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Darfur Rebel Leader Discusses Secession, Secularism and Ties with Israel

Publisher Jamestown Foundation
Publication Date 2 June 2011
Citation / Document Symbol Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 22
Cite as Jamestown Foundation, Darfur Rebel Leader Discusses Secession, Secularism and Ties with Israel, 2 June 2011, Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 22, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Abdul Wahid Muhammad al-Nur, the Fur leader of the Darfur rebel movement known as the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement – Abdul Wahid (SLA/M-AW) has returned to Africa after five years in Paris. He recently discussed a variety of issues with pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, including his rejection of secessionism as a solution to the Darfur crisis, his support for a secular government in Khartoum and his controversial support for diplomatic relations with Israel (al-Sharq al-Awsat, May 19).

Al-Nur has come under strong criticism from other rebel leaders in Darfur for leading his movement "from the cafés of Paris."  Al-Nur, however, justified his absence from the battlefield as necessary due to "pressure" applied by Eritrea and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan, as well as turmoil resulting from splits in the original Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M), founded by al-Nur and several others at Khartoum University in 1992.

Al-Nur insists the creation of a "liberal, secular and democratic state" can only be achieved by toppling the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and making its leaders accountable for war crimes in Darfur. According to al-Nur, "secularism is the answer for all of Sudan so religion cannot be used to kill people, annihilate them, oppress them, and confiscate their rights." The rebel leader draws a distinction between secularism and atheism, citing examples from the time of the Prophet Muhammad of issues whose resolution was achieved without reference to religious law.  The Salafists, says al-Nur, view Islam only in terms of punishments, these being applied only against the poor.

Al-Nur visited Israel in February 2009 after establishing an SLA/M office there a year earlier (Sudan Tribune, February 27, 2008). Both moves were controversial, as they appeared, at least superficially, to validate President Omar al-Bashir's long-repeated claims that the rebellion in Darfur was orchestrated by Israel. His visit came in the company of a number of prominent European Jews and was reported to have included meetings with Israel's Mossad spy agency (Ha'aretz [Tel Aviv], February 16, 2009; Associated Press, February 16, 2009). During his time in Paris, al-Nur became close to Jewish philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, who claims responsibility for convincing French President Nicolas Sarkozy to begin military operations in Libya and recognize the Benghazi-based rebel government. Though Khartoum has never recognized Israel, al-Nur maintains that his movement would establish diplomatic relations with Israel should it take power and would allow the opening of an Israeli embassy in Khartoum.

The SLM founder was coy about his exact whereabouts amidst continuing criticism regarding his absence from the front, saying only that he was now "in the heart of Africa." "Nobody knows if I am in the field or not, this is one of our secrets… the Sudan Liberation Movement is a political movement that has a military wing. This means that my physical presence is not important because I am directing a military battle that requires planning, field commanders, diplomatic efforts, communication, and negotiation."

The South Sudanese were forced into a referendum on secession by the NCP, says al-Nur, who believes in a unified Sudan, though he respects the choice of the southerners. Nonetheless, he says his relationship with the SPLA/M has deteriorated recently despite government claims the SPLA/M is supporting his movement. Al-Nur rejects talk of secession for Darfur (which remained an independent sultanate until 1916) but says he cannot prevent others from discussing the possibility given the political atmosphere created by the NCP.

After years of continuing splits within the original SLA/M ("Every three people can now form a faction while sitting under a tree"), al-Nur has been engaged in a major campaign to reunify the Darfur opposition, signing unification deals with the SLM-Minni Minawi, the SLM Juba-Unity and the Revolutionary Democratic Forces Front (Radio Dabanga, May 28; Sudan Tribune, May 15; May 20).

Copyright notice: © 2010 The Jamestown Foundation

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