Sudanese President Omer Hassan al-Bashir is under indictment by the International Criminal Court on three charges of genocide, as well as war crimes, in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. But in every other part of Sudan – north, south, and east, Bashir’s National Islamic Front regime has also committed genocidal-level crimes against humanity that demonstrate the regime’s absolute contempt for Sudan’s black, African people. When it is not committing outright genocide as in South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains where over 2.5 million died and over 5 million were displaced, or as in Darfur’s genocide by attrition, the regime perpetrates its racist agenda of total Islamization and Arabization in Sudan through a multitude of devious maneuvers whose significance never seems to be fully comprehended by the U.S. government.
One such maneuver may occur this November 2010, when Kuwait will host the International Donors Conference for the Development of East Sudan. Eastern Sudan, actually the northeast corner of the country, consists of Red Sea, Gedaref, and Kassala states, and borders Egypt and Eritrea. The Beja, the indigenous people of the region, fear that the conference is just one more of Khartoum’s schemes for displacing them from their traditional homeland. The Beja believe that Khartoum and its Arab allies intend that all financial and political support raised in the donors conference will benefit not the Beja, but the Rashaida Arabs.
The Rashaida are Bedouins originally from Saudi Arabia, who moved into eastern Sudan about one hundred years ago. They have strong familial ties to Kuwait, which, “coincidentally” is hosting the conference. Khartoum has been importing more and more Rashaida into Beja land in recent years. A further empowered Rashaida, taking more and more of eastern Sudan, with easy access to the Egyptian border, would not only be injurious to the Beja, but would be a further terrorist threat in the region. The Rashaida are already notorious for smuggling Iranian weapons to Hamas (when they aren’t blown to Kingdom Come by the Israelis, that is!). The U.S. government should heed the warnings of the Beja and ensure that the aid coming from the donor conference is distributed equally to all of the people of eastern Sudan.
The Beja are one more African people group that inconveniences the National Islamic Front government by existing and giving the lie to the idea that Sudan is an Arab country. They have survived a hardscrabble life in Sudan’s Red Sea Hills for some 6,000 years. Originally worshippers of Isis at Philae, an island in the Nile, the Beja became Christians in the 6th century, due to the influence of the Nubian Christian kingdoms that ruled the Nile Valley. Then in the 13th century, when Nubia was conquered by Muslim invaders, the Beja, along with the Nubians, were forcibly converted to Islam. They survived, and continued their customary, nomadic life as camel herders and traders, as well as farmers. They even survived fighting on behalf of the Sudanese Mahdi against the British. The Beja, also known then as “Blemmyes,” were honored for their valiant military prowess in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Fuzzy-Wuzzy.” Kipling calls the adversary Beja “first-class fighting men” because against all odds they “broke the British square,” the four-sided defensive infantry formation considered impregnable.
Only time, and the response of the international community, particularly the U.S. government, will tell if the Beja are able to survive Khartoum’s devices. Although they constitute fifteen percent of the entire population of Sudan, and number upwards of two million people, they have been marginalized by the Islamists. Eastern Sudan contains gold mines, oil, natural gas, and other resources. Sudan’s main port city of Port Sudan also lies in the region. It is a strategic harbor location on the Red Sea. But the Khartoum regime does not want to share this great wealth of resources and revenue with black, African Sudanese. Since Sudan’s independence in 1956, successive Sudanese governments have completely neglected the Beja and attempted to suppress their culture and identity. They prohibited the Beja language in favor of Arabic and viciously they have cracked down on dissenters and protestors. In addition, Khartoum has prohibited humanitarian relief and development organizations from entering the area to help the Beja. As a result, the Beja suffer severe rates of poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, and high infancy and maternal mortality, as well as anemia, tuberculosis, meningitis, dengue fever, and other diseases engendered by Khartoum’s “jihad of neglect.” There is actually less access to potable water for the Beja than there is in Darfur.
By neglecting the needs of the Beja and increasing the number of Rashaida and other supporters of radical Islam in the region, Khartoum has slated the Beja for extinction. The regime is colonizing eastern Sudan with outsiders from the Islamic world that support its efforts to Islamize and Arabize Sudan, as well as its aspirations for a thoroughly Islamized African continent. In October 2006, the Beja and the Rashaida came together as The Eastern Front and signed the Eastern Peace Agreement with the governments of Sudan and Eritrea. Although purported to be an equitable settlement, the peace agreement gave all of the positions of political power to the Rashaida. The agreement also enabled Khartoum to sell the Beja’s land – or at least the resources found therein – to foreign investors. In a January 2009 appeal to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the Congress of Beja Intellectuals wrote that “the racist policy of the ruling Arab elites in the Central and Regional Governments is destroying the life of the indigenous populations of the eastern Sudan.” The peace agreement, they said, “deprived the Beja of the right of self determination, denied them their land and its resources and a proper share of power as well.”
One of Khartoum’s greatest advantages in its genocidal jihad to Islamize and Arabize all of Sudan is that the West in general and the United States in particular have never paid close enough attention to Khartoum’s overall agenda regarding its marginalized peoples. The world community had a very important, but very myopic focus on western Sudan ever since the first “Save Darfur” ads began to appear circa 2005. Its attention was finally forced upon South Sudan when it appeared that the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement was being torpedoed by Khartoum. But most of the government’s available Sudan energy is expended in these two regions. And when the U.S. government has expressed concern about the people of eastern Sudan, it has failed to make any distinction between the Beja and the imported Rashaida Arab allies of Khartoum.
It would appear that this is the kind of lack of attention that Khartoum is banking on for the upcoming International Donors Conference for the Development of East Sudan. On July 28, 2010, Relief Web reported that the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB) agreed to participate in the conference after Sudanese Presidential Advisor Dr. Mustafa Osman Ismail met with the IDB director in Saudi Arabia. Ismail, who is considered a war criminal along with President Bashir by Sudan’s marginalized people, said that the Sudanese government was “looking forward to the role that can be played by IDB to support and make the conference a success.” Khartoum would consider the conference a success if funds secured were dedicated to bolstering their Rashaida allies and if the attention-disordered U.S. government accepted at face value that a conference report detailing the financial support given to “East Sudan” actually describes aid given to the beleaguered Beja.
As Arab nations, the Islamic Development Bank, and the Sudanese government prepare for the November donor conference, the Beja ask the U.S. government to pay attention, not only to their plight, but to the pattern of Arabization and Islamization in Sudan of which it is a part. They urge the members of Congress who have championed the causes of South Sudan and of Darfur to recognize the Beja as a like-wise marginalized people group and to plead their case to President Obama, Sudan Special Envoy Major General Scott Gration, and Secretary Clinton. They also request that the U.S. lead the global community in pressuring Khartoum to allow free and safe access to Beja areas for humanitarian relief and development organizations and to ensure that the funds from the donor conference will not be used to prosecute a war against the Beja or to empower the Rashaida to take control of Beja land.
Sadly, in over ten years of U.S. government Sudan policy, it has not been the practice to even admit to the pattern of Arabization and Islamization imposed by Khartoum. Hopefully, in the months to come, Congress will renew its efforts against Islamic terrorism, concentrate more on the radix of terrorism in Africa, and pay attention to Khartoum’s war against all its marginalized people. And hopefully, it won’t be too late for the Beja.
Faith J. H. McDonnell directs The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan, and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).