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Burhan agrees with rebel leader on secularism, peace 

Khartoum’s agreement to Hilu’s demand confounded the predictions of political analysts based on the fact that the military wing of the ruling establishment had previously rejected the secularism provision.

In an important step to resolve a long-standing dispute with rebels, the head of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan, has signed a declaration of principles with the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu, which includes provisions to separate state and religion.

According to analysts, this represents a new victory for the principle of the civil state in Sudan as it overcomes the obstacle of the Islamisation requirement established by late President Jaafar Numeiri. Deposed president Omar Bashir caused the secession of southern Sudan and the spread of armed rebellions, by then turning adherence to Islamic Sharia into a pillar of government .

Hilu took part intermittently in negotiations with officials of the Sudanese interim government without ever budging from his demand for secularism of the state. His stance caused him to abstain from joining the peace agreement signed with the Khartoum government by armed movements in Juba, last October.

The government felt that keeping Hilu outside the framework of comprehensive peace constituted a major security concern, because the stationing of large forces belonging to his movement in the regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, near the turbulent border with Ethiopia, could have adverse regional repercussions.

Khartoum’s agreement to Hilu’s demand confounded the predictions of political analysts based on the fact that the military wing of the ruling establishment had previously rejected the secularism provision. This indicated that Burhan has succeeded in overcoming objections among his Transitional Government colleagues.

Local Sudanese sources said that the chairman of the Sovereignty Council held discussions with members of the government and political forces several days ago to obtain their approval on the declaration of principles, which included seven main items, the most important of which is the secularism of the state.

The declaration of principles signed in Juba stipulated “the establishment of a civil, democratic, federal state that guarantees freedom of religion, religious practice, and worship for all people.”

“The state does not impose any religion on anyone and is impartial with regard to religious affairs, matters of belief and conscience, and guarantees and protects freedom of religion and religious practice, and this is is guaranteed by the constitution.”

The provisions included in the declaration were seen as an attempt to reconcile the basic objectives, principles and slogans of the popular movement with the government’s need for a minimum margin of flexibility in dealing with the demands of armed movements.

To break the negotiation deadlock, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok had signed with Hilu in Addis Ababa, last September, a similar declaration of principles that addressed the dispute over the relationship between religion and the state and the right to self-determination. But the declaration was rejected by the military wing of the ruling body because it included a reference to self-determination and a hint to autonomy or separation.

The document signed by Burhan in Abuja is not very different from the one accepted by Hamdok in Addis Ababa. In both, the central issue was to provide adequate guarantees for freedom of religion and religious practice and worship for all citizens, which in practical terms means, “the separation of religion from the state,” a phrase that is frowned upon or regarded with suspicion by some in Sudan.

The SPLM leader did not budge from his insistence that the Sudanese state should be clearly secular, that he would keep his forces until they are incorporated into the national army within a suitable formula, and that he would safeguard the right to self-determination if he failed to achieve partnership with Khartoum.

Observers point out that Hilu has achieved what the late spiritual father of the SPLM, John Garang, failed to achieve despite fighting long wars to this end. Garang’s failure led to the secession of southern Sudan.

However, analysts point out the times have changed. The struggles of Garang and Hilu had different contexts. Omar Bashir’s regime was an Islamist regime which resented secularism, while the current rulers in Sudan came to power after a revolution that wanted to avoid the mistakes of the previous regime and uphold a citizen-based value-system.

The leader of the Forces of Freedom and Change, Sherif Muhammad Othman, described the declaration of principles as “a victory for the glorious December revolution in terms of achieving its goals and motto (Freedom, Peace, Justice). It is an illustration of the unity of Sudan and its armed forces and the preservation of the rights of all citizens, which is a great political victory for the transitional government and deserves to be celebrated.” .

Othman further told The Arab Weekly, that “all the national political forces welcomed the declaration, as they were tired of ideological rhetoric, and the people are looking forward to peace and an end to the war, and are fully aware that the slogans of political Islam have held down Sudan and its citizens for three decades, so everyone has an open mind now for a new era that represents a break from previous years of war and darkness.”

The signing of the declaration of principles followed a series of meetings held in the last few days in Juba under the auspices of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, after a period of wavering between acceptance and refusal of Hilu’s vision. The new development opens the way for the resumption of negotiations with the movement to join the armed movements that signed a peace agreement and became part of the government.

The declaration stressed that Sudan should have a single professional national army that “operates according to a new unified military doctrine and is committed to protecting national security in accordance with the constitution, provided that security institutions reflect diversity and pluralism and are loyal to the homeland and not to a party or group.”

Transitional arrangements were agreed upon between the two parties, including the period, tasks, mechanisms, budgets along with a permanent ceasefire upon signing of the agreed security arrangements as part of the comprehensive settlement of the conflict in Sudan.

Sudanese forces hinted that the declaration of principles emerged as a result of internal and external pressures.  The military wing of the Transitional Government had only abandoned their opposition to secularisation under duress. This could open up the declaration to future dispute.

Sudanese analyst Khaled Saad said that the declaration of principles is a “temporary political agreement, and does not count among its goals the settling of issues related to reaching agreement on a constitution that governs Sudan for a permanent period, and it was signed after pressures related to the agenda of the transitional government and based on the constitutional document that seeks to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with all armed movements.” .

Saad told The Arab Weekly that the agreement also came as a result of external pressures exerted by regional and international powers on the ruling authority and the movements that did not sign the Juba agreement.

A final agreement with Hilu’s movement now hinges on reaching of consensus-based agreement  on a Sudanese constitution overcoming all remaining disputes.

Source: The Arab Weekly

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