Atlanta Journal-Constitution Interviews Abdullahi An-Na'im about Peace in Sudan

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By Mark Bixler


Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA) - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

In the mid-1980s, Sudanese authorities imprisoned Abdullahi A. An-Na'im without trial for a year and a half. His crime? Belonging to a political group that opposed the imposition of Islamic law in all of Sudan, the largest country in Africa. After his release, An-Na'im became a widely respected authority on Islam, human rights and conditions in his native Sudan. A law professor, he directs a religion and human rights program at Emory University's law school.

After his release, An-Na'im became a widely respected authority on Islam, human rights and conditions in his native Sudan . A law professor, he directs a religion and human rights program at Emory University's law school.

An-Na'im spoke recently with reporter Mark Bixler ( of the Journal-Constitution about the prospects for peace in light of the death of John Garang, a rebel leader from southern Sudan who died in a helicopter crash July 30, just three weeks after becoming Sudan's vice president in accordance with a peace deal that ended Africa's longest-running civil war.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q:How important was John Garang to southern Sudan and to the process that culminated in the peace deal Jan. 9?

A: Garang is probably one of the most significant Sudanese leaders we have had in several decades. Although he was from the south and he tended to speak primarily for the southern part of the country, he also spoke for all marginalized regions of Sudan. He not only was important, but he will continue to be important. He represented a hope of a new vision.

Q:Has that hope of a new vision dissipated since he died?

A:No. I think not. When people have a source of hope, they don't give up easily on it. Both sides have a lot to gain by keeping the peace process going. Neither of the two main sides has anything to gain by sabotaging the agreement. I feel heartened by the fact that Garang's widow came out very strongly to confirm the peace process and to say his death should not be in vain.

Q:Her word carries weight?

A:Yes, it does, because it is the word of a grieving widow and also a woman who really stood by Garang. The way the Sudan People's Liberation Movement [the rebel group Garang led] and the northern government both closed ranks behind the peace process immediately after the crash -- it was very positive.

Q:The other day I heard you say even some people in northern Sudan are mourning Garang.

A:Many people in the north sympathize very much with the southern cause. I myself am like that. Although I come from a village north of Kharthoum, the so-called heart of the north, I don't identify with the northern hegemony of the south.

Q:At least 130 people were killed in riots in Khartoum in the first few days after Garang's death. What is the mood among the people you know there?

A:Given the depths of suspicion and the bitterness from the war, I heard people saying "It could have been much, much worse." I know of southern and northern religious and civic leaders going around together to the funerals of the people who were killed. This is symbolically very important for the Sudanese. Their message was "We have to live together. We have to come to terms with this. We cannot really afford to have ethnic conflict."

Q:Are you optimistic about the future of Sudan?

A:Yes. I'm optimistic because for the north, the so-called experiment of the National Islamic Front [ a group of Islamic extremists that took power in Sudan in 1989] has failed and has been seen to have failed. The facts on the grounds make it totally untenable to go back to war. Neither side has the internal energy or the external support. So long as the international community keeps the same pressure on Sudan for peace, it will continue.

Q:You mentioned that Garang appealed not just to southerners, but to marginalized people around the country. Marginalized people in the western region of Darfur, as you know, rebelled in 2003, and the government began a  campaign of violence the U.S. has called genocide. There was some hope Garang might have been able to end the violence in Darfur. What do you think the future holds for Darfur now that Garang is dead?

 A:Actually, better. I can see the beginnings of possible alliances between the rebel movements in the west and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement that Garang led. The advantage is that the SPLM is a recognized political party in Khartoum. They're now part of the government. They could become the political voice of Darfur in Khartoum.

Q:Can there be peace in Sudan while violence continues in Darfur?

A:You could have violence continuing in Darfur while peace is going on in the south, but I think it would be a very tense peace. I think the trend must be toward negotiation.

Edition: Home; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Section: Atlanta & the World
Page: F6
Index Terms: Interview
Record Number: 49898573
Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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