Sudan debates embassy burnings | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 17.09.2012
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Sudan debates embassy burnings

The burning of the German embassy is being hotly discussed in Sudan. Citizens who have been taking to the streets recently aren't motivated by religious sentiments alone. They're fighting a different battle.

The attack on the German and American embassies in Sudan appeared to be a spontaneous outburst of popular anger. Now, Sudanese opposition groups are suggesting that the violence could have been planned.

What happened in Khartoum was "the result of the policies of purposeful misinformation and propaganda and hate speech of the regime," the opposition group Sudan Change Now stated Saturday on its Facebook site.

Accusations against Western countries

A Sudanese demonstrator shouts slogans after protesters torched the German embassy in Khartoum (picture: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/GettyImages)

Opposition groups claim the violence could have been planned

The group accused Islamists along with the President Al-Bashir uncle's newspaper "Al-Intibaha" of instigating the protests. In an op-ed, the newspaper distanced itself from the attacks, instead raising its own serious accusations against the American government. "We're weary of the shameless American hypocrisy, which claims to support the Arab revolution in its fight for dignity, human rights and democracy. At the same time, it closes its eyes against those who denigrate Islam and Muslims. Not only that: It even supports them."

The newspaper also demanded that Americans and "their Israeli allies" immediately stop their slander of Islam.

Arab Spring in Sudan

Comments such as these articulate a very different rage than that which drove Sudanese onto the streets a year and a half ago. In the course of the Arab Spring, Sudanese protested against the government and President Omar al-Bashir.

On January 23, 2011, Al-Amin Moussa Al-Amin, a young builder from Darfur, immolated himself in protest against rising food prices. In the weeks following, the government violently repressed repeated protests.

In June 2012, students took to the streets, joining with other popular groups to unite against government austerity measures, which included - among other things - striking subsidies for fuel as well as tax increases.

A Sudanese engineer points at the damage to an oil pipeline (picture: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/ Reuters)

The costs of oil disputes: destroyed facility in Heglig oilfield

Demonstrators also protested against rising food prices and high inflation, which is now close to 40 percent. According to Amnesty International, approximately 2,000 demonstrators were jailed during the actions.

The country's economic problems go back to an independence referendum for South Sudan in July 2011, which holds about three-quarters of oil reserves for both areas. A dispute over transit fees caused South Sudan to stop extracting oil, which resulted in Sudan losing revenue for pipeline use. Only in August of this year have both governments agreed to fee amounts.

Eastern and Western extremists

In this context, attacks upon the German and American embassies allowed for a brief distraction from the pressing problems of the country. Al Hayat, a pan-Arabic newspaper published in London, pointed to extremist and populist groups in both the East and West as setting the groundwork for easily ignited religious unrest.

The central mosque of Khartoum (picture: Ibrahim Mohamad)

The center of Islam in Sudan: the central mosque in Khartoum

According to this perspective, the European right stands opposing the Islamist right: "This, as well, hates foreigners, their religion and worldview. It hates that which is modern, it hates openness and tolerance, even within its own society. It represents a religious, ideological and ethnic fanaticism and tends toward violence," Al Hayat published.

This fanaticism has now shown its face in the Republic of Sudan, explained feminist Asha Al-Karib in an interview with DW. The traditional interpretation of Islam has made it difficult for secular points of view, she said.

"I am always asked what religion says about this. Does it support our concerns, or not? And when someone finds a Quran verse that supports my argument, there's always someone else in the room who can find a verse opposing it," Al-Karib said.

Religion is a touchy subject and many women simply can't be reached, she explained. And she notes that religious beliefs are easily used to separate Muslims from the West. "It's a very simple solution," she said.

"It's an easy stance to take: we're defending ourselves against the hegemony of the West."

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