations that the second part of the political formula would - as promised - be fulfilled by the West, namely, the lifting of sanctions, debt relief and removal from the US terror sponsors list.  They were bitterly disappointed by the vagaries of international politics.
During the George Bush (Junior) Republican presidency, those who advocated the isolation of the Sudan with the previous Clinton administration felt at home thanks to the bipartisanism towards Sudan policy.  The most prominent (who were with Clinton when a missile destroyed Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory on the basis of inaccurate intelligence) continued to advocate the use of force against the Sudan, despite the change of policy and change of leadership in the country.  They were Democrats but continued to be influential during a Republican presidency thanks to the Sudan policy bipartisanism.
When President Obama took over in January 2009, a tug-of-war followed between the gate-keepers of “one-party bipartisanism” and between a religious retired General Scott Gration who (as the president’s envoy) visited the Sudan more than twenty times and could see the unfairness of the bipartisan sanctions.  On one occasion, he lost patience and said about the concept of “carrots and sticks” – “Carrots and sticks are for donkeys – this is a much complex situation!” The tug-of-war ended in a success for advocates of continued confrontation and sanctions.  Gration was transferred to another job from which he soon resigned.
One explanation is that the US makes policies – then listens to its strategic allies, Israel, the UK and others.
Benyamin Netanyahu has called for sanctions on the Sudan from the podiums of AIPAC conferences and as expected his call was echoed by the far right Israel Lobby in the US which was the first to label the Darfur crisis “genocide” and push for an indictment of President Bashir.  The answer of this strategic ally to any consultation about the Sudan is not difficult to guess.
Yet another dimension of one party bipartisanship vis a vis the Sudan is the general policy towards Islam and the Muslim communities.  Despite President Obama’s historic Cairo speech on 4 June, 2009, and his subsequent insistence on a settlement freeze in the Palestinian occupied territories and reluctance (even during a testing reelection campaign) to promise an invasion of yet another Muslim country, Iran, it was business as usual for George Bush appointees for links to the Muslim communities.  One of them, who now—in the spirit of bipartisanship—works for the Obama administration as special representative to the Muslim communities, told us during a talk in London, 22 January, 2013, that notwithstanding what she heard from Muslim feedback, she didn’t accept that US foreign policy was the reason for negative attitudes towards her country.
When power changes hands at the top echelons of a great democracy and some policies remain fixed in a constant bipartisan dogma, we have every right to speak of a one party system bipartisanship in certain areas.
The policy against the Sudan stands out because of the sense of vindictiveness that seems to underpin it.  During the George Bush (Junior) administration, an executive order was passed to enforce sanctions ONLY on quarters of the capital of the Sudan where Arabic-speaking Muslims lived.  Anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia are sometimes halal in the US democracy. A parallel example during the Barak Obama administration took place (as I said during the Sudan Programme at St. Antony’s College – Oxford’s workshop on 6 Feb, 2013) in the aftermath of the secession of Southern Sudan on 9 July, 2011.
In a demonstration of exceptional statesmanship and political maturity the Sudanese leadership has decided that the loss of one third of the land mass, one quarter of the population and 70% of oil wells was a price worth paying for peace and recognition of the will of the Southern Sudanese people.  To help soften the body blow to the economy, a contingency plan was worked out in which the international community (led by the West) promised support for a three-pronged plan: one third of the resulting shortfall would be covered by austerity measures to be taken by the Sudan, one third to be paid by the newly created country of South Sudan, and one third by the international community through the mechanism of a donors’ conference.  Only the part concerning the Sudan was implemented.  The US went out of its way to wreck the Istanbul Conference which was scheduled for March 2012 while it convened more than one conference for the benefit of South Sudan.  Simultaneously, the US insisted that it was against regime change by force in the Sudan but offered the warlords red-carpet treatment in Washington and recognition.  They are not called “terrorists” and the government is asked to negotiate with them before they accept a ceasefire or lay down their arms. In Northern Ireland the IRA had to decommission its arms first and declare a ceasefire.
Has this vindictive “bipartisan one party policy” got any wider implications?  Certainly.  It makes advocates of moderation in dealing with the West less convincing.  They won’t have an answer to those who rightly say: “You are moderate; the National Congress Party has even got Christian members, but look how you are treated and suffocated.”
A sobering statement (18 Jan, 13) by the Horn of Africa Business Association described the situation well: “Few African countries have had their pride dented in recent years quite like the Sudan.  Having agreed to allow the oil bearing South break away, the Sudanese have had to endure continued international censure, made worse by American economic sanctions.”
The picture is not that dismal.  To its credit, the UK has lived up to its values and declared that it was not bound by the US sanctions against the Sudan and is ready to consider debt relief.
In view of what is happening in Mali and elsewhere the biased bipartisan “crusade” against moderate Sudan is counter-productive.  Will the US policy – true to Jimmy Carter’s belief – correct its course as it did in the case of Nelson Mandela?

By Khalid Al Mubarak, 16/02/2013

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