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Environment

Sudan mulls Islamic law after southern secession

As referendum results make southern Sudan's independence from Khartoum nearly certain, northern Sudanese are unsure what is in store for their country. The president has promised to base the constitution on Sharia law.

A Sudanese man waves a Sudanese flags supporting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

Bashir promised brotherly relations with Southern Sudan

Results from a week's worth of voting showed that more than 95 percent of people in Southern Sudan wanted to break away from the Khartoum government with more than 98 percent of votes counted. Official results are expected to be released at the end of January.

In his first public speech since the referendum, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said on Tuesday he would support the new Southern state.

"Secession has become a reality, but we will not be sad ... we will go to the South and celebrate with them," Bashir said. "We will support the new Southern state and will hold onto its stability because we are neighbors and will remain friends."

While people in Southern Sudan are happy with the vote's outcome, anxiety is increasing in the country's North. Many people there fear that their freedom could be limited if the conservative form of Islam prevalent in the North gains ground as soon as the predominantly Christian South segregates from the country.

Pro-separation activists hold a sign reading All for Separation during a pre-election rally

Vote counts show overwhelming support for independence among Southern Sudanese

Quiet, homogenous

A shopping street in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, has become quieter and more homogenous over the past few months as the Southern Sudanese shop owners who used to do business here have left the city.

"For many years, we used to live together on good terms, we had very close relations and there were no problems," the owner of a stationary store said. "The only thing that was difficult was maybe politics, but not everyday life for people. It's so different now, it's so empty here."

The last census, in 2008, put the number of mostly-Christian southerners living in the North at 520,000. The autonomous government in Juba estimated there to be at least 1.5 million, though many have since returned home.

In addition to the business owners in Khartoum, hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled Sudan for the country's South during and after the civil war that ravaged the northern African country for two decades and ended with a peace agreement in 2005.

The peace deal between the government in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) saw southern Sudanese politicians elected to a unity government and the offices of the country's vice president and several ministries filled by southerners. But the press freedom and cultural scene that flourished for five years were short lived.

Sharia law

International monitors said parliamentary elections held in April were massively manipulated. In addition to his promises to support a Southern Sudanese vote of independence, al-Bashir has also vowed there would be changes after secession in the North.

Bashir casting his vote in the April election

Bashir and his party were accused of manipulating April's election

"If Sudan segregates I will change the constitution," he said before the referendum, adding that southerners staying in the North after calling for independence would be treated as foreigners. "All that belongs to the South will go there. The Sharia is the original source of our laws."

Basing the constitution on Sharia law represents a major change from the current interim constitution, which recognizes the "multi-ethnic," "multi-cultural" and "multi-religious" aspects of Sudan. Adopted under the 2005 peace deal, the interim constitution is set to expire in July when Southern Sudan is expected to declare independence.

A return to a more conservative form of Islam would be particularly hard on women, according to journalist Zeinab Saleh. She has been following the case of a woman who was whipped after reportedly walking in public with her fiance.

"We women are a disgrace in their eyes, anything could happen to me here," she said. "This young woman was portrayed as if she were a prostitute, only because she crossed the street with her fiance or boyfriend. They have a problem with the female species - how can I live in this kind of environment?"

Tunisian-style regime change?

Hassan al-Turabi

Al-Turabi was jailed for provoking public unrest

Sudan's progressive Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi recently called on the Sudanese people to learn from the recent events in Tunisia and stand up against this government. He was arrested and released 48 hours later.

"We are giving the (ruling) National Congress Party a choice - to have a transitional government authorized by a new constitution, and then to conduct free and fair elections," he told a news conference ahead of a demonstration last week.

"If they don't agree to that, we are going to fight them in the streets," he added. "We're not an armed party and we're not going to stage a coup, but we are going to change the regime."

Author: Esther Saoub / sms (AFP, Reuters)

Editor: Stuart Tiffen

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