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SLM statement on the secular state
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Jan 4, 2007 - 7:35:00 AM

Wednesday 3 January 2007 04:13. SLM statement on the secular state



        The dignity of each Sudanese man and woman is the cardinal principle of a peaceful democratic society Jan 2, 2006 (LONDON) — In the following paper, Abdelwahid al-Nur, the leader of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, explains his position that a secular state is the only way to realize unity and equality in Sudan. SLM/A. Mission Statement Sudan Liberation Army and Movement (SLA/M) is an independent political movement dedicated to fostering equal citizenship rights in the Sudan. Through our objectives of equal rights and democratic initiatives, we hope to engage our fellow Sudanese who are concerned that we have a democratic state that is constituted to advance peace, order and good governance. Perhaps more than almost any other nation, Sudan is composed of people of various religious, racial, cultural ethnic and geographical backgrounds. This diversity has had a unique history in the Sudan. There are, of course, many citizens who retain strong religious, ethnic, racial and tribal ties; but also there are others who in their heritage are able to find different racial, ethic and tribal heritages represented, and who think themselves simply as Sudanese. And that, of course, is important, because difference is primarily a matter of how a person thinks of himself or herself. Self-identification invariably affects the way one relates to community or group behavioral patterns, both politically and otherwise. As identification with a particular community is common among Sudanese, Sudan is in many ways a diverse society, with all the complexities normally attending such a situation. This diversity is manifest in many ways, including social cultural, religion, language, regions, economics and politics. While these differences require equitable accommodation in order to achieve a stable and peaceful nation, for more than a half century there has been projection of a specific identity model as “Sudanese” that has alienated and denied equal citizenship rights to the majority of our citizens. From the standpoint of the relation between citizens and government, we are living in strange times, and it seems that there is more value in addressing this time on its own terms than in continuing to patch up and preserve that hollow architectonics of our society. Our efforts could go into defense of the integral equal representational principle, whereby we seek a systematic governing arrangement that at once satisfies the demands of our communities and regions for empowerment while unifying us in a single national endeavour, where equal rights are an imperative endowment; or we negate the reality of the Sudanese nation and descend into dissolution. Our precious time may be better spent trying to figure out what the political reality has become and how to constructively respond to the developments that have brought us to the current situation. One of the most important lessons we must remember from the old non democratic Sudanese political parties (right and left wing political parties) is that they failed to create a coherent political vision that gives equal representation throughout our society. We believe that this is the real threat to our unity as a nation, as well as to the long-term social, economic and political stability in our quarter of Africa. The fundamental reality of our sad political life dates back to our independence day in 1956. Our independence was formulated on the existence of a few dominant elites in central government in Khartoum. In this sense, many of the pivotal episodes in Sudan’s ruling history have centered in the hands of a few exclusivist elites in the central government. This reality made the two-thirds of our citizens’ feel alienated, or that the polity is not theirs to engage in. And these precise scopes of exclusion remain the most serious threat to the unity and stability of our country. Visions of how to address this dilemma play vital roles in our contemporary Sudanese politics. Sudan is a unique country. It appears that an enormous amount of ink has been spilt supposedly trying to resolve the problem of how to achieve equal political representation. However, as Sudanese people, in our more than 50 years as an independent nation, we have failed to build a prosperous, tolerant, peaceful, free, and democratic society in what is one of the most diverse ethno-cultural countries in the world. We have become so accustomed to our diversity that we unconsciously take it for granted without acknowledging how exceptional Sudan is in this regard. For much of our modern history, the policies of the state have been exclusive to some individuals, groups and regions. The power is actually concentrated in a central government borne of a vision that gave ultimate rights to one or a few groups of people to rule the country, while denying equal representation to the majority of the country’s citizens. In this exclusivist vision there is a characteristic constitutional and policy emphasis on one culture, language and religion, in respect of an assumption that all citizens in this naturally diverse country have to assimilate such culture, language and religion. However, the reality is that most of the Sudanese people are unwilling to tolerate this chauvinism. It is now widely recognized that the great historical proclamations of those ruling our country actually excluded the majority of our citizens. In other words, increasing numbers of people today consider the political process exclusive, unrepresentative, and failing to reflect the diversity of all Sudanese people and their regions. A vivid illustration is the constitutional set up of the country, in which the fundamental terms of our political life are being decided by a few elites in the central government. They excluded most Sudanese from the representative process; we might say they have excluded the majority of the society from their equal share of rights, as most Sudanese communities have been excluded from the higher ranks of political power, as well as from top public offices, which has resulted in an untold loss of rights. It is not today that this has been recognized by those on the margins of the Sudanese power structure, but it has become abundantly evident the longer this unfair situation pertains the more deeply it becomes entrenched in the psyches of the exclusivist group that this is the only way Sudan is supposed to ever be. And we have good reason to believe that this long sustained history of exclusion is not a matter of historical blind spots, this exclusion is calculated into the very conceptual framework of the Sudanese state and its institutions, with the express intention of denying equal rights to some specific individuals and groups of people of our country. Naturally this situation has fueled increasingly intense demand and struggle for equal citizenship right, resulting in the current crises. This built-in exclusion has meant that everywhere in the Sudan people struggling for equality face resistance to their strategies that involve reference to traditional conceptions of citizenship and equal rights, which challenge the current subordination and exclusion of some individuals, groups and regions. In fact, the concept of equal citizenship rights we assert promises to eradicate such exclusion and subordination. But the problem has an added complexity when the existing structures of inequalities reinforce the economic, religious, ideological, social, regional and cultural imbalances and anomalies, which in turn imply legitimacy to the exclusivist structures and its accompanying conceptions of citizenship. Thus, the question, then, is, can we let the unequal distribution of wealth and power remain heavily influenced by the memberships of the few elites circles who volley between themselves the reigns of the central government in Khartoum, can we let these elites practice their exclusion policies forever? Can we expect a fair, open process of democracy, responsive to the public will; with consensus on how this process out to work? Shall we be able to achieve respect and equal political representation for all our citizens? Why have we had such trouble learning to live together as a nation? What can be done to eradicate such practices and hold our country and its diverse societies together? As politically alert citizens in our society are well aware, it is proper that the state be neutral in affairs of race, culture and religion, giving respect to all and preference to none. We see that if the state commits to one religion, race or culture, members of other race, culture or faiths would feel alienated, since specific values that are not their own would be imposed upon them. They may be hindered through various policies and state sponsored practices from practicing the rituals of their religion or culture, and they may be deprived of their right to hold certain positions in the state, such as president, or other key positions. This would create disturbances and conflicts that would present obstacles for the progress of our country. In this respect, we are not in favor of any values of one religion, race or culture being imposed on all the diverse communities comprising the Sudanese republic. We are in favor of a constitution based on equal citizenship rights, rather than religion, race, culture or region. Citizenship should be the sole basis for belonging to the state, since our citizens have different religions, races and cultures. For these reasons, we consider that the state should take a secular approach, neither supporting nor denying any race, culture or religion. It is up to the citizens to follow whatever faith and values they choose and practice what rituals they please. The best way to achieve such objectives is obviously through equal political representation. In this sense, we consider that in any political system, political leadership requires guidelines for action, which is the supreme law or constitution of the state, defining the limits and conditions of political power. A constitution should embody in legal context the vision of a wholesome, peaceful, stable and functional state. In doing so the constitution must necessarily set out a commitment to guaranteeing citizenship rights to all our people as well as the goals of national progress and development. The authority of the state is to be exercised rationally and without malice, whereby all citizens, no matter what her or his transgression, are guaranteed due process of law. It therefore regularizes the relationship between citizens and the government. No individual or group is above the law; no one is exempted from it, and all are equal before the law. No government or administrative official has any power beyond what is awarded by law. Equal rights are the basic precondition for affording all our citizens, as individuals and regions, the realization of these egalitarian principles. It has been with a view to realizing these egalitarian principles that people of the excluded communities and regions had since the independence of Sudan called for a federal system. In other words, we believe that federalism is the ideal mechanism for accommodating all citizens and regions; and providing meaningful self-government for all people within a unified Sudan. Federalism guarantees their power to make decisions in certain areas without being ordered by the central government. When we say federalism, we mean that there is a special relationship between the national government and the government of the regions, wherein both the regional and national governments have duties to perform as defined by the Constitution and both have a direct relationship to individual Sudanese who are citizens of both. Simply put, federalism refers to a division of jurisdiction and authority between at least two levels of government. It is usually characterized by the existence of one central government and two or more regional, state or provincial governments operating simultaneously over the same territory and people. Therefore, we strongly believe that the federalism we are calling for would provide a constitutionally protected realm of self government for the regions, while still providing the economic, political, military, and socio-cultural benefits of participation in a large state. To obtain equal citizenship rights to all our citizens, we strive to provide a flexible democratic structure whereby all Sudanese people can be equally included and actively represented. To do so, we committed to the view that the dignity of each Sudanese man and woman is the cardinal principle of a peaceful democratic society and the primary purpose of all economic, social, cultural, religious and political organization and activity in such a society. We are therefore dedicated to the principles that groups’ rights, individual freedom, responsibility and human dignity constitute the framework of a just society. Also, we recognize that human dignity requires that all citizens have access to full information concerning the policies and leaderships of the country; as well as the opportunity to participate in open and public assessment of such means, such modifications of policies and leadership as they deem appropriate to promote the general well-being of Sudanese. We aspire to contribute to the creation and emergence of a strong Sudanese civil society. Such a society, we believe, would offer an alternative political structure to the vast majority of the Sudanese people, and become both an incentive and a compulsion for the establishment of the country to improve. Transcending the emotions and psychology of exclusion, discrimination, segregation and stereotyping is as much a human problem as it is political; and in this respect civil society has a crucial role to play in promoting and accelerating the much needed social, cultural, religious, economic and political reforms. Overall, we are working for equal citizenship rights. We are working for the right of all Sudanese people to a decent life; a life that is free from fear, oppression, and persecution. We do not intend to weaken or be antagonistic to any entity, group, or individual. To achieve our goals, we intend to work with all those who share our vision for liberty, equality, human rights, tolerance and a democratically governed Sudan. Abdul Wahid Mohamed Ahmed Alnour Chairman, Sudan Liberation Movement and Army (SLM/A)





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