After the Referendum:Sudan Negotiates National and Religious Identity in the North

By Alex Thurston

The secession of South Sudan in July 2011 posed an existential question for (North) Sudan: what will be the political and cultural basis of the nation, which is in some ways a new country itself?

In December 2010, shortly before the referendum on Southern secession, President Omar al Bashir gave his answer:

“We’ll change the Constitution,” he said in a televised speech. “Shariah and Islam will be the main source for the Constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language.”

Bashir reiterated this promise in October, adding, “Ninety eight percent of the people are Muslims and the new constitution will reflect this.”

Bashir’s call for a consolidation of the state’s Arab-Islamic identity is calculated to appeal to the base of Islamists who brought him to power in 1989, many of whom continue to support the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). But it sits poorly with a number of groups in the new Sudan, including many Muslims. Efforts to use Islam as the basis of political power have a long history in Sudan, but past attempts to impose Bashir’s brand of political Islam have also hit major resistance. The many forces opposed to his regime have their own ideas about the country’s future. Continue Reading →