by Barry Rubin
Good news from the Middle East is that rarest of all things. Solutions (however imperfect or even temporary) to conflicts there is equally rare. That’s why the creation of a new country, South Sudan, is so significant after years of strife between the northern and southern parts of that country due largely to their religious and racial differences. This development also leads to an interesting question: will south Sudan be a purely African-oriented state or will it play some part in the Middle East?
Note that most of the population of south Sudan is Christian. The Muslim north decided to get rid of the region so that it could pursue its Islamist ambitions more easily and focus on repressing tribes (also Muslim) in the west.
None of the news reports on south Sudan, however, pointed out the earthshaking aspect of its creation. After all, this is a state that has come into existence because it is Christian, a sort of parallel to Israel. It is too poor, remote, and non-Arab for Islamists and Arab nationalists elsewhere to care about and they are preoccupied with other things right now.
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Yet to the north, in Egypt, Christians are facing growing persecution. Will the rest of the Middle East ignore south Sudan or will it become a target in future for jihad and hatred, as an illegitimate entity allegedly created by Western imperialism that must be destroyed?
Another interesting question is whether Christians elsewhere will show any interest in the new country and try to help it survive and prosper. In political terms, it seems that Western Christians spend much of their time either supporting or bashing Israel. The beleaguered Christians of Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Pakistan are ignored. Now that there’s what is in effect a state created as a safe haven for Christians will that change any attitudes?
Finally, the Obama Administration probably deserves a large measure of credit for the Sudan solution. It cozied up to the dictatorship but in this case, a contrast to other situations, actually achieved some positive result.
By the way, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is totally against the two-state solution in Sudan, greeting the occasion with a particularly antisemitic, anti-American cartoon. Back in 2009, when the Sudanese regime was committing mass murder–in real life, not like the false accusations made against Israel–PA leader Mahmoud Abbas urged all Arabs and Muslims to give complete support to the Khartoum government.
But the PA isn’t at all being inconsistent since basically it is also against a two-state solution of the Israel-Palestinian issue as well.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org. His articles published originally in places other than PajamasMedia can be found at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com